Open Source in Education

As mentioned in a previous post by Maria Kechagia, “Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) is software released under a license that allows developers to: 1) access the software’s source code, 2) use the software for free, and 3) develop derived works based on software’s previous releases.” FLOSS software is very versatile and can be used for a variety of purposes. One such purpose is education and institutional learning, a world in which software and technology is prevalent. However, at the present day institutions of learning (i.e., from high school up to university) mostly use commercial software such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. Meanwhile, open source software such as OpenOffice, GIMP, and Linux offer the same capabilities as their commercial counterparts, yet are not employed as much. Weighing the options, it becomes clear that educational institutions should move to using more FLOSS software. Why? Let’s review the benefits for students.

For students, FLOSS software poses many benefits. Open source software, enables people to access and modify its source code. This capability allows students to familiarize themselves with source code and better understand how the software works. Additionally, since FLOSS software is free, it naturally reduces disparities between students for use outside of institutional education.

In a larger context, FLOSS software reduces a certain burden on institutions and companies. Commercial software such as Microsoft Office is so prevalent that, without knowing how to use that particular software, one is at an effect disadvantage with the rest of his or her peers. Moreover, commercial software operates as a virtual monopoly, forcing institutions, companies, and students to buy in. With open source software, not only are users free from the constraints of a seller’s license, students, institutions, and companies can learn to adapt the product to their own needs. FLOSS software enables a greater degree of mobility that commercial software simply does not provide.
Institutions of learning also catalyze the use of certain software. Students learn to use certain software at their respective institutions, and that software becomes the industry standard. If institutions make a switch – well a transition – to open source software, other parts of society will begin to adapt as well. Consider Munich’s migration to open source infrastructure over the past decade. The movement to open source software was larger than a measure to save money, as project lead Peter Hofmann noted: “Our main goal was to become independent.” While the project posed many problems over time, Munich was eventually able to complete the transition, freeing its citizens and organizations from proprietary software. One should hope that educational institutions will follow Munich’s model in the future.

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About Rohit Goyal

Rohit is a high school student from Pennsylvania. His main interests include math and computer science, but more specifically, he is interested in data mining and artificial intelligence. Rohit is interested in seeing how computing continues to change society and hopes that more people get involved in computing-related areas.

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