Saturday, August 15, 2009

Review, Reconsider, Reallocate!

A comment came in via the audience during the second panel yesterday afternoon at the Social Tech and Ed conference. The gentleman made the comment that it would be foolish to try to tell our admins and higher-ups that open source is free. Bandwidth, hardware, and connectivity after all are all cost-heavy infrastructure components that have to be in place before a school can even think about open source.

And that’s true. But it’s not the whole story.

The fact of the matter is that schools have all of the money they need to supply classrooms with projectors, students with netbooks, and schools with big bandwidth. It’s all a matter of the allocation of resources.

How much money does your school spend on paper and copiers? How about software licenses? Local servers? Machine contracts? Books? Encyclopediae? Wall mounted maps? Globes? Chalk? Dry-erase markers? Dirt for the ballfields?

Add it up. And then tell me you can’t afford $300 per kid plus a decent wireless system.

Don’t spend good money on crappy operating systems. Don’t spend a dime on office and presentation software. It’s all available in stable and effective formats for free.

Because sometimes ‘free’ is ‘free’.

But that’s not the end of the story. Because there is another resource that we are going out of our way to foolishly neglect: the technology that our students already have.

In our attempts perhaps to try to maintain a ‘level’ playing field, we are in fact cutting off our collective nose to spite our collective face by not allowing students to bring their own laptops, netbooks, and smartphones into class. I spoke with two teachers yesterday -- one from Massachusetts and the other from California -- who both told me that their schools have explicit policies that prohibit students from bringing their own tech to school.

This in spite of the fact that -- at least in the case of the Massachusetts teacher -- an overwhelming number of students had laptops and mobile devices at home.

Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Why are we forcing students to use the software we’re spending thousands of dollars to license when they could just bring their own machines and work off the Cloud?

I understand that not all students will have the family resources to afford computers or mobile devices. Which is why we’ll use all of that money we saved to get good devices into their hands.

Come on people, let’s think differently about this. Review, Reconsider, Reallocate. We can get this thing done!


  1. I think you forgot about three other major stumbling blocks to using open source. 1) IT Resistance - most IT departments are wedded to Microsoft products. It is what they know. They don't have any experience or background in Linux or using Open Source software. They will fight tooth and nail to stay in their comfort zone. 2) Licensing - many Open Source or "free" software products are only open and free to the general public. Institutions, even public ones like schools, are expected to license the software just like Microsoft's stuff. It may be cheaper, but it is not always free as in free beer. 3) Training - just like the IT dept., the faculty and staff of a school district is already heavily invested in using Microsoft products. They have probably even had training from their school district in Office, etc. Few teachers will want to repeat that with "new" software packages. And going back to #1, it is the IT dept. that will have to develop the training, since there are few ready to go, off the shelf resources for Open Source.

    So, even though the monetary cost is much lower, and often free, there are costs associated with Open Source and there will often be a high level of resistance.

  2. I agree with this post. The money is there. The licensing fees for Microsoft Office and Outlook servers that my district spends could go to more computers and projectors and they could go open source for software. I am working with our Ed Tech dept to get them to switch to Google Apps and Docs or OpenOffice. We currently use Office 2003 so the switch would require almost no training.

    I tried to get the school to buy me workbooks for one class - they said that there was no money, even after I showed them that it would cost more for me to make copies of what the students needed. Strange...

    I have successfully switched to OpenOffice and Google Docs without any problem and I know that other teachers could too. BTW, most IT guys I know use open source, including Linux, at home already.

    Open source has multiple positive aspects and no real negative aspects. Schools need to move in this direction now.


  3. I am so there with this post. This will be my first year incorporating this level of technology as a 'requirement' for my classes. I have created my own website in which the students and parents will find all the tools they will need for the year. I am also a fan of "Moodle" which I also plan to utilize shortly. I am hoping at least 90% of my students have some sort of daily computer access in which they can turn in all assignments to me via my site. Just imagine how much money the school can save this year alone if there was 100% participation!


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