OSS can be good prep for MS in the office

“Opponents of OSS in schools feel that using applications like OpenOffice.org to teach students office productivity applications would put them at a disadvantage in the workplace. Do you feel that the skills students would learn on OSS applications can transfer to proprietary applications? ”

I think students can be just as prepared for MS Office in the office environment if they are taught the basic desktop publishing concepts with OpenOffice.org and several other such applications in the class. The idea is to teach them the basic concepts and procedures of planning, laying out and editing content giving them experience in problem solving by exploring the interfaces, menus and help manuals of several applications.

What inevitably happens for students taught with open or proprietary software is that they get to the office and the new version of MS software has a radically altered interface. Just compare MS Office 2003 with MS Office 2007, or compare Word Perfect with MS Word. As for other software, Macromedia Flash changed significantly each time it came out, and then was added to Adobe Creative Suite.

I admit that students would probably prefer the proprietary professional workplace software to in some cases create better product easier. Fortunately, there are trial versions to practice with before going to the workplace.


1 jennie wong { 10.25.09 at 7:34 am }

Dear Brian,

I agree that students would probably prefer the interface of proprietary professional workplace software. What we tend to do in our school division is gather up all the schools – in as many divisions as possible and see if we can negotiate an excellent rate with MS Office and Macromedia line of products. The OSS version is okay as long as you don’t have to do things such as program in Flash (example) or doing some Visual basic programming in Access. I find that it is more ideal to use the professional version. That way, you get all the tools you need. Don’t get me wrong, if I don’t have the money, I would prefer to get as many items for free as possible.


2 Barrie Carter { 10.25.09 at 7:49 am }

Hello Brian:

You raise a compelling argument. Certainly, skills are transferable. In turn, students can be well suited in the workplace, regardless of the software (e.g. F/OSS or PS).

I suspect that some workplace environments want individuals who are well versed in a specific software because owners or managers are unaware of the application similarities between F/OSS and PS or are fearful that individuals may not know about the various subtle tools in a given PS.


3 Eveline Yu { 10.25.09 at 2:01 pm }

Hello Brian,

I also agree with you and Barrie. The skills we teach students in school should be applicable and transferable when they get out into the real world.

I tend to stick with MS Word and other programs like Excel because I am familiar with it as it was available at home and I learned it throughout high school. The fact that I was being taught how to use the functions of the programs made it more comfortable to use.

But if we teach students to use F/OSS, they will also tend to be more familiar with these programs and perhaps be more flexible in using other programs in the future.

Just a thought.

4 Annette Smith { 10.25.09 at 4:36 pm }

I tend to think that if we teach students with F/OSS the skills they learn will be transferable. OpenOffice.org has most of the functionality of the PS available, and with each version it incorporates more of the features. In terms of CMSs, chances are students who take courses based in Moodle will learn as well (or better if you believe moodle.org) as students taught in Blackboard.

I agree with Brian that chances are by the time they enter the work environment there will be significantly different versions of the PS they will have to adapt to anyway.

Also, some schools use PC based machines and some use Macs. Employers will hopefully not choose employees based on the OS they used in high school.

I think Eveline also makes a good point that if students learn in an OSS environment they may learn flexibility in using and choosing software. This would be a very marketable quality.

Good employers look for flexibility as well as skills in Microsoft Office.

5 Ernest Pao { 10.25.09 at 7:52 pm }

Brian et al,

You’ve all mentioned the idea of transferable skills and that is certainly important in the learning process. Being able to use MS or Adobe products is nice but versatility and flexibility to use other programs is equally as important. You never know what a prospective employer may use so have knowledge and experience with other software is certainly helpful. What better way to learn than on free OSS if it’s available?

6 Barbara { 10.25.09 at 8:37 pm }

I think that if we really want o prepare them well we should have them use multiple OSS programs so that they develop an inoculation to “the different software syndrome” . Use two or three, understand the world has more than one tool for the job and be ready to pick the best tool for the job.

7 Colin Cheng { 10.26.09 at 3:53 am }

More and more as software continues to evolve, I believe that it is more important for students to learn how to use software as a whole rather than a specific package. If students are taught only how to use Office 2007, they will be sorely disappointed when the next version is released, as it inevitably changes every few years. Instead, students should be taught the fundamentals of computer software – recognizing that within different versions and different software packages, that there exist commonalities that underlie these programs. Only then can students truly be prepared with the transferable skills that others have previously mentioned.

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