Open-Source as a Classroom Alternative

Blog Question: Would you support implementing FOSS/OSS in your work environment?

As a secondary teacher I support the use of FOSS and OSS in schools.  I think they are a cost-effective and useful way to bring great software to students.  Not only does most of the software “just work” it is often frequently updated based on user comments and could even provide an opportunity for students to help out with the software.

Although OSS software may not always be the best option, I still prefer Word and Powerpoint for instance, but they often they can bring software to the classroom that might not otherwise be there.  For instance open-source CAD software (Cademia and avoCADo, video editing software (Virtual Dub and ZW-4) or audio-editing software (Audacity).

To give an example of OSS in the classroom I thought I would share an experience I had with OSS in my classroom.   A few years ago I was asked by my principal at the time to develop a new computers/information processing class for the grade 9’s.  After weighing out the various options and considering that I had zero budget I decided to develop an image and photo editing class built around the amazing FOSS photo editor  The software is nearly as  advanced as high-end, and extremely expensive, editors like Photoshop and also has a similar interface and shortcuts.  This is great for students who might pursue photo editing further and makes the transfer of skills easy.  The software also had numerous online tutorials, guides and help pages that were easy to use and navigate.   All of this made it extremely easy to develop a course around the software and give my students some valuable technical skills.

In the end the class was a huge success and I they are still using my materials and to teach the class.  Although has undergone over 2 years of revisions most have been additions, not major changes and most of the material required little or no change to support the new software.

Anyways, it is this and other positive experiences with OSS that have led me to use it more personally and professionally and I encourage other people to think twice about buying new software before exploring what OSS has to offer.  A handy site is Open-Source as Alternatives which lists alternatives for many types of software we normally pay for.  The site allows you to list commercial and alternative software by OS and by use.


1 Jay Dixon { 10.25.09 at 4:16 pm }

Great links! There were quite a few OSS that I have not heard of and have bookmarked for future use. Much OSS have become very user friendly and I agree is without a doubt an excellent alternative. Students will also be able to have the same software at home through open sources which extends learning outside the boundaries of the classroom.

2 Annette Smith { 10.25.09 at 4:41 pm }

Being able to have the same software at home is a strong selling point for OSS. In the schools I have worked in there would have been no other way for a student to have image editing software (I used GIMP) at home other than to pirate a copy.

Perhaps the students taught using OSS will even take it with them into the work environment….

3 Ernest Pao { 10.25.09 at 7:31 pm }

I, too, have heard GIMP is a good OSS alternative to Photoshop. I think, in general, having these good OSS alternatives allows students to learn on an even playing field. Most students probably have computers at home these days but buying professional software such as MS Office or Adobe Photoshop is extremely expensive. These OSS alternatives allow students to use software that is not just some “cheapo” versions but good functional ones.

4 Barbara { 10.25.09 at 8:22 pm }

i believe that in an educational environment which is almost by definition a low budget environment and open to experiment OSS is the only way to go

5 Byron Kask { 10.26.09 at 11:34 am }

Another nice aspect of OSS is that as teachers, we can ask our students to use the same applications at home as we do in class. Right now I use mainly proprietary software in class, but I can’t expect my students to drop $1200 to work on their projects at home. I know not all students do have computer access at home, but those that do can continue their endeavors at no charge.

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