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.

October 25, 2009   5 Comments


NGRAIN is an electronic training development company which specializes in 3D simulation technologies.  More specifically, NGRAIN has focused on equipment training programs, virtual task training and maintenance support systems using interactive equipment simulations.

Many of their products and services take the form of interactive, explodeable 3D representations of complex machinery and equipment such as aircraft engines, military weapons or off-shore oil rigs.  Their goals are to accelerate training, increase first-time performance, minimize downtime, streamline operations and optimize worker performance in general.

Face 1 – Market Type

To date NGRAIN has focused on the training needs of government, military and corporate training needs.  NGRAIN’s customers include all branches of the United States and Canadian militaries, as well as leading manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Standard Aero, Northrop Grumman, and CAE.

Face 2 – Type of Offering

NGRAIN’s focus is to provide consulting, designing and development services to their clients.  They create 3D training solutions by consulting with the client and designing models, applications and courses that are deliverable over average computer systems as opposed to custom or expensive workstations.

Although the creation of custom models and application is where they began, NGRAIN has also developed a number of “off-the-shelf” solutions that can be implemented with simple technical and training data provided by the customer.

Face 3 – Who is the buyer?

NGRAIN’s business model is based on a corporation or government entity purchasing the content for the learner.

Face 4 – Global Market

NGRAIN has focused on two global markets: wired Anglophone countries and special (military/maritime) situations.  They have had no major issues reaching these markets and have made significant progress in the North American Market both in the private and public sector.

Face 5 – Market Development

I would say that the market NGRAIN caters to is highly developed.  Large Western corporations, military and government agencies are among some of the earliest adopters of educational technology used for training.  This market is not only well established but has fairly deep pockets and the justification for accurate, high-quality training such as 3D simulations and interactive scenarios.  The potential costs of downtime in these markets are often very large and extend beyond the financial to include the safety and well-being of those trained.

Face 6 – Learning Technology Integration

NGRAIN focuses on content development but has made strides in meshing their content with established learning systems.  Many of their materials are designed to fit within established learning management systems or be delivered along with traditional training methods.

This company does not wish to replace traditional training methods such as hands-on time with equipment, traditional class-based learning or on-the-job training but provide a new, supplemental view of equipment and tasks which is unavailable any other way.

September 24, 2009   4 Comments

UBC IT – Michel as EVA

As UBC IT Services is structured and operate very differently from a business venture I chose to look at the pitch from a budgeting and an internal planning perspective.  Given the unique nature of this pitch I also chose to omit the competitive products and exit strategy aspects.

EO Credibility

Ted Dodds definitely has a vision of what university-level IT should be and how it should operate.  It is clear that he is confident in his abilities as well as his department and has developed the lines of communication to succeed in meeting UBC technological needs.

Management Team

It is clear that Dodds has a clear vision of how his department should be managed as he describes the community-based strategies he has employed.  By assigning an E-learning group to each faculty I think his department is better able to meet the needs of those groups and thus succeed as a team in the long-run.

Business Model

I think that UBC’s IT services are not only a vital part of the University’s ongoing success but the department has expanded its operational model into the commercial realm which can greatly improve the feasibility of the department.  From a business model standpoint this serves as strong indicator of success.

Beyond their integral role, giving voice to all the stakeholders involved with IT services including administration, management, business and, most importantly, the students further improves their chances of meeting their needs, an act which should define their success as a department.

Market Readiness

As the interviewer states first off E-Learning is a huge part of modern education and Dodds is clear that E-Learning is a “mainstream” and mature component of business and education.  As such, it is clear that Dodds sees his department as an integral piece of UBC.

The fact that UBC has managed to sell aspects of their IT developments, such as WebCT, to commercial companies further proves that not only is the education market ready for these innovations but so are commercial businesses.  I think that in many ways his group is already succeeding not only are new services getting to individuals and departments in the university but they have managed to sell off some of their more successful components to bring revenue back to the school.

Technical Innovation

I think Dodd’s community and open-source software strategies are refreshing to hear.  Historically development along these lines have been hard to develop and commercialize but by focusing on these methods as a source of innovation, direction and production he could be tapping into the individuals that need and care most about the services his group is developing.

Overall Investment Status

To be honest it would be hard for me to argue against focusing on UBC’s IT branch as an important part of the university’s plan going forward.  I am sure Dodds, the interviewer and you, my fellow classmates, respect the increased importance of Internet communication technologies we have observed recently in higher education.  I would be hard-pressed to pass on “investing” or rather allocating increased funds to further their services as Dodds has made a strong argument for its importance to both UBC and business.

September 20, 2009   1 Comment

Recombo 2005 – Michel as EVA

EO Credibility

Yes, the speaker definitely displays confidence in Recombo’s ability to reach goals and achieve.  It is clear that Brad McPhee knows his product, the market and potential problems his business may face.

Management Team

The management team of Recombo is not discussed heavily but Brad does mention that he has a small team of experts and is looking to expand.

Business Model

Recombo prides themselves as a company that “plays well with others” both in how they and their systems operate.  This sharing is facilitated by their contract negotiations and their Content Integration Router platform.  McPhee explains that this router facilitates communication and integration of products like learning management systems and performance evaluation systems with the potential of allowing published content to be shared among Recombo’s customers.

Brad McPhee offers multiple examples of how his product can serve existing markets and make the common problem of integrating content from different systems using their infrastructure.  With this in mind it is clear that Recombo has found a need and utilized some creative business and technical strategies to progress their business.

Competitive Products

McPhee seems confident that there is a big market for his company’s services and products.  It is clear that he can offer a level of integration the learning management market rarely sees, allowing communication across platforms and systems.

There are many companies using learning management and content systems in their human resources and training sectors although Recombo gives no direct numbers within this pitch is can be assumed that with a small, focused company Recombo could offer these new services at competitive prices.

Market Readiness

They have been struggling in the past but now have a “lighthouse” customer that will hopefully prove Recombo’s ability to solve business problems.  As it stands, Recombo is providing a service and tools that bridge a common communication gap in training and education systems and, at least initially, this should give them an edge on the market.

Technical Innovation

At the time of this pitch Recombo seems to have an edge on the market.  After making changes to his company’s direction McPhee is confident that he has found a product and a service that is in need and cannot be met by competitive products.

Exit Strategy

McPhee is clear that success lies in a dollar amount for their business.  He is pushing for success through his “Lighthouse customer” which will expand their business by proving their publishing and learning management competencies.

If his company does not meet the goals laid out McPhee is honest with himself and comfortable with going public or selling to a larger corporation like IBM if need be.

Overall Investment Status

I think I would be willing to risk my capital investment to support Recombo.  It is clear that the company has changed greatly and maybe faltered slightly in the past but has quickly learned from its mistakes and adapted to the market both in their product offerings and overall strategies.

September 19, 2009   4 Comments

Michel’s Introduction

Hello everyone.  My name is Michel Lacoursiere and this is my 6th MET course.  For those interested you can visit my blog/portfolio at or my more info page at

I am a high school science teacher specializing in Chemistry and Biology.  Previously I was the lead Chemistry teacher at my own former high school in Peace River, Alberta.  I moved to New Westminster, BC last year with my fiancé who is pursuing orthotics and prosthetics at BCIT.

Here is a picture of us from last year’s Halloween outing, going through my pictures I thought it was fitting considering September is here and October is just around the corner.  People loved those uber-dorky costumes – maybe some ideas for others.

Halloween - 2008 Michel and Lucy

Since moving and starting my MET program I have been working as a researcher/consultant in immersive technologies and educational research.  My most important contract has me researching immersive technologies and learning environments used to train emergency personnel and firefighters.  To get me out of the house and keep sharp as an educator I also work as a teacher-on-call and work as a science facilitator and lead after-school programs at Science World.

Although I will probably return to the classroom someday I have enjoyed my experience as a consultant over the past year and would like to learn more about marketing educational technology.  I guess I could say I’ve always had ideas and skills to market but no idea how to market those skills.  I think this course will provide me with the opportunity to experience another side of education that I have always found interesting and I am sure I will pick up a lot along the way.

Thanks for reading and I am looking forward to learning and working with all of you!


September 9, 2009   3 Comments