I'm loving open source in schools

It’s spring and I have fallen back in love with Open Source Software... I know, I know, I have been on and off this bike more times than I care to remember. My associates have warned me saying that’s it’s just another tease and...

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It’s spring and I have fallen back in love with Open Source Software...

I know, I know, I have been on and off this bike more times than I care to remember. My associates have warned me saying that’s it’s just another tease and I should stick with sensible software... but this time I am sure it’s the real thing.

We met many years ago but somehow things just kept fizzling out; was it the odd pet names we used?... like Moodle, Gimp and Puppy, I don’t know, but I at least I never caught anything nasty apart from a brush with the karambas and some painful widgets.

This time my love has come to me in the guise of the Calibre server, LibreOffice extensions, writer2epub, odt2daisy and web2epub: not a silly name amongst the lot, how love is blind. But much more than that....oh heck I can’t continue with this metaphor, I’ll end up in bed with Linus or worse.

On to more serious stuff which seriously will include the above software.

BESA (British Educational Supplier Association) recently reported that most schools are cutting back hard on their technological plans and, amongst other things are: barely using their VLEs, don’t make use of the Smartphones and Social Networking so beloved of their students... and crucially, ( pay attention at the back) are seeking ‘value for money’.

Decoded, this means that schools have money to spend but are to increasingly reluctant to spend it on ICT in the way they used to and by ‘value’ they really mean ‘what value has this stuff to my students?’. Harshly, a free VLE like Moodle has as little value as an expensive one like Blackboard if judged by how few schools make use of (i.e. value) the features of VLE software.

As if to underscore BESA’s point Wandsworth Council just spent £70 million on the defunct and discredited BSF program where they hand taxpayer’s money over to a building firm (Bovis) who in turn outsource the ICT component to another company (Civica) who intend to do ‘exciting things’ with computers.

These two paragraphs say it all. The desire of schools to buy into the ICT on offer has waned to the extent that procurement is left to Bob the Builder’s mates and any quest for ‘value’ is utterly in vain.

Who cares? I have been having a great time with FOSSy.

A Great Time with FOSSy

At the start of the college year I decided that I would not print or photocopy ... anything. On average schools consume 3,000+ sheets of printed material per pupil per year. Properly costed this works out as 10p per sheet or £300+ per pupil per year.

To cut a long story short I made a lot of use of PDF and the dreaded VLE which works as far as uploading files goes. The photocopiable course resources (i.e. pre-paid reproduction licence material) were on CDs in PDF and I could convert any of my personal resources into PDF using OpenOffice.

Inevitably, in order to make use of the students’ netbooks, i-phones, i-pads etc I was tempted to create the XML screen-size adapting EPUB versions ... at first I converted my pre-existing PDF resources in batches using the free online Calibre-based web2epub software. Later I installed the writer2epub extension to my (now) LibreOffice installation.

I stuck all files on the College’s extranet facility called Blackboard Go! so my students could access them with a net connection.

So far so good, but I was seduced by Calibre Server. Quite simply I wanted my own e-book library so I created a Linux, MySQL, PHP box to host my new library on-line (under my desk at home, again).

My students like my library, they have all managed to find e-readers that suit EPUB on whatever device they have, but the best bonus was a request for pod-casts for a visually impaired student...I discovered odt2daisy..try it..sound files from documents.

Summary

So you see why I am in love this spring. I have had terrific value from my ICT non-spending. Thanks to FOSS, thanks to smartphones, netbooks and pads, I have something that I want and my students want ... resources..not silly VLEs with silly names and silly wikis, blogs and forums provided by men with builders bum.

To finish I have saved my college money and increased the use of ICT at the same time but as I write this I find an internal email informing staff that 10 Licences have been obtained following a 3 month procurement evaluation for a networked quiz and test maker software package no-one has heard of. We are invited to apply for one for our teaching ... in your dreams, I like my ICT clandestine and free.

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