First up there were some excellent and insightful comments (including the link to Leigh’s ‘perfect’ reducto LMS), then there was the fact that the co-creator of WebCT (who really needs a blog – one time only free hosting offer from IncSub extended!) as well as the engineer of the ‘WebCT Wiki Integration Toolkit’ left really very reasonable (considering my frothing state) comments and finally there’s posts like Rachel’s (from MMU who have got a seriously cool blog!) make me bring so many things together at once that I end up writing really long, rambling and ultimately paragraph sized sentences far too late at night, like this.
First up considering the WebCT / Wiki thing I guess as long as we’re on the page where”WebCT isn’t assimilating open source, just integrating with it :-)” then that’s not so bad. It could even be a little bit good if we were taking it that one step further where WebCT had a simple to use system for integrating with tools of your choice (please correct me if this is already here and you don’t have to be a powerlinks developer to do this). In other words, if this is WebCT moving towards offering an administrative / content delivery product which spits out multiple streams of data and allows for different levels of authentication on the OSS tools that we want to use, then that’s pretty cool. I don’t want to subvert the backend student admin / digital object management (well, only a bit with the doms :o) but I do want to subvert / make subvertable the teaching and learning components and environment which remains, in Vista or Campus, absolutely horrible.
But having said that Rachel puts forward an interesting contention and asks a very valid question. First up she argues that the OSS reality isn’t particularly efficient or effective:
“We couldn’t do everything we want to do with any of the current OSS offerings and our current staffing levels. Yes, the annual licence is expensive – but so are staffing commitments which would enable us to run Moodle with the same level of features and scalability”
Which is not something I’d necessarily agree with – both in terms of expenses and of using Moodle. Although I host multiple instances of Moodle and although I couldn’t be happier than having an OSS system like this available (as with Sakai) I have a pretty strong suspicion that they are based on flawed models. Also, as I’ll get to, I’m not sure if, to be quite frank, a University should be delighted that their T&L system takes so little work or that you couldn’t replicate that level of scalability with OSS and that if you did really have a look at these systems… I reckon you could chop half the features and walk away quite happy.
But that’s probably another post (or three).
And secondly she asks:
“what have you got to say about my institution’s site licensing of Microsoft products, when there are perfectly good OSS alternatives?”
Probably not more than has frequently been said by Harold Jarche but all the same I’ll have a go.
I contend that our universities, schools and other educational institutions are wasting enormous amounts of money and making huge mistakes using commercial software where open source software could do as good as or better a job.
I’m not arguing for a total ban on proprietary software, not possible (yet) but let’s start by getting rid of MS Office for Open Office, editing our Audio with Audacity, unzipping and more with 7-Zip, FTP-ing with Filezilla, emailing with Thunderbird (we still use paid Eudora… how funny is that :o), drawing with Inkscape, creating pdfs with PDFcreator and more. Heck, roll on over to the OSSWin project to find hundreds of ways that you could save enormous amounts of money.
And to entice teachers with using them, why not take the huge amount you’ll save, divide it in half and give that half to those who’ll take you up on it. Add that to the amount of development, support, feedback and community that that’d add to open source and, well, things would be different.
Let’s put our efforts, belief, time and commitment into products like Moodle, or WordPress MultiUser or any one of the open source online communication platforms out there. True, it might take an extra couple of people, true it might initially not be so earth shatteringly cheap that you feel you can forgo the opportunity of having someone else to blame and all those delightfully located yet content-free conferences. True it is certainly *harder*. But you’re doing a good thing for all concerned.
I *despise* the way education is turning into a cash cow for vendors. We should be spending what little money we have on teachers, genuinely valuable resources and teaching and learning. WebCT, Blackboard etc. can have a role in that but it can’t be at the same cost as it is now and it can’t be as an OS-esque application (we already have that, it’s called the internet).
We have terrible online teaching and learning tools and we’re paying through the nose for them. Something has got to change.