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55 Ways to Bring Open Source into Education

Management, Collaboration, Science

  • August 3, 2009
  • By Cynthia Harvey

While some educators have been quick to grasp the potential and promise of open source software, many others have been hesitant to stray from the comfortable zone of commercial applications. Yet that's changing.

More teachers and institutions are now participating with organizations like SchoolForge, the Open Source Education Foundation, and Open Source Schools. These educators are beginning to see that the open source philosophy has the power to transform education in several key ways.

First, schools can use open source apps to replace costly commercial software and free up resources for other purposes. For example, openSIS performs the same tasks as closed-source school administration programs (scheduling, grades, report cards, attendance, etc.) while reducing total cost of ownership up to 75 percent.

Second, open source applications are changing the ways students and teachers interact, as applications like Moodle make eLearning simple an affordable. Some institutions, notably MIT and UC Berkeley, have taken the concept of open source distance learning one step further. As members of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, they've made the content of some courses available for free, so that anyone in the world can benefit from their expertise.

Finally, open-source software gives educators more options than ever before. Today, instructors have dozens, if not hundreds, of options for free and open source applications that help them present lessons on everything from learning the ABCs to modeling the complex interactions of molecules during biochemical processes.

The list below provides just a small sampling of the open source applications available to help educators teach and inspire their students.

Just added to this list: Open source educational apps by KDE (see entries #50-55).

Administration

1. openSIS

The "Open Source Student Information System," or openSIS, claims to lower a school district's total cost of ownership by 75 percent when compared to comparable commercial systems. It includes student demographics, contact information, scheduling, grade book, reporting, report cards, transcripts, health records, attendance, a built-in parent portal, and advanced security features. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

Astronomy

2. Stellarium

Downloaded more than 7 million times, Stellarium is one of the most popular open-source education apps available. With this app, you can input coordinates for any point on earth and view the night skies for any particular point in time. It's so accurate, it's even used to power many planetariums. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

3. Celestia

Like Stellarium, Celestia lets you view the night skies from earth, but it also lets you fly through 3D space to any place in the known universe. When possible, it uses actual photographs of planets, asteroids, and other objects, so that you can see what they really look like. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

4. Space Trajectory Analysis

This app lets researchers analyze, simulate, and visualize the paths of objects that have been launched into space. It's currently being used by the European Space Agency and a number of international universities. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Biology

5. ByoDyn

Scientists building models of biochemical networks or pathways can use ByoDyn to estimate and analyze the parameters underlying these processes. In addition to the downloadable version, it can also be accessed online as a Web app. Operating System: Linux, OS X.

Chemistry

6. Jmol

This java-based app lets students create diagrams of atoms, molecules, macromolecules, crystals, and more. The site includes a handbook and tutorials for helping you learn how to use the software. Operating System: OS Independent.

7. ProtoMol

ProtoMol is a framework for molecular dynamics simulation. It's designed to be highly flexible, easily extensible, and to meet high performance demands. Operating System: Linux, Unix, Windows.

Classroom Management

8. iTALC

Short for "intelligent teaching and learning with computers," iTALC makes it easier for teachers to interact with students using PCs in the classroom or those joining from home via a VPN connection. With it, you can view a snapshot of every screen in the class, show students a demo from your screen, lock workstations (so students have to pay attention to you), send text messages, and more. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

9. Mando

Mando lets you create an interactive whiteboard. If you have your computer connected to a camera and a projector, you can use your laser pointer to control the computer in front of the class, just as you would use a mouse at your desk. Operating System: Linux.

Digital Content Management

10. Archon

Winner of several awards, Archon simplifies the process of creating a searchable Web site to house archival materials. Administrators can input or edit information via Web forms, and the software automatically uploads and publishes the data. It's currently being used by more than 40 universities, zoos, historical societies, and other institutions. Operating System: OS Independent.

11. Fedora Commons

Fedora Commons allows you to manage, preserve, and link different types of digital content. For example, you can use it to create an archive of video, audio, and text files on a particular topic which users can then search or comment on. Operating System: OS Independent.

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