Open Source Schools

Oct 11, 2008

Miles Berry

It’s nice to see up and running. This is an information portal for schools, developed by alphaplus consultancy “on behalf of Becta” – some readers may remember the mild furor that surrounded a firm with relatively little open source experience, coming from outside the open source community, winning the contract to promote open source software in schools. It could be argued that alphaplus’s lack of significant prior involvement in open source gives them a degree of objectivity which may well count in their favour. It’s interesting comparing Becta’s commercial approach here with the more community based approach favoured by JISC, which happily sponsors open source development and funds the excellent OSS-Watch, but this is a start, and it’s great to see Becta doing more, at last, to promote open source as a viable alternative to commercial software, after quite a period when there’s been a perception of bias against open source, perhaps particularly in regard to the learning platform rollout.

It’s early days for alphaplus’s site, but it’s a fairly polished effort already, making good use of Drupal (which we use ourselves for the school website) for content management. There’s an interesting write-up of the extensive use of Moodle being made by our neighbours Perins, where all Year 7s (including a few of my former pupils) are issued with laptops: laptop+VLE being greater than the sum of the parts. In fact, there’s already quite a collection of interesting case studies of schools using open source software to a greater or lesser degree, and the tagging system that Drupal provides makes it easy enough to track down those that seem most relevant. There are also a few interesting articles: Getting started with open source software is a good place to start, with a five low risk, high gain ways to use open source: fix a problem or meet a need, do something cool with desktop applications, set up a thin client cafe (this is a really nice idea in terms of the informal and independent learning possibilities it would open up), use open source software on servers (how I got started two schools ago), and install web applications.

There’s not much activity in the forums as yet, but here’s hoping the site will grow into an important resource for UK schools and local authorities interested in exploring open source.