Monday, May 17, 2010

#aisman10 - behind the scenes of learning technology

Huge thanks and acknowledgement due to Ian Ralph for inviting me to share the stage with him and Peter Ruwoldt to talk about Open Source and Open Education at the NSW Association of Independent Schools IT Managers conference.

The venue was heavenly. The Crowne Plaza in the Hunter Valley - useful conference spaces, a strangely huge pool, a golf course. Good food, comfy accommodation.

This conference has been going for some years now, and is organised directly by the community it serves. It's my favourite kind of event.

It was very well supported by vendors who keenly recognise the power of the network this community of IT managers represent. Decision makers and influencers in schools free to make their own decisions. Ranging from classroom pracititioners managing IT infrastructure to network architects and managers supporting the learning and administration needs of their organisations, and a full spectrum of variety between and beyond those roles.

All grappling with budgets, policy, curriculum and the shifting reality of learning by learners with very different expectations of what's ahead of them and unknown pathways into the future than those experienced a generation ago.

When I was in high school, there was no World Wide Web. It's now my business. So is the global platform for change more commonly known as the open source community.  When Linus announced his little hobby project I was at Uni too.  Now, Linux is everywhere.

So, I'll admit to being a bit surprised and disheartened by the silence when I asked if anyone contemplating 1:1 learning projects was looking at Linux laptops.  No one? Why?  No support, too geeky. Too hard.

What a shame. We really do still have a lot of work to do.

To counter this perception we need to offer unparalleled services and support. We need to be accountable. We know the products are good, and the freedom is intoxicating, but that's not cutting through the uncomfortable truth that Open Source Software is all too easily dismissed inside institutes of learning.  Yes, it's also true that too often Education technology lags the real world. Yes. That's wrong. So whilst the world's largest software company, Oracle, is also the world's largest user of Linux, we still have to counter fear, uncertainty and doubt, and a lack of support from the medium sized IT integration firms making a business out of servicing schools.

Left reeling like I'd been punched I turned to the community and asked them to tell me why we bother with FOSS in schools.  Here's some of the responses:

"open source and foss help lower the cost entry barrier for schools to get tools to assist their education." @aimee_maree

"Because technology should enhance and enable learning, not control and constrict. Because I want my children to learn that sharing and collaboration are a force for good. What my mum taught me..."@normnz

"Schools are about authentic learning experiences, not just another monolithic enterprise to cable and network." @rgesthuizen

Again the New Zealanders are showing us up. Check out this report on a survey of IT vendor support for FOSS solutions.  We need this in Australia. OSIA? Where are you? The New Zealand open source society organised a vendor capability survey. Here are the results:

And we need a school like Albany Senior High School in Auckland to step up and showcase the reality of what an opensource school looks like.

Mark Osborne - Deputy Principal prepared this presentation on the school.

This is his blog:

When I asked four IT managers sitting nearby if they had Linux servers, they all said yes. When I asked the audience in my session who had open source in their schools, with one exception they all put up their hands.

Are you using Open Source in an Australian school? How? Where? Please tell your story.

Peter Ruwoldt's presentation:

Ian Ralph's presentation:

My Slides:


  1. An interesting observation to make is that often schools will support the software that is supported at home. If mum and dad are running a microsoft environment, then the schools feel that they can build on that familiarity. What they don't realise is that if they sent home a FOSS disk home to each family, they could counteract this "myth".

    Great article Donna and thanks for the links.


  2. Thanks Margaret :)

    I was thinking of you whilst sitting in on the 1:1 learning sessions at #aisman10 - knowing you were involved with that leading 1:1 deployment at PLC that everyone talks about.

    Would be interesting to hear your thoughts on what this all means now the technology is so much more affordable.

    Providing kids an opendisc or linux liveCD to take home seems so easy - but how often is that done? I think Ian said that SCEGGS does it...


  3. Posting on behalf of Don Christie of NZ company and President of who emailed me this comment today... Thanks Don.

    "I am convinced that Australia has even more free and open source software prowess and support capability than New Zealand. The problem is that purchasers are not used to asking for it. If people really want to
    see a FLOSS option on the desktop then mention that fact in the RFP, demonstrate potential demand and give supply a chance to catch up.

    This is what we did with the vendor capability survey. It was run on behalf of 14 government agencies - demonstrating a demand interest. It was also run by an independent organisation, Victoria University.

    Yesterday I was at a records management conference for the government sector. One of the speakers asked how many attendees used Linux at home or at work. About 25% put their hands up. He also asked how many used OpenOffice, about 50%. This is in a country where it is practically impossible to buy a PC or laptop with Linux or OpenOffice pre-installed.

    I think we are all seriously underestimating the penetration of FLOSS as it is generally hidden because most people still send OpenOffice documents in .doc format."


What do you think?