Thursday, October 21, 2010

Open Source Options

I was invited to give a guest lecture for Nick Reynolds "ICT & 21st Century Learning Communities" unit at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

He gave me a pretty open brief on what to cover - so I started with the presentation I prepared for this year's CEGSA conference. 20 Open Source apps your school could use. You can see the list and grab the slides from

But the slides were really just background to a more relaxed Q&A on open source software in general, hearing examples from those in the room on whether or not they'd already encountered that particular application, some of the barriers to adopting Free Software, busting misconceptions and wondering why more people aren't just using it already.

The one thing I wanted to impress upon the group is that Free and Open Source Software is not cheap software. It's not about price, it's about freedom. I hope they got that as I explained the four freedoms to use, study, change and share software is what it's really about. It's not about scrimping on your IT budget.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Google Code-in

Check out Google Code-in

And... if you can, please spread the word.

This is a fantastic opportunity to get kids involved in real open source projects - using ICT, creating ICT - not just as busy work for assessment but making a real contribution to real projects.

There are tasks for everyone and every talent...

     1. Code: Tasks related to writing or refactoring code
     2. Documentation: Tasks related to creating/editing documents
     3. Outreach: Tasks related to community management and
     4. Quality Assurance: Tasks related to testing and ensuring code is
        of high quality
     5. Research: Tasks related to studying a problem and recommending
     6. Training: Tasks related to helping others learn more
     7. Translation: Tasks related to localization
     8. User Interface: Tasks related to user experience research or
        user interface design and interaction

Monday, October 4, 2010

Interactive whiteboards

Melanie Hughes asked if I knew of any open source software for interactive whiteboards. I didn't, so thought I'd dig around a little bit to see what was out there.  The answer would be appear to be something between not much and nothing.

There are some tools you don't have to pay for, but nothing available that gives you access to the source code.  The exercise has also reminded me how many people still seem to correlate open source software as software you don't have to pay for, as opposed to software you can get involved with improving.

Roland Gesthuizen suggested we should respond by asking what teachers are trying to achieve with the software, and that perhaps there are other means to the end.

Luke outlined his frustration with proprietary IWB software locked to a particular type of screen.

Australian IWB vendor 2Touch claims to provide software that works with a range of software, but it's not open source, and only free of charge if you buy one of their boards. Promethean has recently changed it's software license to allow their applications to be used on any brand of board.

The European Union have asked the industry to come up with a standard format for the documents created by their various software applications, so that's a start. However it seems there is a gap in the education market for a truly "Free as in Freedom" Libre open source application that allows people to harness the interactivity of these devices.

So, I'm sorry Melanie, but I've not been able to find anything, but I'll keep a look out and let you know if I hear of anything promising.

In the meantime - it would be really useful to get a list of the 'must have' features of interactive whiteboard software - then it might be possible to build a solution based on those features.  eg.
  • Handwriting recognition.
  • On screen keyboard
  • Annotations
  • What else?
Some of those features are available for open source platforms - but if the drivers for the boards aren't open, developers have no way of modifying that software for specific hardware features of the board.

Open Source Schools has a long thread about the IWB software issues. If you haven't perused that yet, it's a good place to catch a glimpse of the challenges we're facing.

Dunno how up to date this list is, but it's a list of Linux applications and drivers useful for TabletPCs which might be worth exploring as tools for using with IWBs

The Wiimote-whiteboard project certainly got close to disrupting the closed source IWB party, but I don't really know how much impact it had.

It did inspire smoothboard, which unfortunately isn't free or open source.

and Uwe Schmidt implemented a cross-platform version in Java.

And I have to include Rusty's Pong Hero hack with open source software just to show what can be knocked together when the code is free and the hardware can be made from rubber bands and chewing gum. Well, maybe not quite.

... and Interactive Projectors have hit the market...

Becta commissioned a project to create a common file format so educators could share the work they create for IWBS 

A teacher in the UK outlined his frustration with the range of software and drivers for IWBS, none of which were remotely compatible - which prompted this interesting thread in the moodle forums

Do you have some resources I could add here? Leave a comment.