Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies/The Open Source and Open Education Movement

The Open Source and Open Education Movement

Jason Lin(Jia-Sheng Lin)

Instructional Systems Technology

Indiana University Bloomington

The open source software (OSS) movementEdit

Introduction of the open source software (OSS)Edit

The Open Source Movement, promoting that software should be produced altruistically, has been widely popular in recent years. In this movement, people are allowed to copy, modify, and redistribute the source code without paying any fees. Following the movement, the programmers who devoted themselves to improving the open source software should offer both original code and derived code for free sharing. In other words, the open source software is available at no cost for everyone interested in the certain software. The open source software can be fixed either by the support community or by the company. There have been famous open source software, including Apache (HTTP web server), Linux (operating system), and PHP (scripting language), etc.

Stallman (1996), founder of the Free Software Movement, claimed that the users of the software have the freedom to improve the program, and release their contribution to the public, so that the whole community benefits. In other words, anyone who shares his or her improvement of the program with the public comes together as a community with a common intent and interest to support the development of open source software. As a result, the community plays a vital role in the open source software movement. Through support and collaboration, people are able to create and revise the source code for a better purpose. For instance, Pranav Mistry gave a presentation on the thrilling potential of Sixth Sense technology on TED . At the end of the presentation, he mentioned he’d like to provide all the open source software to the public. Eventually, these actions gradually develop the culture of openness and sharing (Lerman, Miyagawa, & Margulies, 2008).

The drivers of OSSEdit

According to a technical evaluation report in China (Pan & Bonk, 2007), the reasons to develop the OSS industry include lower cost, benefits to the local industry, and cultural and political value. Also, the open source movement is an excellent way to attract those talented and smart individuals all around the world to work together (Kapor, 2005). Those people must have strong technical skills and enthusiasm for bettering programs so that they could contribute themselves to the improvement of the software for the sake of sharing and benefiting more people for no reward or a different reward than money.

Although some of those talented individuals might have an opportunity to become rich people like Bill Gates, when developing free or open source software, they did not take this advantage. Instead, they contribute because they feel the great goodness in their heart by contributing their skills to a big movement that benefits the public. As a result, they indeed earn a good reputation in the community, even in the world because of the increasing numbers of people adopting the program.

Comparison among famous OSSEdit

Several famous open source software are presented below (See Table 1).

Table 1 Comparison of famous open source software

(Wikipedia, 2010a, 2010c, 2010d, 2010e)

Name Type Initial release Developer(s) License
Apache Web server 1995 Apache Software Foundation Apache License 2.0
FireFox Web browser 2004 Mozilla Corporation GPL
MySQL Database management system 1995 MySQL AB GNU General Public License
OpenSSH Remote access 2004 The OpenBSD Project BSD license
Php Hypertext Preprocessor 1995 Rasmus Lerdorf PHP License

Importance of common-based peer productionEdit

Benkler (2006) coined the term networked information economy to describe a system of production, distribution, and consumption of information goods characterized by decentralized individual action. We are able to improve, distribute, and share the open source software through commons-based peer production. Take Wikipedia as an example: users as volunteers are allowed to contribute their knowledge to enrich and improve the quality of the content to help make information accessible and more comprehensive. Even though Wikipedia has been criticized for being an unreliable source of information, it cannot be denied that on-line information can be built, revised, and corrected openly through collective efforts at an amazing speed that is faster than what we could imagine. In the past, when there was no information technology available, a small group of scholars had to work on the paper-based encyclopedia. It took them a very long time to edit the encyclopedia and users had extremely limited access to it.

Furthermore, there was a debate about whether the networked information economy threatens the current proprietor-like regulatory structure. On the one hand, proprietary production plays an important role in making the software more stable and reliable, because it takes responsibility for the product whenever users have difficulties or problems using it (Kapor, 2005). Peer production, on the other hand, like the open source software should continually be supported, because it could uphold the spirit and freedom of sharing and improving the product within the community for no cost, and it could also satisfy the needs of most people through self-selected, decentralized individual actions.

Importance of gift cultureEdit

Obviously, the concepts of openness and sharing are the foundation that open-source software is based on. For example, Apache server has been released under the Apache License (Wikipedia, 2010a). The original spirit of open-source is that, in fact, people who are capable of modifying the source code of the software program could devote themselves to making the programs better in order to meet people’s specific needs. At the same time, programmers who continue to improve the open source software should take the “openness” of that software extremely seriously. As a result, following the rules of open-source, on the one hand, we should provide people with both our original and derived source codes for free sharing. If we made efforts to successfully achieve some goals, people will appreciate what we have done for them. Consequently, such actions gradually develop the gift culture in which people are motivated and rewarded to help each other on the Internet (Wikipedia, 2010b).

Furthermore, in the gift culture, programmers make efforts to improve and extend the open source software. Although programmers do not receive any personal monetary reward, the only available non-monetary reward is reputation among one’s peers (Raymond, 2001). In other words, while programmers contribute themselves to the improvement of open source software, they try to prove that their ability or skill is better than others.

The open educationEdit

Introduction of Open CourseWare (OCW)Edit

It was not until 2001 when the open source software movement gave birth to the open courseware. The initiative of Open CourseWare (OCW), launched by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has opened up great opportunities for a new way of reusing content and for a new platform of collaboration among teachers (Freschi & Calvo, 2006). Ever since then, institutions are increasingly adopting the open-source course concept to make their course materials freely available to the public, thereby developing a culture of open and free sharing.

The development of the OCW has led increasing numbers of universities to get involved in offering their educational materials, such as course lectures, museum tours, and software for educational use. Thus, the OCW enables learners to gain access to the quality resources offered by universities around the world on the Internet.

The open courseware, emphasizing the reuse and share of knowledge, has played a crucial role in educational revolution. It provides access to high-quality content and resources for learners around the world. In the past, for instance, it was difficult for us to imagine that we would be able to take courses taught by the well-known professors in certain subject areas, but nowadays we can easily access to these courses on the Internet anywhere anytime.

Influence of OCW on educationEdit

Open CourseWare enables learners all around the world to gain educational resources and acquire knowledge on the Internet. It is very easy and convenient for active learners to go through the whole learning process. Furthermore, the course materials can be easily reused and redistributed to other people. Also, it is useful for learners to gain a deeper understanding of content of a certain subject area through OCW. For instance, professors are able to share course contents with their academic community so as to reach a consensus on certain controversial issues (Materu, 2004).

Moreover, universities participating in offering its educational resources online could develop a better reputation of being able to offer quality education through an alternative new learning mode so that the university could reach out to students around the world and might attract more outstanding students to come to the university.

Incentives and disincentives for the use of OCWEdit

Regarding the users’ view of incentives and disincentives for the use of OpenCourseWare (OCW) as shown in Table 2, in addition to the cost and easiness, people could access course materials at any time and from anywhere. The OCW on the Internet allows learners to break down the barriers of time and place. Furthermore, MIT open courseware offers quality and reliable materials, because the content is designed and produced by experts in the field from a prestigious university. Therefore, it helps learners to improve their understanding of particular topics more effectively.

Table 2 The users’ view of incentives and disincentives for the use of OpenCourseWare

(Arendt & Shelton, 2009)

1 2 3
Incentives No cost for learning materials Available at any time Improving their understanding of particular topics
Disincentives No certificate or degree awarded Lack of professional support provided by subject tutors or experts Lack of guidance provided by specialists

However, regarding to the disincentives for the use of OCW, some learners might become less willing to take the courses, because there is no degree, diploma, or certificate available for taking the OCW. As a result, offering a certificate or credit to the online learners through OCW might be an issue to be addressed in the near future (Morgan & Carey, 2009).

Additionally, learners may need a subject tutor to help them, especially when facing difficulties or problems during their learning process. However, it might be difficult to solve this problem, for it requires spending a lot of time and money. Understandably, higher institutes could not afford to support this kind of additional online investment. In other words, although OCW learners have to play an active role in learning, there is no interaction between the instructor and the learner, because OCW simply offers learning materials in an asynchronous mode. Therefore, learners must be self-regulated and have to find a tutor or a subject expert on their own. As a matter of fact, OCW does not require any extra labor, because it just “dumps” existing educational content into an online repository without ‘gates’ (Huijser, Bedford, & Bull, 2008). That is, the universities in the OCW community just offer their content to the public, but there is no obligation for them to take care of the remote learners who took the courses.

OCW on iTunes U (Podcasting)Edit

The Apple launched a variant of iTune’s- the iTunes U (iTunes University). Since May 2007, Apple has been cooperating with a number of leading North American universities and educational institutions as well as European universities, including Harvard University, Stanford University, and University of Oxford etc., by offering this education portal in which students around the world are able to subscribe and download free content, such as course lectures, museum tours, and software for educational purposes.

iTunes U provides universities with free hosting capabilities for the lecture podcasts. In other words, universities do not need to be familiar with computer programming in order to put their content online (Hammond, 2006). Instead, they just need to concentrate on the content. Therefore, the participating universities and educational institutions could regularly offer their video or audio podcasts as well as text files as their own Open CourseWare via the iTunes U in such a way as to distribute digital lessons to the public (Nagi & Vate-U-Lan, 2009), which enables students to easily download the course materials into any computer or portable video or audio device.

The concept of iTunes U is based on the extension of RSS feeds, which enables automatic download of any update to the lecture content after it is posted on iTunes U. Thus, the lectures can either be synchronized to an iPod or other portable device. After downloading files from the iTunes U, students can listen to these lectures using traditional media players on the computers, laptops, or their mobile devices anywhere and anytime. In a word, students are engaged in an alternative way of ubiquitous learning.

Furthermore, using iTunes U as a resource in the classroom gives students a chance to make up a missed class session or learners could repeatedly listen to the desired lecture for mastery learning after the class session was over (McKinney, Dyck, & Luber, 2009). Let’s put it another way; iTunes U could be used as an easy means to help students review or revise their lecture notes no matter whether they attended or missed a class session.

Open Educational ResourcesEdit

Introduction of Open Educational Resources (OER)Edit

The term open educational resources was first adopted at 2002 UNESCO Forum on the Impart of Open CourseWare for Higher Education in Developing Countries. The term was defined as “the open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes” (UNESCO, 2002).

With the advent of new technology, many higher educational institutions have been using the Internet and other technologies to distribute their educational resources for years. Yet, until recently, many of the learning materials were locked up behind passwords within the proprietary systems. The Open Educational Resources movement aims to break down such barriers and to encourage and enable free content sharing.

The goal of this movement is to provide access to high quality academic content on a global scale as well as to help equalize access to knowledge and educational opportunities around the world. As a result, they can be an efficient way of promoting lifelong learning, both for individuals and governments, and bridging the gap between non-formal, informal, and formal learning (OECD, 2007).

Open Educational Resources (OER) has been inspired not only by the belief that it will advance human knowledge, creativity, and social welfare, but also by the growing success of open source software (Matkin, 2006). Currently, the most used definition of OER is “digitized materials offered freely and openly for educators, students, and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research” (OECD, 2007).

The Open Educational Resources (OER) include (Johnstone, 2005):

  • Learning content: Full courses, courseware, content modules, learning objects, collections and journals.
  • Tools: Software to support the development, use, reuse and deliver of learning content, including searching and organization of content, content and learning management systems, content development tools, and online learning communities.
  • Implementation resources: Intellectual property licenses to promote open publishing of materials, design principles of best practice, and the localization of content.

The drivers of OEREdit

The reasons for institutions and individuals to produce, use, and above all share the educational content can be divided into basic technological, economic, social, and legal drivers. The basic technological driver includes helping improve information technology infrastructure to be more user-friendly. The economic driver includes content that is cheaper and easier to produce and distribute to the public. The social drivers include increased willingness to share.

Most importantly, when it comes to the legal driver, the resource can be distributed under the Creative Commons licenses, which facilitates free sharing and reuse of content. For example, Wikipedia is one of the notable Web-based projects using one of its licenses.

Furthermore, altruism plays a viable role in motivating people to develop and share open educational resources. As we know from the open source software “What you give, you receive back improved,” by sharing and reusing, the cost can be cut, thereby making better use of available educational resources (OECD, 2007).

Advantages and disadvantages of OEREdit

Based on the development of participants in the OER movement, the institutional benefits of joining the OER movement are identified (Matkin, 2006). The prestigious universities, such as MIT, Stanford University, and Harvard University etc., could provide access to a large storage of high quality free learning materials. Such resources are also a showcase of their outstanding courses and faculty. Thus, the learning materials not only could connect with non-matriculated lifelong learners, but also enhance faculty and student recruitment.

Moreover, from the perspectives of faculty members, they could increase their reputations in their subject area by offering excellent learning materials so as to become an active member of a dynamic intellectual community. Most importantly, OER could offer educational opportunities for learners who cannot be in the classroom so as to foster lifelong learning through easy access to resources.

Although the Hewlett foundation--as one the primary sponsors of OER projects--emphasizes that making high quality educational materials available will be realized in most OER projects, it is obvious that most OER are not of high quality. Take one of the most successful projects as an example. The Open University with OpenLearn, mainly focusing more on self-study courses, did not concentrate on developing high quality materials. Instead, the Open University made a lot of efforts to develop beautiful interfaces.

Establishment of the OCW ConsortiumEdit

The success of MIT OCW has led to the increasing numbers of universities participating in offering their educational materials online. More than 200 higher education institutions and associated organizations from around world have developed the Open CourseWare Consortium, using a shared model, with the aims to enrich people‘s learning experiences as well as extend the impact of OCW.

Portals for learningEdit

Several portals of open educational resources are presented in Table 3.

Table 3 Educational Resources Collections

(Friesen, 2009)

Name/URL Year Types of content Items Primary sponsorship
OER Commons


2007 All types, including OCW, modules, etc. 20,000+ Hewlett Foundation


1997 All types 25,000+ California State University System


1999 All types, including academic course modules 7,000+ Rice University

Shared online videoEdit

The use of shared online video content on YouTube, SciVee, or Google videos, etc. has become popular for years. We could use the video as a means to teach students knowledge so that students would be able to recall the knowledge through both verbal and visual channels. More importantly, the animation or action in the video makes the information come alive in such a way that students could be more engaged and immerse themselves in the visual learning environment.

According to the Dual Coding Theory (DCT), cognition involves the activity of two distinct subsystems. On the one hand, a verbal system is specialized for dealing with visual, auditory, and other forms of text. On the other hand, a nonverbal (imagery) system is specialized for dealing with nonlinguistic objects, including modality-specific images for pictures, sounds, and actions (Paivio, 2006; Teng, Bonk, Bonk, Lin & Michko, 2009). Therefore, based on the presentation of videos, videos extend learning beyond text to visual memory, thereby fostering students dual coding of information (Paivio, 1986).

In addition to being able to enhance students’ comprehension and memory, videos can be rewound, paused, and advanced so as to facilitate discussion and debate (Leahy & Cash, 2010). Regarding the reuse of videos, videos could be mash-up with other video in order to attract students’ attention in a decent and extraordinary way.

Moreover, as it was mentioned earlier, the dual coding theory plays a crucial role in visual learning. For instance, in order to introduce cognitive theory and the limits of each stages of human information processing, Dr. Bonk (2008) chose a series of quite fascinating videos on Daniel Tammet who is a savant from the United Kingdom with rare mathematical and language abilities. That is, interesting shared online videos are used as a powerful means to attract students’ attention.

In addition, instructors could embed online video into classes when teaching students complicated ideas or principles that often frustrated and confused students. While instructors use the shared online video to teach abstract theories, timely use of the online video content related to those theories can help students grasp more of the concepts and provoke interest in learning other aspects of the theory (Bonk, 2008).

When we recall prior learning experiences, we may find out that reading papers and being taught in a lengthy boring lecture might be the most frequently used way to build the basic understanding of educational materials. Eventually, it took times for learners to figure out the abstract concept of a certain term or a principle. As a consequence, if we as teachers could appropriately use the shared online videos and mash-up videos in order to introduce the abstract concept of learning theories to students, it might be much more helpful and easier for students to make sense, because the videos, carefully designed to foster interactive learning, enable them to better understand the content in more enjoyable and in-depth ways.


In conclusion, when having those powerful tools, including iPod, Podcast, and mobile device, etc., as well as amazing movements, such as Open Source Software, Open Educational Resource, and Open CourseWare, etc., we as educators should take the potential impact which technologies may have on our education into consideration very carefully. In other words, we as educators should understand technologies, take advantages of them, and appropriately use technologies to meet more educational needs. More importantly, testing out new technologies to timely deliver right resources to the right learners through a well-designed mechanism will be much more crucial in making instruction more engaging, efficient, and effective in this information era.


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