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Using open source software in higher education

Universities and other higher education institutions are increasingly moving towards what many are calling the “connected campus“. While this move brings with it many benefits for students, it can also be expensive to implement. In 2008 I wrote a short post entitled “Open source alternatives to proprietary applications“. This was before the launch of the iPad, before Android, even before the beta version of Google’s Chrome browser was launched. Chrome has since become the most popular Internet browser, which shows how much can change in a few years.

At the time that I wrote that post, I had just started working in a contract position at the university and it was my first time working in an environment where everyone else was using Microsoft products. I had been using Ubuntu since it launched in 2004 and the idea of having to integrate with the proprietary platforms on campus was distressing. Hence the post on alternatives to proprietary software. However, since then there is even more choice, open source platforms have developed more quickly than proprietary versions (in my opinion) and the world of educational software has exploded. One of the things that was most surprising to me when I started thinking about this post was how many platforms are now included in the category of educational software. Things like blogs, micro-blogs and wikis are now pretty much mainstream, whereas a few years ago they were considered not only cutting edge but not really part of the educational technology landscape either.

I decided to write this post so that I could explore the open source tools that are currently available, with an emphasis on those that are commonly used in the context of education software. I won’t give multiple examples in a category because in some categories there are many options e.g. email clients. This list is not exhaustive and covers only the tools that come to my mind. I’m also not going to include anything that is free, but proprietary or not open source. You must be able to download the source code and either run it on your own server or modify the code and run it independently of any company. In other words, for social networks in education Google+, Facebook and Edmodo are out but Elgg is in.

So, here is my (unordered) list of software applications that we might want to include in the category of educational software, acknowledging that virtually anything can be used in an educational context (all links below go to Wikipedia entries):

Looking at the list above, I think it’s clear that universities and departments, should they choose, could run a significant portion of their infrastructure using open source software.

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