Sometimes I feel like I’m ahead.

Sometimes I’m certain that I’m way behind.

Have you watched this RSA Animate video? As of this Thanksgiving morning, the Youtube video has been watched 6,070,127 times.

The video was made from a speech given by Sir Ken Robinson in 2008. That’s three years ago. I think today was my first time watching it. In “Internet years“, I am somewhere between 21 and 30 years late watching the video. Behind!

By contrast, I’ve been involved with free software since the 1980s. Back then, it was called public domain or freeware (mixed in with shareware). Some of it wasn’t really as open as we see today. The GNU General Public License (GPL) has formalized and supported a movement to make software a core element of an open society. (Note the geek-friendly numbering.)

  • Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

Our view of education needs to be informed by GPL freedoms, OER and the open channels of the Internet. It will also help if our view of education embraces the four freedoms of the GPL.

  • The freedom to use the knowledge of our world for our own purposes
  • The freedom to examine the sources of our education and to make improvements which suit us as learners
  • The freedom to pass our learning to others, perhaps as teachers who make it a life’s work
  • The freedom to engage our communities with the educational changes we think are important and to be unfettered by top-down, one way or the highway thinking making a goal of steady improvement a goal which trumps someone else’s (too often arbitrary) standards

We might also want to ensure the four freedoms from Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

  1. Freedom of speech and expression
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

Just as Thanksgiving in the United States is a day of gratitude, let us be thankful we can use free software and the open channels of the Internet to express our opinions and to share our excitement and to make contributions to the common wealth.


Software you choose to use in your school has license terms the school must follow.

If the software is proprietary (closed, tightly controlled), it typically has something called an EULA (End User License Agreement). That license usually includes a phrase which allows you, the school which purchased the software, to install the software on one computer per license purchased. That is important. You have rights of use which limits the number of licensed installs. It is not okay to license 50 installs and then install the proprietary software on 51 computers. That means, if you have paid $50 a copy for a total of $2500.00, you need to spend another $50 to use it just once more.

Photo Credit: Misha Popovikj
Creative Commons license: Attribution Share-Alike

Most proprietary  software does NOT allow teachers to install a working copy of school-purchased software on their home computer. That means teachers must buy their own copies, unless the school decides to buy copies for teachers’ homes. Teachers appreciate the chance to avoid buying personal copies of all the software they need to use in their classrooms. The price can add up quickly.

The software schools purchase are generally selected so that the students will benefit. Generally, EULAs prevent the school from letting students take home a CD to install the program at home.

Site licenses partially solve the problem, but even then, home copies for teachers and students are not typical.

Open Source Benefit

By contrast, software which is commonly called “open source software” has a liberal license which explicitly states that there is NO RESTRICTION on the end user. There is no limit to the number of copies which can be made of the software. There is no need to keep teachers or students from having a copy of the program to take home and install. Even if you paid $10 for the original CD to be sent to you, you do not need to spend any more. The total investment stops with the initial CD. If you are willing to do the creation of a CD by yourself, the cost drops even more. You are allowed, even encouraged to download software to your own computer and to put the installer file on a blank CD yourself. The cost per CD then drops to under fifty cents. You can make just a single copy and share the CD among many others, no additional cost. If the disk gets scratched by overuse, you can make another copy of the CD from the file on your computer.

Open source software is ideal for schools because getting enough copies of the software for everybody has minimal costs. At worst, the school is permitted to make copies of the installer CDs and let teachers take them home to use and return. The school doesn’t need to make copies for everyone to keep (though that is permitted by the open source licenses). Teachers and students can even get the software directly from the Internet. Most open source software is conveniently available for download.

An additional benefit is that many open source programs have been developed with versions for each major operating system. That means students can use a Macintosh computer at school, a Windows computer at the library, and a GNU/Linux computer at home, running the same software on all three systems. Of course, for that last sentence to be true, all the support players need to understand the power of open source. If you want to benefit from the benefits, you need to spread the word. Let parents and students know what you want to accomplish, getting everybody access to the same powerful tools. Talk to the local library staff to get them on board. Get your school principal to see the benefits. Take the story to the school committee. Let the local newspaper in on the deal.

Software is at the center of our “information society.” Our students are getting prepared to participate in the information society. Preparing them for the Industrial Age isn’t good enough. The power of software is best realized when it supports open data formats, and open source software is the main way to accomplish that.


License Compliance Essay by Simon Phipps,
GNU Project,
Free Software Foundation,

Please read Glyn Moody’s recent post.

Are you “moved” by freedom as Glyn Moody appears to be?

I use Google because there is no alternative, just as I used Windows before I made the move to GNU/Linux. Once there is are alternatives that respect me in the way free software respects me, I shall move, and I suspect others will too.

You use software if you are reading this blog post. Is it software that respects you? Is it GPL licensed software, or at least open source with a more liberal license?

In the United States “Home of the free and the brave”, how well is your freedom being treated by your software?

The kids have gone home. The chairs are being moved out of classrooms so washing and waxing can begin. Computer cleaning and imaging is at hand for the school tech staff.

Summer isn’t slack time. There are many things to do. Getting a bit of rest in the sun can be part of the plan (well not here in New England so far!)

Here’s a link for the school administrators. Technology Directors will also want to look at it. There is an emerging supply of open source school administration tools. It may be time to look at the products that are out there.

Stephen Vaughn-Nichols has written his opinion of 3.1 in a ComputerWorld article.

I appreciate his conclusions:

I’ve been using for years now. With these performance and appearance improvements, I can see more users moving to this free office suite. In particular, I think anyone who does spreadsheets every day owes it to themselves to compare Calc and Excel. You’ll be impressed.

Calc aside, 3.1 isn’t a major step forward. But if you’re getting tired of paying for a new version of Microsoft Office every few years, you should try this latest edition of Except for advanced presentations, there’s nothing you can’t do in the free that you can in the ever-more-pricey Microsoft Office.

You and your school are using/considering, aren’t you?

Technology Terminology in Education

In the UK, teaching about computers and using computer technologies in the curriculum is called the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) curriculum. One definition for ICT said it is a, “diverse set of technological tools and resources used to communicate, and to create, disseminate, store, and manage information.”

Massachusetts has an educational specialty called the “Instructional Technology Specialist” and the term Instructional Technology seems to be similar to the ICT in Education idea. Did you know that both MassCUE and the METAA organization of technology directors are mentioned in the Wikipedia article for the Instructional Technology definition? I was impressed.

Educational Technology seems to be a bigger scope term which includes Instructional Technology, again according to another Wikpedia article.

What terminology does your school or district use to describe the use of technology tools to enhance or improve classroom activities. Ask your technology director for a copy of the current technology plan. The tech plan is also supposed to be published annually by your district, and many of them have made the plan available on the district’s Web site. I was able to find several links to the plans by entering “Massachusetts technology plan” into Google with my browser. (I use Firefox, how about you?)

For that matter, do you care what the terminology is? Would you just prefer to get on with using your computer to do electronic slide shows that replace the older overhead projector?

How often do you take your students to the school’s computer lab to enhance their understanding of your subject?

Do you have student computers in your classroom, and are they busy every period; every day; every week; once in a while; NEVER?

A recent blog entry was brought to my attention, and we need to be proactive in dealing with the issue it raises.

First, the blog post clearly indicates that we need to help spread the open source word. The teacher described in the blog didn’t know the facts about GNU/Linux or open source software and reacted too soon when she sent the email quoted in the post.

Second, we need to help others get the picture that some of us who teach ARE informed about open source. Don’t let the ignorance get worse instead of better. Don’t let teacher bashers take stories like this one as reason to say nasty things about educators in general. Some who left comments were very uncomplementary, even harsh.

Third, let us who support mosssig take the opportunity to spread the word. If you would like a presentation of GNU/Linux/open source for your school or district, leave a comment here. We’ll set something up.