Open Thinkering


Open Source Schools curriculum meeting

I spent yesterday afternoon with a like-minded group of educators who are part of the Becta-funded Open Source Schools project. We spent four hours (!) discussing the ins-and-outs of what educators  want and need from us. We were joined virtually by a number of educators from the FlashMeeting  (see replay). In the spirit of being open and sharing, here’s an overview of what was discussed! 😀

  • We’re concerned with not replicating what is already available elsewhere in the Open Source community. Our focus should, and is, on pedagogical application of Open Source Software (OSS).
  • Starting with the half-term after Easter, we shall have a ‘push’ in a given subject area. This will not be at the expense of providing resources, links and discussion for other subject areas. We have a number of historians who are part of the project (including myself), and so will be kicking things off with either History or Design and Technology, where teachers have also expressed a strong interest.
  • The idea of ‘having a competition’ was raised at various points at the meeting. Usually it was in an attempt to get students engaged. I had misgivings about this, especially after Clarence Fisher’s excellent recent post.
  • As would be expected, there was much discussion of Moodle. I’m not against it, I’m just not a huge fan. The problem is with Moodle is that there’s a fair learning curve, and it’s best deployed as a whole-school learning platform. I’m more concerned with getting teachers, students and parents using OSS they can install easily and locally. :-p
  • I floated the idea of having posters that could be downloaded from the site and printed off by educators who want to promote OSS and the Open Source Schools website. We discussed getting professional designers to come up with these, but eventually decided that user-generated ones (after exemplars) would be  more in keeping with the community spirit.
  • I mentioned that a good way to get parents engaged might be to show ways in which they can control their children’s access to the Internet at home. We need to explore this more as existing OSS solutions we could think of are difficult to deploy on a single machine. I suggested OpenDNS, but it turns out that this is free, but not Open Source. 🙁
  • We discussed how to get teachers started with OSS. I pointed out the fact that our unique selling point is pedagogical use of OSS, not just being a one-stop shop for everything Open Source! To this end, we’re not going to be providing step-by-step guides on how to download and install programs (unless we’re specifically asked to, of course…)
  • It was agreed that video is a powerful medium, and that 5-minute TeachersTV-style examples of OSS being used in an educational context would be useful. This could take the form of screencasts (created using Wink, for example) or videos recorded and uploaded to These would be created by educators on a voluntary basis (after being seeded with some examples) instead of being of broadcast-quality by film crews parachuted into schools!

If you’d like to get involved in the Open Source Schools project, please head over to the website. We’re keen for as many people to get involved as possible and it’s far from an exclusive club.

See you over there! 😀

7 thoughts on “Open Source Schools curriculum meeting

  1. Hi Doug,

    I get a little concerned when good stuff (eg. OpenDNS) is discounted simply because it doesn’t fit into the Open Source ideology. I agree wholeheartedly with the concepts and ideals of open-source software. But that doesn’t mean closed-source software is bad.

    Shouldn’t we be taking a more pragmatic view, and finding the best tools for the job – regardless of their provenance?

    BTW. I think you’ll find that Wink is closed-source too… There isn’t a good open-source alternative as far as I know.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Mark. We have a specific remit and focus with Open Source Schools. I absolutely agree with your remarks about using the ‘right tool for the job’. The problem is that OSS doesn’t get much publicity in education because there’s no central budget!

      It’s a bit like the situation in South America with breastmilk vs. formula. Mothers were buying formula milk, even though breastmilk is free and better for everyone. There was just no-one promoting it… ;-)

  2. Thanks for your input yesterday and for posting these notes.

    vnc2swf is quite a venerable, cross platform GPL screen recorder, although it’s not straightforward, particularly if you’re after live audio. CamStudio looks more interesting, although I’ve not tried it myself. Under linux there’s istanbul, although this produces ogg theora video, which could then be converted to .swf I guess.

    There’s a thread over on edugeek at, taking our meeting as a starting point, which is also worth a read.

    1. I love Camstudio. I use it often,m including in workshops with non-techie folks, and they pick it up easily and see many applications.

  3. Keep your eyes on which has recently been given a big injection by Mozilla turning its attention to this open video standards. This will underpin a lot of video in browsers circumnavigating problems that prevent screen capture and many other open video standards at the moment. Open Source annotated video with video within video and audio is on its way – probably won’t happen until the fourth quarter of 09 but Mozilla’s support goes a long way. Theora was the programme controller on Max Headroom ;)

  4. Great post! Thanks for sharing. I’m encouraged by your focus on curriculum, a focus that is strangely missing in many open source in schools discussions I’ve been a part of.

    I have been thinking a lot of how to get more open content adopted and used ( and have concluded that school leadership (administration, curriculum and instruction) needs to be more involved. If ed tech folks are the only ones leading the charge, it’s not going to go far.

    On your competition idea, one thought I’ve been having is about having community service learning projects around developing and refining open educational resources. This could work for educators as well as students. Write a Wikipedia article. Contribute a definition to an open dictionary. Open license a photo or clip art. This could be a nice way to get more folks involved in this movement.

    Thanks again for writing about this.

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