Open Source Software in Higher Education

The higher education sector is quite unlike other industries. It has its own processes and a different set of demands. Most commercial proprietary application vendors develop their applications focused on a wider domain spread across industries. This, academics complain, creates a distinct disconnect between software vendors and the end-users in academia.

To overcome these shortcomings, the education industry started looking to “open source” as an alternate model. Around a decade back, institutions started debating total cost of ownership in adopting an open source based community approach vis-à-vis proprietary applications, viability of open source based business models, sustainability and security issues.

The success of community developed open source software is quite well established. Linux and Apache are ample proof of its success. A similar trend, though not that widespread in its reach, can be traced to the development of community projects in education like the Moodle and Sakai.

Through the course of its formative years, the open source community based approach in education has developed several alternative models. Some of these models and schools of thought have thrived and been implemented successfully across a significant spectrum of the industry. Progress and success in open source projects like the Sakai, Moodle, Kuali, uPortal, Shibboleth, and many more are being closely watched by the industry.

Community Source Model

One school of thought believes that open source sharing is more a philosophical approach than a viable alternative. The adoption of open source in higher education seems to suggest otherwise. FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software) communities are thriving well in learning environments too.

The FLOSS model has been extensively used in initiatives like the MIT OpenCourseWare and Open Source Biology. Project Gutenberg, the Wikipedia, The Open Dictionary project are prime examples of how open source has been successfully adapted to education initiatives.

In a community source project, multiple institutions come together to partner in the project. All partners contribute financially as well as in employing human resources for the effort. In the early stages, the partnering institutions provide all design and development efforts and only in subsequent stages is the project opened to the broader community. This way, the initial support is secured and the institutions have a substantial influence in deciding how the application is modeled and designed.

The initial focus of community source projects is on collaboration between institutions. The focus in the crucial first stages is therefore to form a common economic outlook and an appropriate administrative framework rather than forming a community around a shared code. Most community based open source projects slowly migrate to open source in the later stages.

The Sakai project, for example, started as a joint effort between four institutions (Michigan, Indiana, MIT and Stanford). The initial agenda was to set up a framework of common goals that would produce appropriate software based on an agreed list of objectives. The scope for participation was later increased by forming the Sakai Educational Partners Program (SEPP), whereby other institutions can join and participate in the community for a small fee.

The Current Landscape

An education enterprise like any organization has its own needs ranging from resource planning to budgeting. Additionally, they have typical requirements like the need to integrate with financial aid programs of the government, multiple payroll cycles, and student information systems (SIS) that handle admissions, grades, transcripts, student records as well as billing. All these call for robust ERP systems. Until recently, colleges and universities mostly rely on either custom-developed systems that are more than 15 years old, or have transitioned to commercial products from vendors like Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft or vendors like SunGard that are geared towards the higher education market.

Kuali Financials was borne due to the lack of open source solutions Enterprise applications in the higher education sector are comprised of a mix of some proprietary application vendors and some key open source community initiatives. PeopleSoft, Oracle, SunGard and Datatel are some key vendors that offer tightly integrated ERP packages for the education sector.

Recent consolidation in the industry, like the acquisition of PeopleSoft by Oracle and of WebCT, Angel, etc by Blackboard, has caused considerable unease in the education fraternity. The concern stems from the fear that the trend of consolidation would lead to the monopoly of a few key vendors. The plans of these vendors to offer tightly integrated systems heightens the fear that this will provide an unfair leverage to these vendors as it would extend the community’s dependence on them.

One area of concern about proprietary applications is a seeming disconnect between the industry and software application developers. Institutions also have strong reservations about the currently available administrative software and course management systems. The feeling is that applications provided by vendors such as SAP and PeopleSoft are adapted from other industries and does not work well for educational enterprises. Moreover, the proprietary nature of the applications implies that the source code is not available and customization efforts involve substantial costs.

In the context of such a wide breadth of requirements, open source can prove to be a viable alternative. In fact, these constraints provided the impetus for open source initiatives in higher education. Some of the success has helped provide a strong foundation to building an alternative support model for the education industry.

In the Sakai project, the participating institutions decided to integrate and synchronize their educational software into a pre-integrated collection of open source tools termed Collaborative Learning Environment (CLE). Sakai has active implementations running at multiple institutes including the University of Michigan and Indiana University.

In parallel, Sakai also established a set of activity based communities that have spawned an active cooperation between the industry and application vendors. The Sakai Educational Partners Program allows educational institutions to participate in the program for a small fee. Besides, there are the Sakai Commercial Affiliates, who offer fee-based services for installation, integration and support..

Kuali, on the other hand, mainly addresses aspects of educational administration. The Kuali Financial System (KFS) is the most prominent application. It handles administrative and operational tasks like general accounting, purchasing, salary and benefits, budgeting, asset management and grants. The system is designed around modules that enable it to be tweaked to work with existing commercial applications. For example, at Indiana University, Kuali applications work together with PeopleSoft’s HR and student system. The Kuali Foundation is a non-profit consortium of multiple universities and some hardware and software companies. The Kuali Commercial Affiliate program operates on similar lines like its Sakai counterpart. The community has been growing and now includes the University of California, Cornell, Michigan State University, San Joaquin Delta College (Calif.), and The University of Arizona.

Significantly, according to the 2008 Campus Computing Survey, around 13.8 percent of the survey participants have already identified an Open Source LMS – either Moodle or Sakai – as the campus standard LMS.

Besides these, several other projects offer SIS functionality. For example, openSIS manages student demographics, scheduling, attendance, grades, transcripts, and health records, and its parent company makes add-on modules to support additional features like disciplinary tracking, billing, food service, and bulk email/SMS messaging for emergency contact.

Other Key intiaitives are

JaSig community developing uPortal, and CAS (Central Authentication Services) two components serving as input to Kuali Rice.

Internet2 – A consortium led by universities working in partnership with industry and government to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies including products such as Shibboleth and Grouper

Open Source Curricula

As with any “open source” activity, open source curricula by its very definition is one that can be freely used, distributed and modified. A model like this would seemingly be antithetic to the concept of higher education as it strikes at the credibility of the education environment. Campus education is designed to operate as a structured learning methodology. The concept of community collaboration involving academics and students on the same platform brings a lot of unpredictability into the scenario

However, FLOSS communities (Free/Libre and Open Source Software) in education have proved to be quite successful. A key principle of this learning approach is its root in adapting it to the context of ones’ experience. With its stress on learners and their preferences, this learning approach focuses more on learning by collaboration, communication and sharing.

Significant initiatives include the Connexions Project at Rice University, the OpenCourseWare project at MIT and the social learning medium of Wikipedia.

The FLOSS approach in higher education has been operating in combination with traditional teacher centered approaches. The objectives of the FLOSS approach are not to replace traditional methods but to achieve synergies in combination and offer the learner an enhanced learning environment.

The ‘FLOSS-like education transfer report’ published in September 2008, as part of the FLOSSCOM project, notes that FLOSS communities can create effective learning environments. The study has also come up with three different approaches that could be combined effectively with traditional teaching approaches.

Economic Models of Open Source

One aspect that clearly marks the adoption of open source as a winner is the fact that in this scenario, the developers are most often also the users of the software. This removes the perceived disconnect between the developer community and the end-users unlike in the case of proprietary applications. However, this is less evident in the case of administrative applications like payroll or HR. In such cases, adoption of open source has to be a directed process.

Initiatives like the Kuali project have proved that open source can also build up sustainable models that provide adequate support mechanisms. In such models, there is active collaboration between the community that comprises not only developers and end-users, but also an extended support group comprising commercial vendors. These support groups are available to offer timely support to mission critical applications. The community approach also ensures that the code is not closed and that an active community of interest ensures that enhancements keep happening as necessitated.

Projects like uPortal have been developed with minimal resources but are deployed across hundreds of institutions. The community approach has proved sustainable as in the case of the Sakai project. In terms of funding, the Sakai project garnered an investment of $6.8 million over two years.

The viability of the open source, community based model stems not from the monetary or cost aspects but principally the adaptability that it offers. The debate over cost of ownership between commercially available proprietary software and open source applications is yet to be proved empirically. However, the fact that the code is open means it can be easily adapted to suit new requirements and does not involve significant investments in terms of customization or enhancements. This does make significant economic sense in the longer term.

The case for open source in higher education is nicely documented in a study by the Alliance for Higher Education Competitiveness. In a 2005 study report titled, ‘Will Open Source Software Become an Important Institutional Strategy in Higher Education?’ Rob Abel notes how open source is a “great fit for higher education”. The study, based on an analysis of open source projects in education, opines that the community-based approach is an interesting model that also helps reduce the inherent risks in adopting an open source approach.

As for the cost model, the study notes that while open source has helped generate cost savings in the range of 20 to 30 percent for the commercial sector, the same may not be entirely true in education. The community-based approach, the writer notes, with its associated participation fees, may prove only marginally beneficial in terms of costs. Institutions that have their own infrastructure and resources may however, benefit from substantially reduced costs from their open source initiatives.

The Future

Open source has proved to be adaptable and a reliable platform for collaboration and learning. In their quest for ideal application software to handle administrative, operational and education platforms, most CIOs are looking at interoperability, reliability and scalability of applications. Applications like the Sakai and Kuali have proved beyond doubt that open source applications offer great configurability.

Development communities and the support of commercial vendors, as in the case of Kuali and Sakai, fuel a greater rate of innovation. Moreover, the advantage that is offered by collaboration also provides an impetus to continued improvement of the system. Support systems and enhancements for future requirements are ensured.

On the question of how to approach or adopt open source as a model, the answer would depend on the needs, the infrastructure and the means available to an institution. The community development model has shown that costs can be broadly distributed amongst participants. Experience shows that universities and colleges can collaborate to produce open source software that caters to their needs in a way that is superior to some commercial products. The collaborative model enables educational institutions to pool their financial and technical resources. Moreover, a larger community ensures that the applications are tested in a variety of testing environments, thus aiding in building robust solutions.

In term of core academics, learning systems will evolve to accommodate formative assessments and evaluation outside the classroom. Many higher education institutions have taken the lead of MIT and are offering online course materials that are accessible by anyone, free of cost. It has been adopted at Yale, Notre Dame, Tufts and Stanford School of Engineering, to name a few. The United Nations has launched an initiative that would leverage social media technologies and ideas to offer higher education opportunities to people who would otherwise not be able to afford the costs.

Commercially, open source projects have taken their first steps in the marketplace. The model is evolving aided by some significant commercial vendor backing. For the community-based open source approach to prosper, substantial financial backing is an absolute necessity to prevent it from faltering and to avoid the pitfalls that arise form source code being easily modifiable and rebranded by a different vendor. From the commercial perspective, projects like Sakai and the Kuali Foundation are likely to thrive as they have substantial stakeholders from both the academic and the corporate world.

What could derail further adoption? There are several potential risk areas:

Lack of understanding of entry points for adoption
Lack of support to adopt the applications
Minimal staff to support the applications
Lack of training / documentation to train staff
A “runaway” project that consumes much press and develops a negative bias toward the project

Many of these risks may be mitigated though co-operative initiatives between the foundations developing the open source solutions and commercial affiliates looking to support the solutions – and develop complementation solutions. Some examples:

Further publicity through conventional, non-education related channels such as Google and industry-based sites such as edu1world
Furrther innovation and cooperation – whether through ‘summer of code’ collaborations; or community collaborations that will transform the current listservs to more accessible forums
Commercial affiliates offering training and webinars
Commercial affiliates offering ease of use entry points, such as pre-installed servers or virtual images that can be downloaded and used out of the box

In conclusion, open source initiatives in higher education have a long way to go before they enter the commercial mainstream in a significant fashion. However, with industry and academic collaboration, it has a great potential to change the higher education landscape in the longer term.

Special Learning Needs – Effective Educational Services For Students

15 million school age children in the US have learning problems that public and private schools can’t solve. There are 72,000 special education students in LAUSD, alone. Every day these students sit unhappily in class, losing hope of ever realizing their dreams. Students are living in pain and shame. They are not learning to be successful students.

Their parents are frustrated in their attempts to find suitable education for their child. They’ve tried working through the public schools. They have hired tutors. Parents are calling for real solutions.

In order to thrive, these students need special educational methods that address their unique profile of strengths and needs. But even more importantly, these children require a new mindset of success.

Educational therapy offers help and hope to children and adults with learning challenges such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and learning disabilities. Educational therapy is an appropriate and highly successful approach to helping students of all ages achieve their maximum potential.

Educational therapists use state of the art educational programs and methods that have been proven to teach students with learning problems the skills they require to be successful. Educational therapy shows students how to overcome their learning problems and lead successful lives.

All throughout the school years, foundations for future success are laid down. Not only are students learning essential skills such as reading, they are also learning to value education. But most importantly, they are learning to believe that they are successful students!

When students experience repeated frustration and failure, they develop self-doubt along with dislike or distrust of educational experiences. These negative views influence how much students can learn, at every level from elementary school through college!

Special needs students experience three major problems with learning:

Teachers and tutors use the same methods for every child. Children are unique and each learns in his or her own way.

Teachers and tutors usually do not understand how to modify their approach to address different learning styles.

Teachers and tutors only teach subject matter. Students who experience repeated academic failure lack the underlying foundational skills to be successful students. They often don’t know the best study methods, how to manage their time, or what the real secrets are to academic success.

Teachers and tutors do not address the root cause of continued academic failure-learned helplessness. When students experience failure after failure, they develop a mindset that they are “stupid” and “can’t learn.” They give up on ever being a good student! But, when students believe they can succeed, they begin to try. When they believe they can learn, they begin to study. When they believe they can have impressive futures, they make powerful choices. Students have the right to believe in their innate intelligence and skill!

Educational therapists generally begin their professional careers in special education, child development or counseling.

The Association of Educational Therapists is the national professional organization that sets the training standards for educational therapists. There are three levels of membership in the Association of Educational Therapists: Associate Professional (introductory level), Professional (experienced), Board Certified (seasoned).

According to the Association of Educational Therapists: “Regardless of previous background, all Professional members of the Association of Educational Therapists (AET) have met rigorous professional requirements in the academic areas of elementary and/or secondary education, child development, educational assessment, learning theory, learning disabilities, and principles of educational therapy. All members have a B.A. degree and are required to hold a Masters Degree or equivalent in post-BA course work. They have completed at least 1500 supervised direct service hours, and are required to complete 40 clock hours of Continuing Education every two years.

To become a Board Certified Educational Therapist (BCET), a member must meet the following additional requirements: Masters Degree (required); one year membership in AET at the Professional level; 1000 hours of professional practice; formal written Case Study evaluated and passed by the AET Certification Board; a written examination that demonstrates professional expertise in educational therapy.”

Quality Education Vs Accreditation

Education:

“The act or process of educating or being educated; the knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process!”

Inquiries into furthering my educational aspirations were made to various colleges within my immediate environmental area. Several of the schools contacted required placement exams that I did not challenge, as I am adept and very capable of dealing with college examinations. The thing that got to me was the disparaging remarks from some college recruiters regarding their standards for education as opposed to another college. One of the schools that I’ve attended is a two-year degree school while the other is as well. They hold real estate in the same zip code and competed for students in the same local. They both educated local students as well as out of state and students from other countries and nations.

One school considered itself superior to the other by reason of accreditation. The school that was described as inferior did not have middle states accreditation. The school was described as below standard by the other. The so-called superior school is lead and operated by a non-HBCU affiliation while the other happened to be lead and operated by an African American staff. The self-described superior school has made plans, designs, and did bid for the take-over of the African American school. Albeit, the self-described superior school admits that it does not and will not accept credentials from the so-called inferior school. I have attended both of these institutions and received very good instruction from its teachers as well. While the lessons learned were an invaluable source of information, the education that I received from personal academic research (self-taught) has enhanced my knowledge base. Money was not a factor in my personal research, study, and/or practicum. I would add, the knowledge and information that was derived from the HBCU School proved to be equally rewarding as the other if not better!

Personally, I would say that I received more educational value at the HBCU (Historical Black Colleges and Universities) as opposed to the other collegiate institution. Albeit, they both required money.

When students visit college campuses they are encouraged to become a student at that particular school. The tour guides’ show all of the amenities and accolades that are offered in order to get you enrolled…and to gain your tuition monies. But what about the quality of education offered by the particular schools? The majority of the colleges will often quote their accreditation as compared to another school of choice. What has accreditation to do with a good and valuable quality education? Money! And the ability to make money! Education does not and should not require money!

In 1899 Dr. Matthew Anderson, an outstanding community leader, and his wife Caroline Still Anderson founded Berean Manual and Industrial School. Dr. Anderson was a pivotal influence in the religious, business, and educational history of Philadelphia. Dr. Anderson also founded the Berean Presbyterian Church and the Berean Savings Fund Society.

Caroline Still is the daughter of the great William Still, a Philadelphia Abolitionist and member of the Underground Railroad.

Mr. William Still (a self-educated man), one of seventeen children, was born in Burlington County in 1821. His father escaped slavery from Maryland to New Jersey and later was followed by his wife and children. William Still left New Jersey for Philadelphia in 1844. Three years later he was appointed secretary of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.

“When Brother William Still was 23, he left the family farm in New Jersey for Philadelphia, to seek his fortune. He arrived, friendless with only five dollars in his possession. Mr. Still taught himself to read and write. In fact, so well, that in three years he was able to gain and hold the position of secretary in the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Brother Still provided the all-white society with his views on how to aid fugitive slaves. After all, he had been one himself. He was such an asset to the group, that he was elected chairman in 1851. Still held the position for the next ten years. He also became chairman of the Vigilance Committee in 1852. Still was the first black man to join the society and was able to provide first-hand experience of what it was like to be a slave.”

“Mr. Still established a profitable coal business in Philadelphia. His house was used as one of the stations on the Underground Railroad. Brother Still interviewed escaped fugitives and kept careful records of each so that their family and friends might locate them. According to his records, Still helped 649 slaves receive their freedom. The number is compounded with the number of slaves saved by Sister Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.”

“William Still, a self-educated man, began his campaign to end racial discrimination on Philadelphia streetcars. He wrote an account of this campaign in Struggle for the Civil Rights of the Coloured People of Philadelphia in the City Railway Cars (1867). He followed this with The Underground Railroad (1872) and Voting and Laboring (1874).”

“William Still, a self-educated man, established an orphanage for the children of African-American soldiers and sailors. Other charitable work included the founding of a Mission Sabbath School and working with the Young Men’s Christian Association. William Still died in Philadelphia on 14th July, 1902.”

The Concise History of Berean Institute:

“In 1904 Berean Institute of Philadelphia Pennsylvania qualified for state aid and received a grant of $10,000. Over the years, state aid has enabled the school to expand its services and diversify its programs of study. Funds from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania now provide a significant portion of the total operating budget. Berean Institute embarked on a program of expansion under the dynamic leadership of the late Dr. William H. Gray, Jr., who utilized the support of many influential citizens of Pennsylvania including the former Governor Milton J. Shapp. Dr. Gray served as Chairman of the Berean Board of Trustees. Under Dr. Gray’s leadership Berean Manual and Industrial School began operating as Berean Institute. He also had Berean Institute’s current building constructed in 1973.”

“Mrs. Lucille P. Blondin, who served the school for forty-five years, became Berean Institute’s first President. Mrs. Blondin retired in June 1993. Dr. Norman K. Spencer was appointed to serve as the second President and Chief Executive Officer. Under Dr. Spencer’s leadership, contracted programs funded by the City and Commonwealth agencies as well as community outreach projects have been added. Hon. John Braxton, former Judge, Court of Common Pleas heads a list of distinguished Board of Trustees members.”

“Berean Institute enrolled students in full and part-time programs. Most of the students are residents of the Commonwealth and live in Philadelphia. Other students have come from Central and South America, China, India, Puerto Rico, Tonga, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Tanzania, the Dominican Republic, England, Cambodia, Viet Nam and states along the eastern seaboard of the United States.”

“A number of students come to learn a marketable skill and their Berean training fulfills their current educational aspirations. Many others regard the school as a stepping-stone to further education. Berean has many graduates who have gone on to earn four-year college degrees and others who have completed graduate studies at some of the area’s outstanding institutions of higher learning.”

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Education granted Berean Institute approval to award the Associate in Specialized Technology Degree on September 15, 1976, and the Associate in Specialized Business Degree on December 27, 1976.

Again, education is:

“The act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life; the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession; a degree, level, or kind of schooling: a university education; .the result produced by instruction, training, or study: to show one’s education; the science or art of teaching; pedagogics.”

A definition of education: ‘The act or process of educating or being educated; the knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process; a program of instruction of a specified kind or level: driver education; a college education; the field of study that is concerned with the pedagogy of teaching and learning; an instructive or enlightening experience:

Dictionary.com Unabridged

Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009

So why does another school rate it’s accreditation over and above that of another? Money! Many colleges and universities rate its’ educational values based on the amount of money in its’ coffers as well as the amount of money that they can amass! Another tool to increase superiority in the education business is to attain and maintain accreditation and as many acquisitions as possible.

Several opinions suggest education achieved through these venues is designed to prepare people/students for the job market as opposed to being prepared for life skills. The skills required to carry ones posterity and their descendants that follow into prosperous futures.

Is it fair to assess the stature of a collegiate institution above any other based on the amount of money that is needed to be spent or the amount of education that is achieved? Ivy league institutions turn out many students who are not prepared for the challenges of life…but many of them are rich and have spent thousands of dollars to attend those schools as well as graduating from them. On the other hand, many poor people that are lucky enough to qualify for grants, loans, scholarships, etc., are better prepared to face the challenges set before them (so it seems).

Many poor and working poor students seem to value the collegiate level education as if their life depended upon it, so they tend to work a bit harder to achieve the degree status. The document can be deemed worthless when the graduate cannot find the desired job for which he/she has studied. It is even worse when the graduated student finds that they are worse off than when they started college. They are now burdened with school loan debt plus the debts that they have had to meet before attending college. Working at McDonalds and the like, seem to be the only job that is attainable for many of them. The competition is fierce. These students are for the most part, grouped in with many applicants that are not college educated and many do not have high school diplomas as well! The knowledge attained is not considered or tested by many of these employers. Kiosk type pictures on a cash-register computer is what they have to work with. Is this not insulting to a student who has studied computer science, read and write computer programs and its languages, as well as other academics of study?

Why is it that many non-ivy league students find themselves out of work? Why is it that many of them find that they are the first to lose their employment positions compared to their ivy-league colleagues? Why is it that many inner-city college educated graduates find themselves less likely to be selected as team-leaders than their counter part ivy-leaguers? Many employers advertise their openings with statements that don’t require a college level education. They ask that candidates simply have a high school level education. College educated candidates apply to those openings and find themselves scrutinized out of the running, i.e., background checks, credit checks, criminal histories, schooling activities, etc. Why is it college educated candidates find that not only do they have to compete with ivy-leaguers, they have to compete with high school educated folks as well. What is the sense in enduring hours, years, and other sacrifices to attain the coveted two and/or four-year college level degree when you’re not going to qualify for the job anyway?

The notion of accreditation, money, and notable stature should not be the basis of choosing the collegiate route to education. Education should be based on ones ability to achieve, retain, and utilize education. The achievement of education begins in the home (as well as anyone who desires it). It begins with the Childs’ upbringing and the stressed importance placed by the parent and/or guardian. Should the child be highly scholastic in abilities that enable him/her to be described as intellectually talented above average, that student deserves free college education. While the rest of us who are collegiate material may well have to pay for our higher education. Mind you, my argument is based on the ability to access education without having to spend money…teachers need to earn a living, schools need to pay the costs of operating and maintaining buildings and staff. So the money has to come from somewhere. Albeit, the aforementioned disparages between different colleges should cease the practice of who’s a better institution of higher learning. Is it the responsibility of educated people to enlighten people who are not?

While many may not be aware, education is achievable without attending so-called accredited and/or less accredited schools, of higher learning…start with the libraries in your homes as well as the public facilities, news papers, magazines, shared information, and articles. Why is the education attained by others kept to a level of secrecy that one should have to pay for it?

Attained and acquired education is the responsibility of the educational pursuer…the burden is placed solely on the student not the educational pursued. I’m not advocating that one can become a doctor, architect, or a lawyer by simply reading text…there is a difference between education and training.