Although, I have limited classical teaching experience, I am keenly aware that having equal access to problem solving tools can be critical for students at all levels. Unfortunately, the average educator is unaware that there are alternatives to mainstream commercial software.
The term Software Libre can be literally translated to mean Software Freedom, and this definition is more eloquently stated in the Free Software Foundation manifesto, overseen by Richard Stallman .
Scholarship is serious business, and it is clear that providing children with easy access to software is paramount. When you teach children using only proprietary software tools, you are essentially encouraging software piracy. In that, it is unlikely that they will have access to the same software outside of the classroom. If the child wishes to learn more, they will be forced to get access to this exclusive software.
So, if we understand that there are alternatives to proprietary software offerings, what we immediately discover is that there is another avenue for seeking knowledge and scholarship. What is liberating about this discovery? Well, aside from the obvious reduction of costs associated with educational software licenses, we also gain the ability to redirect these aforementioned savings to curriculum development and specialized teaching tools.
The wide-world web has opened a vast amount of access to people who normally would be shut out from these opportunities.
However, the proliferation of geeky jargon and sophisticated tools can be daunting to even the most savvy computer users.
As discussed previously, Open Source seeks to level the playing field by providing access to all teaching disciplines.
The Open Source Assistive Technology Software (OATS) initiative is one such organization which seeks to help programs which empower and treat special needs students. Their site is chock-full of helpful programs and they showcase plethora of Open Source Software (OSS) projects that have started to scratch the itch and provide solutions to various special needs problems.
Other interesting OSS projects are Moodle, Mozilla Firefox, and Openoffice.org.
The Course Management System(CMS), Moodle is particularly interesting due to the very large and extremely active developer network. The ability to manage interactive testing and share real-time feedback with students and parents is a very intriguing value proposition.
Most everyone has at least heard about Mozilla Firefox, as it basically forced Microsoft to freshen its aging Internet Explorer web browser. If you have been a Firefox user for any length of time, you will note from different online screen shots that IE 7.0 really is not very innovative.
Openoffice.org(OOo) is recognized as a very capable replacement for Microsoft Office, and it is championed by Sun Microsystems(SUN). It is standards compliant and will run on several platforms. Perhaps most importantly, it is easily reads the Microsoft Office formats and with the click of button, publishes the very popular Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file format on the fly.
Lastly, it is understood that children seem to respond to sensory stimulus (ie. sound, color, and visual). The 3-D world of SecondLife has begun to receive serious consideration for advanced teaching tool for students. The separate teen grid provides a special layer of protection from adult content.
Software Libre is a community effort which lends credence to global and forward thinking. The time for collaborative, participatory thinking is now. How will you leverage this opportunity?