Digital Directions - Winter 2013 - (Page 34)
pen-source approaches now appear
to be migrating from the fringe to the
mainstream in the education market.
Blackboard has acquired
Moodlerooms and Netspot and
launched an open-source services group within
the company. Pearson is touting its “OpenClass”
learning management system. Instructure has
unveiled the source code for its Canvas platform.
But as companies make such moves, experts
contend that the definition of what constitutes
“open” is changing. And in some cases,
companies are using the term in products that
are not actually open source to capitalize on the
popularity of the concept.
“There are multiple definitions of open that are
confusing buyers and watering down the message,”
says Philip D. Hill, the ed-tech consultant, analyst,
and co-founder of MindWires Consulting. Hill has
been following LMS companies for more than eight
years and writes about developments in that market
on the e-Literate blog.
Learning management systems provide an
online portal for classrooms, serving many
administrative functions for educators as well as
allowing students to view assignments, grades,
and learning materials. In some cases, LMS
products can be used to deliver entire courses.
A purely open-source product allows a user of the
product to both view and modify its source code.
One major advantage to open-source software is
that it is distributed for free, and for many cashstrapped educators and schools, there is a strong
link between the concept of “open” and free, which
is a major draw to such products.
That link may explain the use of the word “open”
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in a product like Pearson’s OpenClass. While it
does not claim to be open source, it is available
for free for anyone to download and use. However,
the source code is not viewable and cannot be
modified by users.
OpenClass, a cloud-based LMS that was launched
by the London-based educational publishing giant in
October 2011, allows educators to import and export
data, so it is open in that sense, says Hill, but does
not fit the purely open-source category because of its
proprietary source code.
By contrast, the LMS platform Canvas offered by
Instructure, a Sandy, Utah-based ed-tech startup, is
technically open source. But even though Instructure
allows the code to be viewed, the company makes
most of the changes to the code in-house, says Hill.
While Canvas was initially marketed primarily to higher
education, it is now sold in the K-12 market, too.
But do schools care if products are staying true to
the philosophy of open source?
“It matters a lot less than it used to—and that
frustrates a lot of the open-source community,” says
Hill. “What people care a lot more about now is the
cost. They’re also sensitive in that they want to have
“Canvas has really changed the game in terms of
usability,” he adds. “And the market seems to be
saying, ‘It’s fine if we’re not contributing code.’”
A majority of the schools that use Canvas do not
host the code themselves as open-source products
allow them to do, but rely on Instructure’s cloudbased hosting instead, says Brian Whitmer, the cofounder and chief product officer of the company.
Cloud computing allows schools to pay a
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ILLUSTRATION: Chris Whetzel_for Digital Directions
LMS companies aim to connect with ‘open’ technologies
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Digital Directions - Winter 2013
Digital Directions - Winter 2013
DD Site Visit
Bits & Bytes
Online Courses Turn on Gaming
Reading in the Age of Digital Devices
Movers & Shakers
State, Federal Leadership Seen as Key to Innovation
Digital Directions - Winter 2013