Digital Directions - Winter 2013 - (Page 34)

OPEN-SOURCE Opportunities By_Katie Ash O 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” 34 >> 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 easy-to-use features.” “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.’” Usability Challenges 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 PAGE 36 > 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
Editor’s Note
DD Site Visit
Bits & Bytes
Digital Storytelling
Online Courses Turn on Gaming
Reading in the Age of Digital Devices
Movers & Shakers
State, Federal Leadership Seen as Key to Innovation
Open-Source Opportunities
BYOD Boundaries
E-Cloud Forecast
Digital Shift

Digital Directions - Winter 2013