Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Technology Enhanced Learning: Part 3 of 3 - Can Free Open Source Software (FOSS) successfully replace any proprietary software used by teachers?


Note: This blog was first published on my LinkedIn account

There are many FOSS based software applications which could replace some of the current (probably older version) proprietary software used in schools, colleges and universities. Read on...
As teachers, it is important to ensure that we focus on the learning outcomes which we extracted from the programme specification. The scheme of work and individual lesson plans are then constructed to ensure that the students have the best opportunity to achieve the best grade they are capable of.
I feel it is important to note that I have never seen a programme specification state that a certain software package(s) must be used. However, I have spoken to many teachers who believe and indeed promote that certain software must be used. A popular example that is quoted to me is Adobe Photoshop as it is the market leader. This may be the market leader (for now) but purchasing a campus licence for the school, college or university will be expensive. The purchase of the licence could also risk adding an additional cost to the student if it is considered necessary for them to purchase the software for completing homework and/or a flipped classroom scenario.
My main concern with using proprietary software are two fold:
1] Using expensive software increases the risk of developing a digital divide (the haves and have nots).
2] Is it wise for the teaching profession to be seen to promote a particular product?
By focusing on the actual requirements of the programme specifications it is very likely that a free and open source alternative can be identified which will ensure that all the learning outcomes are met. For example the FOSS based software product 'GIMP' is likely to be a suitable alternative to Adobe Photoshop and has the benefit of working on Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac and Linux which ensures that the educational organisation and the student can have the same (latest) version at no cost.
I have been using FOSS in education and indeed business since 2004 and have significantly reduced my reliance on proprietary software.
The following screen-shots are taken from my own laptop/PC (I have the same software on both) which I hope will give you an insight into possible alternative software solutions. Please note that for every piece of software shown there are further FOSS alternatives available in the Software Centre (see Ubuntu Software Centre below). There are over 78,000 FOSS based software available and therefore you will find alternative Music players/ Office software etc which you may prefer to use instead of the selection I am showing below. 
The following are screen-shots starting at the top of my most used software programmes:
Searching:
The HUD (head up display) is activated by Pressing the 'Windows button' or clicking on the top left Icon (highlighted) a head up display is presented which is used to quickly search for applications and files on the computer as well as searching the Internet at the same time. Please note that normal PC based searching is also provided in the file manager system as shown below.

File manager
Typical file manager system. Normal computer based searches can be performed to find 'forgotten' files.

Browser
I use both Firefox and Chrome but others are available.

Email and calendar etc
Thunderbird and Lightning is a fully functioning email, calendar, tasks, Feeds, Newsgroups, Chat:Twitter/IRC/XMPP/Yahoo/Google Talk
Cloud folders
I use Dropbox to ensure I can access particular files (mainly teaching content) from any device anywhere in the world. It is also useful as an additional automatic backup device for my teaching content. 
 Office
Fully functioning Office suite (Libre Office) which works with Window office files such as Word etc.
Music player
I use Rhythmbox. I also use this as a (mainly BBC) podcast repository.
Music ripper
Rhythmbox does not have a ripper function and therefore I use Sound Juicer. There are other music players available which includes a ripper function.
Screen capture
Kazam is a powerful screen capture (video and screen-shot) application. I used this for capturing the screen-shots shown here. I also use it to record video based teaching content.
 Video editor
Openshot is a powerful video editor application. I use this to edit my teaching content videos.

Media player
VLC is a must have software application.This media player will play just about every file format available including streaming. It will also allow you to render a video into another format. If this media player can't play your file then I suspect no player will be able to.

Vector Graphics
Inkscape is a powerful vector graphics editor similar to Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Freehand, or Xara X.
Raster Graphics
GIMP provides sophisticated tools for the photographer, illustrator and graphic designer. GIMP is similar to Adobe Photoshop.
3D animation
Blender is a powerful animator, games and video creation application. View this page to see a few demos.
Scanner
Simple Scan is just that... simple. The above image displays the front of a magazine and it is so simple and quick I use it every week to reduce the amount of paper I have store.
 Calculator
The Calculator application has a basic, advanced, financial and programming mode. The image above is displaying the advance mode.
Virtual Machine
Virtualbox is a powerful application which allows me to run a computer inside the computer. The link (Virtualbox)  shows computers running inside a Linux computer, but it is just as easy to load Virtualbox on your Windows PC/laptop and run a Linux or another Windows computer.
System
The System application allows the user to set-up printers and adjust computer settings such as auto-backups and desktop functions.
Ubuntu software centre
The Ubuntu Software Centre enables anyone of the 78,000 plus application to be installed and removed as necessary.
Multidesk
Workspace Switcher allows 4 computer screens on one physical screen. The screen-shot above shows different applications running on different screens. The user would click on which screen they wish to work on and then easily move to and from different screens as necessary.
System Monitor
This application allows the user to view specific processors to monitor performance or help diagnose a problem.
I hope the above screen-shots have provided you with an insight into the possibilities of using FOSS based software applications. Please visit part 1 of 3 and 2 of 3 for further examples of FOSS in education.
There are many software applications such as Inkscape, GIMP, Libre Office and Blender which work on Windows, Apple and Linux. If education (and businesses) wish to reduce their costs and reduce the risk of increasing the digital divide then they should consider looking at the programme specifications to see whether FOSS could replace the current (probably older version)  proprietary software, and save expense which is unnecessary for the school, college or university and of course the students.
Therefore I believe that Free Open Source Software (FOSS) can successfully replace many propriety software applications used by teachers.