Timisoara (RO), September 2007 - (by Elena Lita) Open Source, a term proposed in 1998, refers to a set of principles and practices that promote the access to the process of planning and implementing various products and resources. The term is primarily used in relation to software. A wider term is FLOSS (or FOSS) - Free Libre Open Source Software. Carmen Holotescu, an instructor at the Automation and Computer Science Faculty - Politehnica University of Timisoara, the coordinator of the eLearning firm Timsoft, and the author of two eLearning guides speaks about the use of Open Source in Education.
Why should OS be used for educational purposes?
Carmen Holotescu: The main benefits of open source software as concluded by UNESCO's International Institute for Educational Planning are adaptable functionality, lower overall costs, vendor independence (increases choice, competition and transparency), adherence to open standards, the software's position as a public good, interoperability, and security.
The recommendations of the EU for educational policies are to avoid lifelong vendor lock-in in educational systems by teaching students skills rather than specific applications and by encouraging participation in FLOSS-like communities. This adds value to the skills learnt by students, such as a positive attitude towards information technology that favours the ability to create and actively participate and collaborate rather than just consume.
In Romania, the interest and the use of open source software by teachers, pupils, and students is very important, but most initiatives are personal. Many Linux and LAMP users are active in user groups, building online communities with online support and discussions forums, but also with periodic face-to-face meetings. Romanian Linux distributions were developed by teams formed by young students.
A lot of workshops and conferences in which actors from educational system participate take place, such as Linux and Virtual Learning Environments at University Vasile Goldis Arad (, which has convened five times editions), Linux Open Alternative Days - LOAD , or the International Conference eLiberatica organized by Romanian Open Source Initiative.
Is OER a viable alternative at this moment?
Carmen Holotescu: Open source software is based on and uses open formats, and for this, it is used to create Open Educational Resources (OER). In Europe and worldwide, there many projects have been developed that deal with OER that are the subject of numerous debates, studies, policies, and educational priorities. The term Open Educational Resources was adopted at the UNESCO Forum in 2002, following the analysis of the impact that the Open Courseware projects have had on higher education.
The Open Educational Resources include materials (content) for teaching and learning: open courseware and open content projects, free courses, learning objects directories, and educational journals. The OER are generally characterised by the following attributes:
- the access to open materials - open content - is free for educational institutions and individual users;
- the content is licensed so that it may be reused or modified during educational activities; to this end, the content observes open standards and formats;
- educational applications are open-source - the source is available, and it can be modified or adapted, or interfaces are made available - APIs - that enable the creation of new applications.
Information technologies make it possible for educators to access and exchange online resources. Until a few years ago, most of the materials created were protected, the authentification of the users' identities being needed. Nowadays, most of the resources are created and posted freely on the Web using the collaborative systems available via Web 2.0. Just like the FLOSS enables the users to reuse or modify the software, the OER allow users to adapt the materials and systems to self-instructional and other learning environments.
But ultimately, the OER imply a fundamental change in the educational process, favouring the focus on the student.
Is there any connection between eLearnTS and the OS movement?
Carmen Holotescu: The eLearnTS is an online environment developed by Timsoft that can be configured for online courses, for training in companies, for online communities, or as a collaborative platform for distributed teams. In our company, we use it to deliver IT, management, training the eTrainers, online courses for universities, firms, or for individual learners, and as collaborative platforms for our European projects.
No matter what the subject of a course is, the learning community formed by the participants and the facilitator builds a pool of useful resources for future reflections, too: RSS feeds; blogs of the facilitator, participants, and other practitioners; wikis with topics related to the course; collections using collaborative bookmarking systems; and localization of other open resources.
The platform is based on open technologies - LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP), and collaborative exercises realized by the participants frequently use Web 2.0 tools. We consider that each online course, each new learning experience in which somebody takes part, should be integrated into the continuous learning process in which the person is involved.