Is the free software model of production applicable to free educational content?

Update: Good contributions in the comments to this post, one by Candido and the other one by the author of the article, Sergio Monge

In an article entitled ¿Es aplicable el modelo de producción del software libre a contenidos educativos? (Is the free software model of production applicable to free educational content?), Sergio Monge Benito compares how free software is developed and tries to see if the educational community could reproduce its model to produce free educational content.

The text is very interesting. After a first short introduction to F/OSS he says that software and content are quite similar. They both are packeted knowledge and so they can be shared, modified, easily transferred, etc. Another point is their modularity. In both cases, software or content can be cut into little pieces (the shortest bunch of lines of code or the tiniest learning object) so its difficult not to be able to adapt a part of the whole to one’s own purposes.

The problem, of course, is not the similarities but differences. These differences are grouped in the following lines:

The community

There is a community of free software but there is not a community of free content teachers, at any level but, specially, at the secondary school level – of course he speaks of an articulated, legitimized, running, actual community, collaborative network the way we understand the hacker community.

Technological tools

This community of teachers or content producers does not master the technological tools to be used in a collaborative ICT enhanced environment.

Even if they did, they surely do not master either everything concerning the production of materials to be used in virtual environments or, at least, to be filed in virtual repositories. The author does not speak of anything concrete but I guess he’s right thinking that not everyone knows about HTML, DHTML, Flash, Breezer, RSS, PDF, PowerPoint, etc. – I know it sounds weird but try and run a poll in your nearest environment.

Standards

Simple. While the F/OSS community is standard guided, content community is not. Yes, there’s some attempts with IMS, Scorm, etc. but this is only a part of the problem – the technologycal one – and it is far from being solved.

Concerning to content itself – and this is my opinion – this community of teachers has a lot to learn from people usually working in wikis (is it the same community? maybe)

University Volunteers

Mmm, dark point here. The author says most of the biggest leaps in F/OSS came from the University, from university volunteers (“the F/OSS community benefits from availability of time and energy from university students all over the world”). Well, this might be true, but I think is a little bit biased.

The author concludes that teachers are usually overwhelmed by their everyday work and thus the University – university volunteers – should collude with them in their effort to create these learning objects and asks the public administration and the private sector for help.

Critical mass

A minimum number of people is required to kick off a F/OSS project. Then, others join it and the project goes on.

This is difficult to happen in the educational world as there is an “individualist tradition” in the teaching community.

The reference:

PDF file Sergio Monge Benito: ¿Es aplicable el modelo de producción del software libre a contenidos educativos? (110 Kb, in Spanish)

Well, not a very optimistic point of view, though I share it 90%.
At least, we seem to know our weak points :)

[via Sierto]

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2004) “Is the free software model of production applicable to free educational content?” In ICTlogy, #13, October 2004. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=174

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4 Comments to “Is the free software model of production applicable to free educational content?” »

  1. Nice post. thanks.
    The model behind FOSS seems indeed to apply very well to knowledge and everything around, like educational content. Think also of the success of Wikipedia.

    Not really related, but…
    This kind of “what else can we do with the FOSS model” idea reminded me of the Oekonux project .
    http://www.oekonux.org/
    thinking about how the FOSS model could bring us a new economic system and/or a new society.
    hmmm.. not quite sure.

  2. About the dark point: about 21% of FOSS programers are students and about 7% are university teachers [source González Barahona, J.; Seoane, J.; Robles, G.: “Introducción al software libre.” Eureka
    Media, Barcelona (2003)].

    That’s quite good percent. What I say is that probably some of the FOSS projects would not have been successful without that extra effort from University world. Or at least, not as successfull as they are.

    I don’t think that most of the biggest leaps in F/OSS came from the University, but they have a big part in this.

    BTW, thanks for the article and comments,

    Sergio Monge

  3. So, slightly off track, but there is a tool out there for sharing and trading content — specifically, training materials. Not necessarily designed for teachers it is certainly a tool which can be co-opted for this purpose:
    http://www.trainingpoint.org/cgi-bin/WebObjects/OCP.woa/wa/showPage?x=

    I think it can be an example of what can happen.

    I also think that the creative commons license and the search engine that is being built by that team is an integral part of this kind of an effort.

  4. Good point.

    I talked about TrainingPoint in a previous post about some article by TechSoup, but, actually, did not say much about the requirements for such tools.

    Thus, what you say in your last post is right to me.

    Nevertheless, we use to set our focus in content but should also focus in methodology, which is something F/OSS developpers take for granted but “free content developpers” do not :)

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