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Open Source Issues forHigher EducationJames DalzielProfessor of Learning Technology Macquarie E-Learning Centre Of Excellence (MELCOE)Macquarie Investigator,Australian Service for Knowledge of Open Source Software (ASK-OSS) for Open Repositories 2006, University of Sydney, February 3rd, 2006

  • About open source software (OSS)
  • Adoption of open source in higher education
  • OSS Case Study: LAMS
  • Introducing ASK-OSS
  • Current OSS issues in higher education
about open source software
About open source software
  • What is open source software?
    • Formal definition provided by the Open Source Institute
    • Formal accreditation of licenses - “OSI Certified”
  • Typical elements of open source licenses
    • Attribution
    • Publicly available source code (typically without charge)
    • Disclaimer of all liability/warranty
    • Freedom to view, use, change and redistribute source code
      • Some licenses require redistribution under same license
about open source software1
About open source software
  • A related term is “free software” (free as in freedom)
    • Similar, but not the same definition, as open source
    • Free software includes a focus on the ethics of sharing; open source tends to focus more on pragmatics of adoption
    • Sometimes collectively described as “Free and Open Source Software” (FOSS)
  • While the license is central to defining open source, there are other important dimensions, such as:
    • Open development processes
    • Open source business models/sustainability of open source
    • Open source culture (meritocracy, open robust debate, etc)
about open source software2
About open source software
  • Open source software/free software has its origins deeply rooted in higher education/research
    • Key role of universities and researchers in the earliest developments of software and the internet (MIT, Berkeley)
    • More recently, both Linux and Apache (and many other projects) and OSS licenses have university/research related origins
  • Today, some areas of higher education are open source, others are mostly closed, and others are changing
    • Mainly open: E-Research software (eg Grid), various infrastructure
    • Mainly closed: Finance/HR, Student Information, Desktops
    • Changing: Learning Management Systems (LMS), Browsers
examples of oss in he
Examples of OSS in HE
  • Desktop
    • Limited operating system and office productivity adoption (but growing number of trials)
    • Growing browser adoption since Firefox release
    • Limited collaboration (email, calendar, etc)
    • Various niche applications (eg, encryption)
examples of oss in he1
Examples of OSS in HE
  • Infrastructure
    • Apache web server dominant
    • Linux operating system widely adopted
    • MySQL and PostgresSQL becoming common databases for small-medium scale use
    • Tomcat, JBoss, Zope and other similar systems becoming common for application platforms
    • Perl/PHP/Python programming languages
    • Various open source utilities common (Eclipse IDE, Squid proxy cache, CAS/Libproxy/etc for single sign on, OpenLDAP for directory, Federated Identity and Access using Shibboleth, etc)
examples of oss in he2
Examples of OSS in HE
  • Core education applications
    • Learning Management Systems: Moodle, Sakai, .LRN, ATutor, etc
    • Portal: uPortal
    • Content Management Systems: Plone, Joomla, Lon-capa
    • Community systems: OpenACS/.LRN, Drupal
    • Content authoring: Reload, eXe
    • Repositories: DSpace, Fedora, EPrints
    • Learning Design: LAMS, Coppercore
    • Others: Blogs, Wikis, etc
examples of oss in he3
Examples of OSS in HE


  • Desktop – limited OSS impact, some trials
  • Infrastructure – significant OSS adoption, dominant in some areas
  • OSS Educational applications – mixed
    • Limited in some areas (Finance/HR, Student Information Systems, Library)
    • Changing in other areas (LMS, CMS, Portal)
    • Already dominant in some (Repositories, Learning Design)
case study lams
Case Study: LAMS
  • LAMS (Learning Activity Management System) is a new generation of e-learning software
  • Based on the evolving field of “Learning Design”
  • LAMS helps teachers/lecturers to create and run “digital lesson plans”
    • Sequences of content and collaborative activities
  • LAMS sequences can be shared and improved
    • LAMS Community and “open source teaching”
  • Originally developed as commercial software, shifted to an open source business model
case study lams1
Case Study: LAMS
  • Why was open source a good decision for LAMS?
    • Encourage rapid widespread adoption of the Learning Design approach and the LAMS software
    • Foster open source development of new activity tools (as well as extend the core platform)
    • Combines open source and open content approaches
    • LAMS as open source helps inform future open standards development for Learning Design
    • LAMS as open source helps avoid file format lock-in
    • Non-profit foundation: www.lamsfoundation.orgCommercial services: www.lamsinternational.comSoftware/resources:
case study lams2
Case Study: LAMS
  • How will LAMS be sustainable?
    • Dual organisational structure:
      • LAMS Foundation (non profit) for public funding, charitable grants, etc; owns software, releases as OSS
      • LAMS International Pty Ltd (services company) for paid services and support (eg, hosting, tech support, training, custom development, custom content, etc)
        • Profits on services help support ongoing development
    • LAMS chose the General Public License (GPL) to allow for the possibility of “dual licensing” (cf MySQL)
      • Software free to all under the GPL
      • Commercial software that wants to integrate and distribute LAMS can pay for a non-GPL license
case study lams3
Case Study: LAMS
  • What do commercial software companies think of LAMS as open source software?

“The LAMS Building Block is a prime example of open source and Blackboard working together towards the common goal of enhancing education," said Matthew Pittinsky, Chairman of Blackboard. "This new tool clearly demonstrates that open source and corporate developed/supported software do not and should not be mutually exclusive of each other; but instead can work side by side to create an end result greater than the sum of the individual parts. It is tremendously exciting to work with LAMS to facilitate this kind of cutting edge functionality.”

Blackboard Press Release, 24/1/06

ask oss overview
ASK-OSS: Overview
  • DEST-funded project in the MERRI round of SII
  • Provides a national focal point for OSS assistance for E-Research
    • Advice, management, governance and dissemination
  • Modelled on the successful “OSS Watch” JISC Service at Oxford (also a partner for ASK-OSS)
  • Complementary to, but different from, open content initiatives such as Creative Commons
    • Software focus
ask oss priorities
ASK-OSS: Priorities
  • ASK-OSS provides unbiased, pragmatic advice/guidance to researchers on:
    • selection of appropriate OSS for research
    • choosing appropriate OSS licenses
    • management/governance for OSS development
    • (potentially) a national service for storage and community development of OSS (using GForge)

NB: Does not provide formal legal advice

ask oss partners
ASK-OSS: Partners
  • Lead: Macquarie University (MELCOE)
    • Experience with OSS from LAMS, MAMS, etc
  • Open Source Law
    • Specialist legal firm in OSS issues
  • Open Source Industry Association (OSIA)
    • Australia’s industry body for OSS
  • OSS Watch (Oxford, on behalf of JISC, UK)
    • UK Advisory Service for OSS
oss issues in he
OSS Issues in HE
  • Business models and sustainability
    • Eg, “Can I restrict my OSS to non-commercial use only?
      • No – breaches “no restriction on fields of endeavour” (clause 6) of the Open Source Definition (OSI)
  • “Which license should I choose for my new project?”
    • Depends on your values, community and goals
    • Eg, GPL is most widely used, but consider its “reciprocity” clause
  • “What is community source? Is it the same as open source?”
    • For Sakai, OSPI – yes; the difference is the development model
  • “My CIO won’t consider OSS because there is no support”
    • Most OSS projects have active web support communities
    • As an OSS system becomes widely adopted, commercial services arise to provide paid support contracts similar to commercial support
      • Red Hat Linux, MySQL Network, Moodle Partners, LAMS International, etc