From Open Source to Open Education

Computer Code

For the past three weeks I’ve been working as one of two Open Content Curator Interns, employed over the summer in the Educational Design and Engagement (EDE) team. Unlike previous interns, I’ve managed to get my own author account on Open.Ed, and if you’d noticed that (and recognised my name), your first thought would probably be: “Hang on, why did the computer nerd apply for a 9-to-5 office job?”

That’s me, all right. The computer nerd. The one found on a computer all day long. The one who would turn up at an office networking event with an ethernet cable and a gigabit switch. The one who has around a thousand floppy disks stashed under his bed – don’t ask, it’s a long story. I’ve been obsessed with computers for as long as I can remember, constantly fiddling, tinkering, (breaking), and repairing.

Although the fields of Computer Science and Open Education may seem unrelated at first, there is actually a pretty big connection: open source software. Open source software (or “Free Software”, as I prefer to call it – but I should probably leave that particular nerd war out of this blog) is a movement of programmers and computer enthusiasts who have built a community around creating, sharing, modifying and redistributing computer programs, under the protection of a suite of special software licenses that – rather than restricting those who come into contact with the software – ensure it remains free and open forever.

I’ve been using open source software to an almost exclusive degree for several years, and whenever I emerged from extended sessions at my computer, I was always struck by the contrast between the open-to-sharing communities that existed online, and the walled garden approach to education taught in schools, with expensive textbooks that needed to be replaced every few years, educational resources rendered useless when a copyright holder denied permission for their work to be included, and software locked down behind per-user licenses.

I see Open Educational Resources as offering an alternative to this, a way to encourage and promote sharing and re-use within the educational community. Having spent a several years helping run a lunchtime programming club, I know the value in being able to find high-quality open teaching resources, adapt them to suit your audience, and then share them once you’ve finished so that others can benefit. To those that question whether OERs can compete with their closed counterparts, I would point to Open Source as an example: nowadays using any computer will guarantee at least some contact with open source software, from the Android operating system, to the underlying code in both the Chrome and FireFox web browsers, to the WordPress blogging software (which according to a study by W3Techs, powers over 30% of all websites – including Open.Ed!)

I would like to thank Charlie and all the others at the OER team for creating such a welcoming and supportive atmosphere. I am delighted to be working for an organisation that values OERs even more highly than I do, and am excited to see what I can achieve over the course of the summer.

Header image is screenshot of code by Andrew Ferguson, image licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.