Open source software is making its way into education.
Even though using open source software for educational purposes is nothing new, we observe an increased demand for it across higher education institutions.
Why now, and why such a surge in interest?
Well, there is hardly any industry that didn’t experience an impact made by the pandemic. The conclusion across the board is almost unanimous: the future is digital, and it’s approaching us at a greater speed than ever before.
The effect on education as a whole was profound. Schools and universities abruptly switched to online education models. As time went on, everybody realized that digital education has numerous benefits.
However, it was also shown that further investments need to be made to facilitate digital transformation in schools and universities. With limited funds and capacity, one thing became clear: open source software is a great solution to specific challenges in digitalizing education.
Why does higher education need open source software?
Digital transformation has been one of the key cross-industrial trends in the last decade. In higher education, digital transformation has been a long-standing effort to improve the learning and teaching experience.
The scope of universities’ digital transformation includes:
- Streamlining the admission process
- Upgrading EdTech
- Digitalizing teaching and learning methodologies
- Improving accessibility and access to higher education
- Personalized learning
- Better learning outcomes, and more.
The need for the digital transformation of public higher education institutions is evident in government funds allocation. Namely,the German government’s digital school pact secured €6.5 billion in funds to improve education industries’ digital structure.
However, several challenges make it more difficult for higher education institutions to speed up their digital transformation:
- High data security and privacy standards
- Complex nature of universities’ systems
- High cost of proprietary solutions and vendor lock-in.
It turns out that open source software is a great solution to these challenges and is why higher education institutions are using more open source solutions than ever.
Benefits of utilizing open source software in education
Open source technology is applied in various EdTech solutions due to its specific benefits. All of open source software advantages arise from its transparency. Namely, what defines open source software is its publicly available code - everyone can see it, inspect it, and contribute to it.
A big challenge that universities have when it comes to digital transformation is the complexity and uniqueness of their systems. From a technological point of view, this makes it harder for universities to adopt technologies that are not built with their specific requirements in mind.
Moreover, almost 70% of public sector employees believe that their digital skills are poorer than those of their private-sector colleagues, making them harder to adapt to completely new systems.
Since open source software is free to inspect and use, it can also be easily modified to match the exact needs of its users. This is often of critical importance to universities whose complex IT infrastructure requires a high level of flexibility when adding new solutions.
Moreover, the scalability of open source software makes it easier for universities to test it or use it on a smaller scale and then increase the number of users or functionalities when the need arises.
As mentioned above, open source software has publicly available code. This means that it’s available for everyone to see and inspect.
Open source community members then gladly intervene in the code and suggest changes to it. A lot of times, the suggestions make the app more secure.
All in all, open source software has the whole community behind its back as contributors. For example, more than 700 people contributed to Rocket.Chat’s code on GitHub.
Why is this important? Because the frequency of cyberattacks on universities is increasing. In 2020, when teaching and learning completely switched online for a while, the average cost of a ransomware attack aimed at universities was almost $500,000.
Moreover, with the introduction of GDPR, European businesses and universities alike have had to adapt to stricter data privacy regulations.
More and more companies are looking for self-deployment options to ensure complete data sovereignty, thus facilitating data protection.
The cost of open source software varies, but it is cheaper than proprietary software as a rule of thumb. Users usually opt for free trials or install community versions of the software at hand, which is usually free. This gives higher education institutions a good insight into how a specific open source software would fit into their complex infrastructure.
Furthermore, open source software customization can be done in-house and doesn’t have to be expensive. On the other hand, proprietary software vendors usually charge extra for customization.
Last but not least, open source software users avoid vendor lock-in. This is a situation where universities become dependent on a vendor for products and services and can’t get out of a deal with them, yet the vendor can increase the price of their services.
Using the open source principles in education
In a lot of ways, the open source world is similar to academia. Developers selflessly propose changes to open source software code in order to improve it, just like academics share their work with academic communities, thus enabling the knowledge on the subject to grow.
That’s why many open source enthusiasts propose applying open source principles in education. What are they, and how can teachers bring open source principles to classrooms?
Education does no longer only imply teachers are teaching students. To truly embrace open source principles in education, teachers should embrace the fact that they co-create the learning experience with their students.
Moreover, teachers can also learn from their students, not only vice versa!
The transparency of the open source software contributes to its improved performance. Just like that, more transparency between teachers, students, and parents can lead to better educational outcomes.
For example, clearly communicating expectations at the beginning of the school year is a great way to reflect on an open source principle in education.
This open source principle can really thrive in online education. There are numerous teaching and learning methods available in digital education. Therefore, students have more ways at their disposal to innovate, showcase their ideas, and get awarded for them.
Therefore, teachers should encourage their students to a diverse range of expressing their ideas and create a safe and inclusive environment where everyone can thrive.
Open source world relies on open source community. This principle is very important in education, since everybody needs a community in order to succeed.
Teachers should inspire students to give back to the academic community, and universities should promote activities that make students feel like they a part of the greater whole.
Release early and often
This open source principle refers to the practice of creating a tight feedback loop between developers and users of the software. In education, it translates to continuous feedback that helps students to improve every step of the way. Also, it stands for frequent communication between all parties involved in the educational process with he purpose of improving it.
How Rocket.Chat’s open source allows universities to provide an excellent student experience without compromising data security
The need for high-level customization when it comes to digital tools and high data security standards are among the main reasons that universities are increasingly drawn to open source solutions.
Higher education institutions are also drawn to open source software due to hefty price tags and vendor lock-ins from proprietary tech providers whose solutions only partly cover universities’ technology needs.
In the words of our customers:
Rocket.Chat is a solution we can completely rely on. It's compatible with our infrastructure and meets our legal and security standards. Therefore, I would strongly recommend other educational institutions to use it.
Patrick Holz, Head of Customer & Web Support department, University of Cologne
With Rocket.Chat, universities enable seamless internal and external collaboration without ever compromising their data security.