LinuxPR: OSSI and North Mississippi Education Consortium Announce Pilot Program
Aug 14, 2002, 08:00 (0 Talkback[s])
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Oxford, MS - August 13, 2002 - The North Mississippi Education
Consortium (NMEC) will lead a pilot program designed to provide
Free and Open-Source software to Mississippi's public school
The program, called "Freedom to Learn," is part of a Ph.D.-level
study exploring alternative technologies and methods of reducing
costs while increasing efficiency and student productivity within
public school systems.
The program will be hosted at the University of Mississippi's
School of Education in Oxford, Mississippi. Freedom to Learn was
conceived and initiated by the Open Source Software Institute
(http://www.oss-institute.org) a (Mississippi-based) non-profit
organization whose mission is to promote the development and
implementation of open source software within government agencies
and academic entities.
"The goal of this program is to harness the vast resources
available through Free and Open-Source software and apply these
resources to good use in Mississippi's public school system," said
Jim Chambless, Dean of the School of Education at the University of
Mississippi. "This program will allow us to explore opportunities
in cutting edge technologies that can save our public schools money
while freeing funds to improve the computer systems being used by
students and teachers."
Free and Open-Source software represent a variety of software
solutions whose license requires that the software code be open,
extensible and freely distributable. The "freedom" and "openness"
of the source code allows for collaborative development by
programmers and enables the software to be customized to meet the
The Freedom to Learn program will identify, collect, analyze and
combine software applications and program packages that promote
literacy skills, communication skills, mathematics, visual arts,
data collection and organization, and Internet browsers.
Program researchers will initially target between six and 18
public school districts in northern Mississippi. Within each
selected school district at least two schools with similar
educational needs, demographics, technologies and financial
resources will be selected to participate.
Half of the schools selected will serve as a control site, while
the other schools will have their existing student computer labs
audited, then reprogrammed with open source software solutions that
closely mirror the software being replaced. The experimental school
sites will be monitored both directly and remotely by the research
team for up to 18 months.
"Nearly all of the existing programs utilized within the schools
systems have an Open- Source or Free-source alternative," said Don
Schillinger, the 47-year-old Ph.D. candidate leading the Freedom to
Learn study. "We are exploring the feasibility of collecting the
Open source and Free-Source programs that are currently available
today and customizing them to meet the needs of each school
district participating in the program.
"By utilizing Open-Source software, we can customize the
software to look and feel almost exactly like what the students and
teachers are currently using, and add powerful educational
applications to their desktops at no or low cost," Schillinger
continued. "Since Free and Open-Source programs are not limited
through restrictive license agreements, we can also change the
programs to address any specific needs that the teachers or student
require. Open-Source models have an inherent advantage in that you
have the ability and right, through the General Public License
(GPL) agreement, to alter the program to meet your needs."
Another benefit to the use of Free and Open-Source software is
the price. All of the licensed software solutions to be considered
for the Freedom to Learn program are available without charge
through the Internet.
"Free and Open-Source software programs are developed through
collaborative efforts of programmers around the world. Since there
is no restriction to the access of the source code, the only thing
limiting the development of any program is the need of the client
and the imagination of the programmers," Schillinger said. "Most of
these programs can be purchased from traditional vendors, like any
other software. What you're paying for, in that instance, is their
development time and follow up support for the program. However, if
you have the expertise, you can download the programs yourself and
customize it in-house. That is what we see happening with the
programs we'll implement in the schools."
Two additional attributes of most Free and Open-Source software
applications are that they run efficiently on older computers, and
their low or no cost increases access to the students and teachers
of Mississippi. Both of these considerations may have dynamic and
far reaching educational implications.
NMEC will coordinate with the Open Source Software Institute to
provide support and training for the teachers, instructors and
students involved in the program.
"Freedom to Learn is a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate the
practical application of Free and Open-Source Software," said OSSI
Chairman and Founder John Weathersby. "OSSI will provide access to
the open source industry and will help support this program in
every way possible.
"It is our position that Open-Source software is the most
logical technical solution in a public service setting," Weathersby
continued. "This study and all the programs and application
development that will result from Freedom to Learn will become a
true public assets and will benefit everyone. OSSI is proud to be
associated with this effort and we are excited to have identified a
group that has the leadership and vision to take a project like
this and run with it."
Project Freedom to Learn will begin with this fall semester and
is scheduled to continue through next school year. Five additional
states have expressed interest in adopting the Freedom to Learn