Why Open Source? 6 Reasons + 1.

We are at a tipping point in education and it is exciting to be on the leading edge of great change! The change that is coming is in what materials we use to teach – how students access information.  Traditional content is being challenged by Open Source.

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. (The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell)

Why change?  Why seek teaching resources from anywhere other than a traditional textbook?

I offer 6 reasons (and one bonus reason!) below: value, accessibility, alignment, quality, availability, and money. I would like to add that it is not surprising, though, in a time of HGTV and DIY, that teachers are creative and they utilize their digital access to content in classrooms around the world.







Reason 1: Educators may use their professional judgment to select resources for their students and we value them for this.

Teachers are professionals.  Every day, every unit, every year they design learning experiences for their students.  With the world at their fingertips, teachers have access to content beyond their bookshelf.  This means they may choose to collaborate with the teacher down the street, down the hall, or across the country. They take risks and try something new.  Have you explored iTunes U?  You should.  It’s the world’s largest repository of free educational material.  Have you heard of the MathTwitterBlogosphere (#MTBoS)?  Think open source, crowd sourced.  We value our teachers for their creativity, for their thoughtfulness, and for their self-determination to always improve.  Three places to start:

  • Tools for Teachers : Resources for educators in the App Store, organized in categories.
  • iBooks Store: Free Books for Educators: Collection of teaching materials created in iBooks Author, written and published by educators across different subject areas and curriculums and available for free on the iBooks Store.
  • MathTwitterBlogosphere: The Global Math Department is a community of math teachers on the Internet. We communicate via Twitter and blogs so we use the nickname Math Twitter Blogosphere (MTBoS).

2.  Accessibility.  Students are provided greater access to high quality content in a variety of formats and mediums.

Let us not stand in the way of our students.  Let’s give them options to learn and opportunities to learn.  Primary source documents, exploratory tasks, and inquiry experiences represent high quality content that can be delivered in many formats.  It is more difficult to limit than to allow.

3.  Alignment.  Learning experiences may be more closely aligned to content and process standards.

One of our math standards reads: The student applies mathematical process standards to represent and solve problems involving proportional relationships.  The student is expected to calculate unit rates from rates in mathematical and real-world problems.

The process standards include actions such as apply, communicate, create, analyze, display, explain, and justify.  Can you picture a classroom in which students are engaged in such work? This is what our standards challenge us to do.  Every day.

Would you use these verbs to describe what is included in traditional textbooks?  No?  Resources available as open source reflect such actions as described in the process standards for mathematics.  Somehow the greater community of mathematics educators have determined how to teach in this way and they are willing to share.

4.  Quality.  Resources undergo continuous improvement as authors and consumers (teachers and students) interact in a reciprocal format.

In traditional textbooks, content is printed and we read it.  Period.  If there is an error, we avoid that page or that problem.  If we have a question about the content we ask our colleagues.  With open source, the author is a person who very often is accessible and willing to field questions, correct errors, and celebrate classroom implementation of his/her work.

5.  Availability. District level curriculum development may operate on a fluid timeframe, without the constraints of purchase orders, formal board adoptions, and technology uploads.

What if we didn’t have to wait until August for shipments of boxes with textbooks for classrooms?  What if there was no definitive start/end dates for curriculum work?  I see the importance of reflection and revision, but is the restful time of summer the best time?  What if we operated on a continuous improvement cycle, spreading curriculum work throughout the year?  What if you were hired as a new teacher in a district in late spring and you were able to access open source content immediately rather than waiting months for a teacher edition book to arrive at your campus for direction as to how you should design in your classroom?

6.  Money.  Cost savings to districts.  

It is a benefit – a great benefit.  Using open source content frees funding for schools to spend on students in other ways. However, I include this reason last on purpose.  I am confident that I would work diligently to advocate for open source content for the five reasons listed above even if we were not in the current funding predicament.

Bonus: The United States Department of Education believes it is a good idea.  

The U.S. Department of Education announced today the launch of #GoOpen, a campaign to encourage states, school districts and educators to use openly licensed educational materials.

“In order to ensure that all students – no matter their zip code – have access to high-quality learning resources, we are encouraging districts and states to move away from traditional textbooks and toward freely accessible, openly-licensed materials,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. “Districts across the country are transforming learning by using materials that can be constantly updated and adjusted to meet students’ needs.”

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Resources that cost $0 do not have zero value, they have zero cost.  There is a difference.

So what about traditional textbook publishers?  Isn’t pushing open source into the classrooms, in a sense, pushing traditional books out?  Maybe. Maybe not.  I see three distinct reasons to use traditional books:

  1. building teacher content knowledge (referencing the text for “how to” in terms of content)
  2. providing learning experiences for students (though not always great)
  3. providing assessment options for students (though not always great)

If even one of these three needs are not met with the traditional book, it is time to look elsewhere to fulfill that need.

I am thankful to work in a district and a state with a vision to transform teaching and learning. It’s the right thing to do – it’s for kids.


One thought on “Why Open Source? 6 Reasons + 1.

  1. Sarah says:

    It is great to see teachers embracing open materials! Though a lot of the materials on iTunes are free but NOT open, meaning that they do not have Open licenses (Creative Commons licenses) that allow the user to copy and edit them.


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