Educators examine pros, cons of open source platforms

Perhaps Cranston hasn’t heard of Moodle. Moodle – modular object-oriented dynamic learning environment – is an open source software package used by more than four million people in 150 countries. It is designed to enable users and educators to create online courses quickly and easily.

B.C.’s Royal Roads University recently announced it is converting 76 of its online courses to the Moodle platform over the next six months. Carrie Spencer, acting CIO at Royal Roads, which delivers its graduate and undergraduate programs online and in short residencies to students around the globe, had been using a system it had developed in-house. That worked well enough until recently, Spencer says, but it wasn’t sustainable, so Royal Roads went to the open source community. Using an open source platform will be more cost-effective for the school in the long run, she says, although there were some costs involved in the customization of the Moodle interface.

Open source, although not new, is still an emerging technology in the education sector. Many institutions, from the elementary school sector upwards, have at least looked at it as a means of cutting costs.

Some, however, like Brad Biehn, director of information systems at Louis Riel School District in Winnipeg, have found that’s not necessarily the case. Biehn says when Louis Riel was created from the amalgamation of two separate school boards, it was the opportune moment to rethink the schools’ systems. “We had a hodgepodge of equipment, and because neither organization’s structure would scale up to the new one, we had to find new ones,” he says. “We looked at Linux as an opportunity, we looked at Microsoft, and because one of the legacy divisions was on Macintosh, we looked at server offerings there as well. Because we’re public sector, cost was a very important thing for us to consider.”

After six months of running tests, Biehn came to the conclusion Windows 2003 Server would provide a more secure and stable environment.

“I was one of the strong pushers for Linux, because I wanted to spend more money putting more hardware in front of users,” he says. “So I thought the desktop could be free; the software is open source, the servers are open source, but when it came down to putting it together, we thought the user experience would be somewhat lacking.”

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