Open Ed Tech: Where Can I Start?
This article opens with the well known idea of using (free/libre/open) tech for teaching (free/libre/open) tech skills, but it is not about that, at least not directly.
Also available in Dutch
Tech for Teaching Tech
Learning to code is perhaps the most obvious gateway for introducing an open-source based freedom-software solution into a school. The people involved are likely to be the teachers most familiar with I.T. and might have at least heard of the concept of freedom software or at least open source. When I am thinking about how to get Free (Libre) Open Source Software principles taught and practised in schools, then, code for teaching coding is one of the easier routes that comes to mind.
However, this article is not about that, but about where to start, how to introduce the idea in the first place, in a world where the children, the parents, the teachers, and likely even the school's governors and advisors know only YouTube and Microsoft.
Reaching the Mind-Set
The situation at my children's primary school (ages 4 to 11) is, I think, virtually no awareness at all of the gulf between proprietary tech business models and the values and principles of using technology that we ourselves can control.
Here is one of the issues they deal with daily: playing a video to entertain the youngest children, or to teach something about volcanoes to the older ones, as far as I can tell they often turn to YouTube... and then after a few minutes comes the advert. The teacher clicks the button to cut short the advert and resume the intended video. (I learnt this from a young child.)
Now, I am guessing the teacher thinks their only alternatives are either to search for a suitable video on an “official” educational videos provider (perhaps expecting they won't likely find the one they want there because “it's on YT”), or to ask the school to pay for a special YT subscription for teachers.
Whereas I am thinking, choose your videos at lesson planning time, then ask if there's some I.T. support for playing those videos on some other “web site” (which should be controlled by the school and could well be made with open-source software).
Now, I am the techie type. My conversational skill goes along the lines of: “Didn't you know there is open source freedom software for doing all these things... It's great... I can build some... What do you mean you haven't been trained on that, you don't have such alternatives, and you don't even really understand what I'm talking about?”
It's easy for us (techies) to come up with things we want the teacher to do better/differently, especially technical solutions like copying/playing videos a different way, but today my issue is about the initial approach. I'm afraid to talk to a teacher because they're working so hard to just manage to teach at all, it feels too rude to even mention that seeing a bit of the beginning of an advert is anything to complain about.
If I suggest that it really bothers me that my child sees bits of adverts... I can't take myself seriously, I can't honestly say that. We discuss at home what adverts are trying to do, and why, and what the alternatives are. That's not what bothers me. My child will be fine with that. If I were in an open tech advice team for the school, I would certainly be ready with ad blockers, self-hosted media players, all kinds of technical options, but that's for later.
My real goal is I want the school as a whole to learn how technology can be opened, studied, modified and controlled by ordinary people.
Maybe it would be useful to approach a school teacher, gently, just asking what they think of the situation and what they might wish for if they could have something different, and letting them know I/we are not criticising them but just interested in the wider issue of adapting technology to suit our values. Maybe that way I/we could start some awareness that alternatives are possible. Maybe that way I/we could make contact with someone in more of a position of power to change the tech that is being used. Somewhere, maybe, some “IT support” person or remote department is hiding. Maybe they exist and are approachable. (Or maybe the school's IT literacy and awareness comes only through Google/MS marketing channels. Ugh... that sadly seems entirely possible.)
I recently plucked up some courage and tried emailing the head teacher, asking who I could talk to about IT decision making and procurement, explaining why I'm interested. I'm advised by friendly supporters that I should speak to them in person instead, I'm much more likely to get a response that way.
Ada & Zangemann
There is a book, a children's story, that really “nails it”. It gets to the heart of how owning her skateboard (in this case) means wresting control of it away from its maker (Zangemann) by reprogramming it so that it obeys only Ada.
This September (2023) “Ada & Zangemann” became available in English, originally being in German, and I bought a copy. It's great! I want every library and school to have it! (I can lend one copy but I am not willing to donate lots.)
Maybe my child would like to bring Ada & Zangemann in to school and ask the teacher to read it. Sometimes in the younger years they read a child's favourite book for the whole class. Is that too pushy? Maybe not. Or I could show it to the computer skills teacher and ask what they think of it.
How Can We Help?
I would like to circle back to the reason why I mentioned this issue (YT and ads). Not because it's the one particular issue I care about, but because it's an indication of the level of awareness of open/freedom tech.
It shows us that asking the teachers to use, for example, a free (libre) school information system like AlekSIS for example, is way too big a jump. I suspect the teachers (including the head teacher) would not comprehend why that might be a good idea. They need basic introductory level education about the difference between the goals and values of proprietary vs. open/libre systems.
I have been wondering for a long time what I can best do to help.
As an open-source dev, the first thing that came to my mind was, I could pick an open ed-tech software project and work on enhancements to it.
Then I began to think, what we really need is not so much to build the software (we know we can build it, and many parts already exist), but what we need more is people to go and demonstrate the existing software, show teachers what's possible, explain why it gives them the power to control their environment to suit their needs and values. That way we build a demand for the open tech, and have the possibility of the schools (and governments and charities) beginning to pay for developing the tech.
I have been wondering whether there are members of free-software organisations (FSFE, CEDO, OpenEdTech, and many more) who might go into school teacher-training days and deliver a presentation about why FLOSS matters. Does anyone do that? Might anyone have prepared a presentation already that could be suitable if the opportunity were presented? Because that is something that I think we need, that is beyond what I could manage to do myself.
And then I realised what I have been looking for is a group of people who share a common goal. Who can work together. And that is why I am pleased to have discovered CEDO, along with OpenEdTech, FSFE, and others.
It seems to me there is a lot of open tech existing that is aimed at higher education (such as Moodle and many other computer-based learning technologies). For younger children there are lots of small projects aimed at providing a computer-based lesson in a particular subject (learn maths, learn spelling, and so on). For in-person lessons there are lots of open/free resources (videos, pages to print on paper for any subject, activity ideas).
And then there are of course all the IT tools that we IT-literate people know about: ad blockers, self-hosted video platforms, alternative open-source ways to do almost everything without involving MS/Google.
And I'm coming back to... how do we introduce these to the teachers and the school administrators?
Other Ways to Help
While I'm thinking... Other topics I want to mention when I've more time...
I ordered the FSFE's pack of stickers and posters. I highly recommend it. You can ask for specific topics if you like; I asked for thier selection. It includes some Ada & Zangemann stickers and lots of good FSFE campaign cards and posters (Public Money: Public Code; Free Your Android; lots more). So if anyone (local) asks me, I'm more ready. But still shy to take them to anybody.
Translation/promotion. I often read about inspiring projects such as those I mentioned, and I would like to share them more widely. To help, I would like to make translations into English (and encourage others to translate to their languages). While readers can use for example Firefox's built-in translation (try it if you haven't), there are still big advantages to publishing a translation (accuracy, convenience). I published a translation myself for Hermannpost but I expect almost nobody knows. (The original author didn't respond to my email about it.) It would be much more efficient if we worked together. Could “we” organise that?
I wonder if we could try to tap into “maker spaces” or “hack spaces” where there are lots of people interested in having control over their own hardware, to see if we can interest them in bringing open software for their community as well.
We should link up with other campaigning groups. One I have been meaning to contact is Privacy International in the UK as I read they have a special interest in ed-tech.
I keep considering to donate a little money to the many organisations supporting open ed tech. Donating money is something I do from time to time, but isn't really right for me now as I don't have a steady well-paid job and I am working in other ways to help them. Really I want to indicate my support. I try to sign up for accounts and newsletters and the like, to show them that I'm interested.
How do “we” (communities like us) get involved in setting up service providers for all the open-tech that we want schools to use, so the schools can pick “that product/service” for “that price” and know there is support included, and know it is approved/trusted by the relevant authorities so it's “safe and simple” for the school?
- “Fair Digital Education Coalition” (CEDO), based in the Netherlands — petition and CEDO-EU discussion room
- EU project in progress, Open Digital Competences Training for School Educators — “The courses created within this project aim exactly to the training of school educators on the Open Digital Competences”
- Open EdTech association “Designing an open world of quality lifelong learning”
- My list of Open EdTech Resources — links to news stories, rationale for open edtech such as at EFF/FSFE/GNU, groups such as CEDO, existing aligned projects small and large, ...
- My mid-2023 article, Codename Ed: for a wholesome future aligned with educational values
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