January 2008

Open Source in Education

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The open source software movement has received much well deserved attention within the Indian development community, but the time may be right for the academic community to adopt the precepts of open source to provide innovative instructional materials to the country's educators.

Scott McNealy, the founder and chairman of Sun Microsystems, recently said, “why are we open-sourcing browsers and spreadsheets and operating systems, when we ought to be open-sourcing third-grade math textbooks?” Towards this, he and Sun Co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim created Curriki (http://curriki.org).

Curriki's goal is to make curricula and learning resources available to everyone. To do this, they have created a system educators can use to share the curriculum and learning resources they use in the classroom with other educators around the world. With their easy to use web based interface teachers around the world can search for educational content relevant to their own classes, and can upload class materials of their own.

While Curriki was started in the USA they recognise that many of its benefits will be enjoyed by educators in nations with smaller education budgets. In India they have entered into an agreement with the Azim Premji Foundation to provide their educational content in multiple languages available through the curriki website. Further, they are working with IndicTrans.in to translate the website into Hindi and other local languages to make its content accessible to a wider range of the Indian rural population.

Former Princeton University professor Randy Wang and Dr. Urvashi Sahni established the Digital Studyhall (DSH – http://dsh.cs.washington.edu/StudyHall/) project to create free high quality video learning materials which can be used to help teachers in the nations poorer schools educate their students. DSH creates video records of very good teachers conducting classes in the local language. Teachers in surrounding rural schools are shown how they can use the videos in the classroom, not as a replacement for the teacher but rather as a prompt, providing a continuous structure for the class which the local teacher can break up by pausing the video lecture and asking the same questions of their classes that the teacher in the video is asking of the original class.

DSH has operations in Lucknow, Pune, Bangalore and Kolkata.  All the videos they produce are freely available.

Nagarjuna Reddy an open source evangelist in India and head of Homi Bhabha Centre's Gnowledge Lab has been working with the European Commission funded SELF (Science, Education and Learning in Freedom) project to develop the SELF Platform (http://www.selfplatform.eu) a graphical web based multi-lingual platform for collaborative authoring of courses and lessons. It also helps to organize the content and distribute it to educational institutes around world. The SELF Platform hopes to serve as a central access point for educational materials and to facilitate community participation in a multilingual environment.

A number of other projects deserve some mention:.

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