Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Open Source - Is it really open to everyone?

Read an interesting quote yesterday in my research book, which comes from Jakob Nielsen about the 90-9-1 Rule for online community participation, or open-source.  Basically it says that even though open-source and free online communities are open for anyone to contribute, so in theory provide a wider audience to contribute the content, making it a diverse resource, in fact this is NOT the case.  90% of the users are passive consumers, with only 9% willing to comment or contribute content periodically, and most of the content and commentary being contributed by 1% of the users. Who is that 1%?  To me, a scary question.

This finding is not surprising but is a little disturbing in the educational arena, where free and open-source are becoming more prevalent options due to the tight economy.  It begs the question, who is this 1% of the population that is contributing to the content being used by educators/education sites, and is it really reliable, research based - i.e. worthy of being used with students? As a former classroom teacher, free speaks volumes - this I know.  HOWEVER - free doesn't mean quality and doesn't mean it will actually help students learn and achieve, and shouldn't that always be the reason that any educator chooses to use a technology tool in their instruction? 

It forces me to bring out the comparison of The Geometer's Sketchpad versus Geogebra.  Not free vs. free. Why pay when we can get something similar for free is the question I hear often. My answer - they are NOT similar. One is research based, all activities tried in the classroom with real students, designed to help construct and enhance math learning, lots of support provided and proven to work while the other is open source, contributed by the 1% of 'unknown' who may not really have student interest or learning in mind, some support but again, from that 1 or 9% of unknowns.  As an educator, I want to know that what I am using in my instruction is going to help students construct knowledge and learn to use that knowledge, and I go with proven, research based over an unknown any time. Students should ALWAYS come first when considering education technology. Try to remember - you get what you paid for.

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