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Igniting teacher passions; last observations from CUE 2009

The last day of CUE 2009 I was stuck by the pure awesomeness of one of the final presentations in the open source pavilion.  It was titled Intro and Demo Open Source (Free) Software Programs for Educators! (found 1/3rd of the way down the conference sessions page).  The three presenters, Shin, Katalin, and Branka, were teachers who work primarily with ESL (English as a second language) students and have a mix of needs that include recording and editing language practice files.

They demonstrated, running under Windows XP, three programs —, GIMP, and Audacity.  These are the parts of the presentation I think were most compelling:

  • They showed free and open source software running in a context that was familiar to the audience — under Windows OS and creating/using content as you would in the classroom.
  • The three learned about these applications at a previous CUE event, when Steve Hargadon presented them as free and fully functional alternatives that students could run at home, etc.  They were inspired to not only use the software, but to come back and present their enthusiasm to other educators.
  • Matters of freedom were handled fairly well without getting bogged down in details.  I learned in a previous sessions how much attention teachers are supposed to pay to copyright (lots, as directed by litigious-adverse school boards), and how much they really pay attention (not so much, as dictated by time and the general feeling they get a break for educational purposes.)
  • They walked around and gave out a free CD with the programs they had just shown, plus some others, and it included free and open content tutorials.

There was an obvious extra level of enthusiasm these educators had beyond smply enjoying working with the software.  CUE is full of presentations on using Photoshop and Dreamweaver and such.  These educators understood they were empowered and encouraged to teach with it, teach about it, and distribute it all as part of the culture of participation around open source.  It seemed a great way to introduce reluctant teachers to growing with open technologies.  I understand that reluctance; it’s partially a resistence to giving up control and letting in new methods, but it’s also a resistance to branding and equipment taking over a classroom of learning.

This understanding of the need to be open and participatory is a growing grassroots movement amongst educators.  They understand they have been inadvertently locking their students’ portfolios of work inside of a box.  The clear way out of that is not just open standards but the widespread adoption of open source in education.