OSS Watch launches Open Source Options for Education Index

Mark Johnson recently posted to the Moodle Forums an announcement of the creation of the “Open Source Options for Education” index to compliment the UK Cabinet Office’s Open Source Procurement Toolkit.
First, the Open Source Procurement Toolkit is a fantastic resource for those assessing open source options to undertake the same type of due-diligence against open source options as commonly (hopefully) done with commercial options. In addition, it’s great news to see OSS Watch extend these efforts through the compilation of an index for educators to discover applicable tools/technologies. I would add, like all advocates of open collaboration, such efforts would benefit with greater participation–and for me–specifically to provide depth and context around “open.” Particularly, many have expressed concern the term open, and thus open-source, may suffer from “open-washing” (Michelle Thorne, David Wiley, ReadRightWeb, CNS News, and many more…).

Looking at the OSS Watch and the Toolkit, I am wondering what criteria is used to identify “open” source software. That is, is the sole criteria for including software in the “Open Source Options for Education” index, that it is released under an open source license? Or are there greater requisites, for example, openness in standards, governance, participation, the project’s development/direction, etc.? I would offer, uPortal and LifeRay are both released under an open source license (Apache License, Version 2.0 and the GNU Lesser General Public License, version 2.1, respectively). Avoiding the “which open license” debate, my point is, the organizational model of these two efforts, related to open, is actually quite different and could impact the projects. uPortal is manged by a board elected by, and from, the community of practice supporting uPortal, while LifeRay is managed by a private company. Please do not infer any value judgement here, I hope only to offer the ability to manage a project–either driven by the community or  a “benevolent dictator,” or even a private corporation–might affect ones interests (even ability) in joining and contributing to an open source licensed project.

In addition to the above, LifeRay–like more and more organizations offering open source licensing (including Instructure Canvas, which is listed in the Open Source Options for Education)–offers two versions, an “enterprise” version and a “community” version. For many, this approach, releasing two versions that may not share functionality/features/support/access, may cause ambiguity. Again, no value judgment here, folks just need to understand the communities they are joining and contributing to.

Considering this, I am wondering if the list of applications included in the Open Source Options for Education are measured/assessed with some sort of standard definition for what openness requires beyond a license? As one who has spent a career in higher education working to raise awareness and adoption of open source options, I have found the quality of an open source application is directly related to the openness of the community that supports it: the greater the openness in the community, the better the production. I would stress, anyone (person, campus, company, etc.) looking at an open source option, should consider many things beyond the license, just as they would as part of their due-diligence when assessing a commercial option. For me, openness includes attributes around transparency (in development and decision-making); self-organization (allowing any interested party find/create their own affinity group); collaboration (the ability of those in the community of interest to share), etc.

In this effort The 2-3-98 Project was developed, and specifically, to help those interested in open source options, assess the openness of the community supporting the project: ideally reducing the concerns around open-washing. The 2-3-98 is developing an Openness Index as an attempt to assess the maturity of openness of an organization (i.e. an open source community) and provide a road map for further adoption.

I’ve asked Mark of the OSS Watch to offer his thoughts (and others on this list) on the Openness Index and if/how such an effort might contribute to the OSS Watch’s Open Source Options for Education. Of course if you’re reading this, I would love to hear yours too!

One thought on “OSS Watch launches Open Source Options for Education Index

  1. Hi Patrick,

    Sorry about the late response!

    I’ll be posting something on our blog this week about the selection process for Open Source Options for Education, and how that could relate to more sophisticated measures of project openness such as the OSS Watch Openness Rating.


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