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#ioe12 NH Passes a Bill supporting Open Source

HB418, passed by the NH Legislature requires all state agencies to use “open source software when acquiring software and promotes the use of open data formats by state agencies. ” The Bill goes on to define the term “open source” and boldly states “The Department states proprietary solutions will require agency justification to the Department and approval of the proprietary solution by the Department’s Chief Information Officer.”  http://www.nhliberty.org/bills/view/2012/HB418

Six months ago I was employed at one of the state universities in NH, and now am at a state college in NY.  Both are on an open source LMS.  The SUNY system, however, when given the option to choose an LMS, chose to go with the proprietary system Blackboard and most of the Colleges and Universities in the system will be moving over to Blackboard in the coming months. Not all of them will however. There are several schools going with Moodle, or staying with Moodle.

Last week, on the Directors of Distance Learning listserv, there was quite a debate about the choices, and the old myths about open source arose. It all seemed like the spouse who says the lowest thing they can think of, even if it isn’t true, to defend their position, even if it’s wrong.

SUNY is a large system. It prides itself on the “Power of SUNY” and is now talking about the “Openness of SUNY”, but when given the option, they chose proprietary. In my opinion: what they failed to understand was the opportunity they were given to truly make a difference in the future of the learning platform.  Having access to the code of the LMS they chose, would’ve allowed them to use the “Power of SUNY” to make the platform one that would meet specific needs of SUNY, leverage SUNY innovation, and contribute to the community of LMS development.  It was a great opportunity and they missed it. One can only hope that they will come to their senses at some point, and see the value of belonging to an open source community.

Open source LMS platforms are in use throughout the world; used by institutions with thousands of online courses and students as well as by small private institutions.  Having been the LMS Administrator of Moodle at more than one institution, I can say that Moodle does not require a team of programmers–that is an absolute myth about open source that is continually perpetuated!   Several System Admins of Moodle have told me that managing Moodle takes up less than 5% of their job. One of the IT folk I worked with at another institution once told me “I get better and quicker help from the Moodle community, than I ever got from Blackboard”.

Open Source is about community.  That’s the philosophy that makes open source successful and that draws us to it.  It’s about a community of users helping to make the software better, to increase usability, and to insure that the functionality we most need is implemented. In the Moodle community, and other open source communities as well, individuals can suggest improvements (if not build them). The community tests the system, comments on it, and supports it. Yes, there are open source products that have not developed a large community of supporters–products that are still in their infancy, or that do not have a large base of individuals using the application, but that is not the case with the LMS.

I applaud NH and the wisdom of it’s legislators.  There are, already, numerous schools in NH that use Moodle, Mahara, or Sakai.  I expect there will be many more adopting OS in the future.  In truth, it makes a great deal of sense that the state institutions, who are supported by the community of tax payers, choose publicly developed system applications (open source) over those that are proprietary whenever possible.

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