In today’s digital world, technology is the governing force behind almost everything we do. This includes virtually every area of education from Pre-kindergarten to doctorate-level graduate courses. This immersion into technology brings with it the need for reliable, affordable software for students, but many titles don’t offer a low-cost option.
With popular titles carrying price tags in the thousands, access to the right digital tools could easily become out of reach for the average student. Fortunately, there is an alternative: open source software.
What Is Open Source Software?
In simplest terms, open source software is the inexpensive (and often free) alternative to other branded premium titles. If you ever thought, “I wish there were an easier way to write my essay and deliver it on time,” or just wanted some useful alternatives to more expensive titles, open source is the way to go.
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Practical Alternatives to Branded Titles
In a vast majority of cases, open source titles provide enough features for learning key concepts. Some do have premium add-ons but almost always have more than enough functionality without. Some common examples for students include:
- OpenOffice – a powerful alternative to Microsoft’s office suite
- Gimp – an open-source alternative to Photoshop with many of the same tools and capabilities
- Audacity – open source multi-track audio editing software that rivals tools like Garage Band and Adobe Audition
Benefits of Open Source Software in the Classroom
There are some reasons why more schools and students alike are opting for open-source software to enhance the learning process. Here are just a few:
Cost – Open source software is often free outright and does not impose licensing fees. That means that schools can have an unlimited number of copies of open source titles on the computers in their labs. For students, it means having direct access to quality software that won’t raise their tuition or force them to spend money on expensive titles for individual classes.
Ability to Make Changes – The ability to access and manipulate source code is a primary feature of most open source titles. Skilled IT staff have the option of customizing open source software for the specific needs of a particular course or to accommodate students with special needs. Licensed software often prohibits manipulation or changes without authorization (and fees).
Linux operating systems are a prime example of how this works. For nearly three decades, developers have used Linux to create custom operating environments for a broad spectrum of applications from basic word processing to running complex medical equipment and much more.
Creativity and Ingenuity – having the ability to customize open-source software for specific needs also opens the door for students to expand and demonstrate an advanced understanding of how a program works by creating his or her applications for it. Code Academy is a prime example of how open source promotes learning of complex technological concepts.
Developer Collaboration – Learning with open-source software goes far beyond the classroom. Most open source software titles are backed by collaboratives of developers who work together to improve the product and expand its base of applications. Working in real-time with developers can greatly increase a student’s knowledge in various areas of technology.
With so many practical, cost-effective applications for open source software, it stands to reason that students and schools alike should pay more attention to its potential and application. While many schools still opt for corporately-backed license-based software solutions, the shift toward open-source is becoming more prevalent by the day. Open source provides the best low- or no-cost avenues to learning, productivity, and collaborative development, all of which are core concepts of any practical education model.