Free and Open Source Software for E-Learning: Issues, Successes and Challenges

Free and Open Source Software for E-Learning: Issues, Successes and Challenges

Betul Özkan Czerkawski (University of Arizona South, USA)
Indexed In: SCOPUS
Release Date: August, 2010|Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 300
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-917-0
ISBN13: 9781615209170|ISBN10: 1615209174|EISBN13: 9781615209187
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Description & Coverage

The phenomenon of using Free and Open Source Software in education has increased significantly in the last decade.

Free and Open Source Software for E-Learning: Issues, Successes and Challenges reviews open and free software used in e-learning, examines the pedagogy behind FOSS and how it is applied to e-learning, and discusses the best practices for FOSS through real world examples, providing guidelines for e-learning designers and instructors who use FOSS. This engaging compilation is ideal for those using FOSS programs to design, develop, and manage educational and training programs. It is also well suited for adoption in instructional technology related courses in advanced degree programs.


The many academic areas covered in this publication include, but are not limited to:

  • Constructivist Theories
  • Data Mining
  • Digital Storytelling
  • E-Learning
  • Free and Open Source Software
  • Online learning environment
  • Open and Shared Educational Resources
  • Pedagogy 2.0
  • Software Engineering
  • Web 2.0 Technologies
Reviews and Testimonials

This anthology reviews open source software issues in the e-learning environment. Topics covered include Web 2.0 technologies in e-learning, the roll of free and open source software in education, building an open learning environment for software engineering students, data mining user activity in free and open source software, user-centered design, and social aspects of open source e-learning. A case study of development of a responsive online learning environment for a large Australian university is included. Contributors are educational technology researchers, and PhD candidates from universities around the world. ...

– Sci Tech Book News,
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Editor Biographies
Dr. Betül Özkan Czerkawski serves as the assistant professor of educational technology and program director at University of Arizona South (UAS). Prior to joining the faculty at the UAS, she has worked in Long Island University and University of West Georgia as faculty coordinator of instructional technology and assistant professor of educational technology research, respectively. Dr. Czerkawski holds a MA and Ph.D. in Instructional Design and Development and BA in Italian Philology. She completed her post-doctoral study in Iowa State University where she also served as a project manager for a Fulbright Grant. Her research interests include technology integration in teaching and learning, design of online learning environments, and emerging educational technologies. Dr. Czerkawski has presented and published widely on E-Learning in the past decade.
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Technology has become increasingly essential to all aspects of our society, including educational institutions. Today most K-20 schools know the importance of providing students with the skills that are required in the digital age we are living in. However, because commercial or propriety software is so costly, many schools are not able to afford it. Free and open source software is the best solution to this problem.

Open source software is computer software, whose source code is available under a software license that is in the public domain. This permits users to use, edit, and improve the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified forms. Pioneered by Richard M. Stallman, free software was developed in the General Public License (GNU)  Project that aimed at developing a Unix-like operating system. Free software is similar in concept to open source, and it refers to the philosophy that freedom users have on accessing, modifying, and redistributing the software. Today, these two terms are used together as Free and Open Source Software or FOSS.  Some of the FOSS applications commonly used in education are, but not limited to, Elgg, Moodle, Sakai, Open Office, Drupal, Flickr, YouTube, Audacity, Gimp, and various blog and Wiki programs.

Open source software develops in a community of individuals or companies.  Because of the importance of user participation and contribution to the development of the software, no discrimination against individuals or groups is allowed, and users are considered as co-developers.  This feature also allows open source software to continually evolve. Unlike beta-testing, open source programs are not rolled out when “perfected”.

Use of FOSS in education has increased significantly in the last decade. Thompson (2007) thinks that part of the reason can be found in the Net Generation. “Most “social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have had a particularly strong influence in the lives of millions of students” (Thompson, 2007, ¶6). It is a fact that most “students today arrive at their universities as experienced multi-taskers, accustomed to using text messaging, telephones, and e-mail while searching the Internet and watching television” (Roberts, 2005 as cited in Thompson, 2007, ¶8). Moreover, use of FOSS encourages students to be active participants in the teaching and learning process while giving them control in their learning. Since open source encourages user-generated content, students are more actively involved in creating and broadcasting information than in the past. 

The implications of free and open software are even more striking for E-Learning. While virtual learning spaces are more prevalent in E-Learning, individual students become the center of E-Instruction; changing the focus from institution to learner. Students adapt distance technologies to meet their needs, rather than adapting to the technologies.  A new form of distance education promotes “loosely coupled social software tools, mixed-and-matched and combined together to support online learning communities” (Ozkan & McKenzie, 2007). Thus, FOSS also asserts alternative pedagogies such as constructivism and connectivism which focus on learner-centric online communities rather than E-Learning courses which are more expensive and cumbersome. Traditional E-learning courses that focus on selected content, timetables, and testing become networked-environments where online learners participate in a variety of communities. 

Although use of free and open source programs in education has the potential to transform the teaching and learning environment, there is little research on how this can be done. While technologies are readily available for everyone to use, much more attention should be devoted to FOSS pedagogy. The major purpose of this book is to provide information on the possible ways of using FOSS in the context of E-Learning. More specifically, this book will be of value to those who are interested in:

  • A review of open and free software that is used in E-Learning,
  • An examination of pedagogy behind FOSS and how that is applied to E-Learning,
  • A discussion of best practices for FOSS through examples and case studies along with the guidelines for instructors and E-Learning designers who use FOSS, and
  • A discussion of opportunities as well as challenges in the use of FOSS.
How this book is organized

There are fourteen chapters in this book. Each of the chapters addresses a different aspect of FOSS for E-Learning. The ideas and methods in this book are presented by a number of authors who try to bridge the gap in the literature between teaching and learning and FOSS.

In Chapter One entitled, “Web 2.0 Technologies in E-Learning”, Köse starts with explaining free and open source software as they apply to Web 2.0 technologies for E-Learning. He argues that Web 2.0 technologies revolutionize E-Learning by emphasizing user control for more personal, social and flexible web contents. He provides definitions of major concepts in FOSS and presents examples from online learning environments. He concludes with a discussion of the future of the Web, including Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 technologies.

Chapter Two, “What's all the FOSS? How Freedom and Openness is Changing the Face of Our Educational Landscape” by Huett, Sharp, and Huett starts with a brief history and a summary of FOSS definition and philosophy. The authors then examine the current literature on the use of Free and Open Source software in education with a particular focus on the promise of E-Learning and emerging technologies to positively shape our educational future.  The authors also discuss philosophical, financial, practical, and pedagogical considerations that prompt educators to select free and open source software over propriety software. In conclusion, they discuss the important role FOSS will play in the future with open learning.  

Chapter Three, “Lessons from Constructivist Theories, Open Source Technology, and Student Learning” by Schrynermakers, discusses the connections and synergy between constructivist learning theory, open source technologies and student learning.  She argues that these connections are problematic as there aren’t meaningful links between the first two areas. Therefore, she examines knowledge acquisition process in the 21st century, and then discusses the process of dialectic where learners investigate the truth through discussion. Intrinsic to this discussion is the impact of technology on those interested in pursuing teaching and learning through open source platforms. For example, how has technology enhanced or decreased the dialogue in education?  She then follows the linkages between constructivism and open source to look at how both link up to provide support and pedagogical assistance to student learning. The chapter concludes with examples of how the author has integrated constructivist philosophies with open source technology to establish a collaborative and effective learning environment for higher education students.

In Chapter Four, “Higher Education and FOSS for E-Learning: The role of Organizational Sub-cultures in Enterprise-wide”, van Rooij examines the issue of FOSS adoption in U.S. institutions of higher education, where campus-wide deployment of FOSS for E-Learning lags far behind adoption for technical infrastructure applications. In this chapter, van Rooij argues that the gap between the advocacy for FOSS teaching and learning applications and the enterprise-wide deployment of FOSS for E-Learning is a consequence of the divergent perspectives of two organizational sub-cultures – the technologist and the academic – and the extent to which those sub-cultures are likely to embrace FOSS. The author concludes with a few suggestions: collaborative needs analysis/assessment prior to a go/no go adoption decision; and broad dissemination of total cost of ownership (TCO) data by institutions already deploying FOSS for E-Learning enterprise-wide.

In Chapter Five, “Open and Shared Educational Resources- A Collaborative Strategy for Advancing E-Learning Communities: A Case Exemplified by Curriki”, Kurshan, Schreiber and Levy, argue that a growing number of education stakeholders are finding that applying an open source approach to content development provides an extraordinary opportunity to change the existing curricula paradigm and expand access to quality learning and the free exchange of knowledge. The authors explore the increased adoption of open and shared educational resources (OSER), using a case study, Curriki, that extends the model further by providing an integrated learning environment and resource repository that is centered on a culture of collective participation.

Chapter Six, “Developing a New, Dynamic, and Responsive Institutional Online Learning Environment using Open Source Software: A Case Study of a Large Australian University” by Buchan, provides a case study from an Australian university, who adopted the open source software, Sakai, as the foundation for the University’s new, integrated Online Learning Environment called CSU Interact. In this chapter, Buchan discusses her University’s gradual implementation of Sakai course management system first as a pilot project then as a choice of entire University’s E-Learning system. She then outlines some of the challenges and successes of the project management methodology and processes which oversaw the successful large-scale implementation of an open-source courseware management solution at the institutional level. In conclusion, Buchan discusses the pedagogical advantages of adopting an open source learning management system as well as the significance of investing human and financial resources into such E-Learning system.  

Chapter Seven, “Building Open Learning Environment for Software Engineering Students”, Khoroshilov,  Kuliamin,  Petrenko,  Petrenko, and Rubanov discuss principles of open education and possibilities of implementing these principles for software engineering education on the base of open source software development projects. They present the example of a “Software Engineering” course provided to students of the System Programming sub-faculties of the two Russian top-ranked universities, Moscow State University and Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
In the Chapter Eight, “Data Mining User Activity in FOSS/Open Learning Management Systems”, McGrath discusses usage analysis facilities, as being one of the special considerations when adopting an open source course management system. In his study, McGrath examines how user activity tracking challenges are being met with data mining techniques, in four very different open learning management systems: ATutor, LON-CAPA, Moodle and Sakai. He concludes that as open systems mature in the use of educational data mining, they potentially move closer to the long-sought goal of achieving more interactive, personalized, adaptive learning environments online on a broad scale.

Chapter Nine, “Implementing an Open Source ePortfolio in Higher Education: Lessons Learned Along the Way” by Brunvard, Luera and Marra, describes the identification of goals, selection of an Open Source Platform, and the initial implementation stages of an Integrative Knowledge ePortfolio Process (which has both pedagogy and tools) at a midwestern University School of Education.  Faculty and students are using the Integrative ePortfolio approach to reflect on, connect, and document their learning and accomplishments over time, and to create an Integrated Professional Teaching Portfolio that showcases their knowledge, skills and contributions to others.  Lessons learned during the preliminary phase include the importance of garnering support of adopters, providing sufficient support in order for faculty and students to gain the skills necessary to produce meaningful and dynamic portfolios, and transitioning from multiple ePortfolios to a uniform platform that works across programs.  

Chapter Ten, “LeMill: A Case for User-Centered Design and Simplicity in OER Repositories” by Toikkanen, Purma and Leinonen, starts with the description of LeMill which is an Open Source Educational Resources (OER) repository where the emphasis has been placed on  designing a service to meet the actual needs of teachers preparing for classes. The development of LeMill has utilized open, collaborative, and iterative design methods and many features have been refined or redesigned during the process. Emphasis on design work has helped LeMill avoid and fix problems that are generally problematic for OER repositories because of their origins as learning object repositories. This project is a good example for those who are developing open source projects as it shows how a system flexible and open for formative assessment data provide continuous  improvements to the system.

Chapter Eleven, “What Audacity! Decreasing Student Anxiety while Increasing Instructional Time” by Swanson, Early and Baumann, starts with a discussion of second language instruction and some of the barriers that hinder students’ oral language performance. Along the same lines, authors argue that many times educators in second language classrooms scramble to squeeze the most out of every minute in the classroom for instructional purposes while trying to increase student achievement. The chapter continues with the presentation of three free and open source software options and findings from two studies of focusing on the use of Audacity which indicates multiple benefits for both teachers and students. The authors conclude with a demonstration of using Audacity for oral language assessment and discuss its implications for the world language classroom.

Chapter Twelve, “Open for Social: How Open Source Software for E-Learning can Take a Turn to the Social”, Laffey, Schmidt, and Amelung, first describes how FOSS enables transforming E-Learning from a potentially limiting and constricted framing of the education experience to an emergent and social experience. This chapter identifies several key elements of the FOSS model that position open source initiatives to contribute to the emergent and social nature of experience in E-Learning. The authors also describe several challenges to developing FOSS in a community of educators for E-Learning. These elements and challenges are demonstrated in a brief case report about the development of an open source software system called Context-aware Activity Notification System or CANS (

Chapter Thirteen, “Computer Assisted Active Learning System Development for The History of Civilization E-learning Courses by Using Free Open Source Software Platforms” by Karahoca, Karahoca and Yengin, address the developmental stages and design of the implementation cycles in the Computer Assisted Active Learning System (CALS) for the History of Civilization (HOC) courses at the College of Engineering at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul. The implementation purpose of CALS is to develop a set of tools in a systematic way to enhance students’ critical thinking abilities for HOC courses. For this purpose, the authors developed dynamic meta-cognitive maps, movies, flash cards and quiz tools. In order to reduce implementation costs of CALS, open Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) standards and platforms were utilized in the development and implementation cycles. This chapter also highlights the implications of successful development of FOSS for the CALS.

Chapter Fourteen, “Web 2.0 as Potential E-Learning Tools for K-12 English Language Learners”, by Green and Inan, report that free and open source Web 2.0 tools present great opportunities for the creation of educational material that reflects best teaching practices for English Language Learners (ELL). To this end, the authors conduct an analysis of second language acquisition (SLA) research that identify the most common components of effective second language teaching practices. They, then, focus on the characteristics of Web 2.0 technologies that might be used to promote educational activities and opportunities that embody effective SLA pedagogical practices while meeting the unique instructional needs of ELL students.  

It is my hope that the ideas presented in this book show our passion and belief in FOSS for E-Learning. As FOSS mature, it presents many opportunities for those students who are less advantaged in getting a quality education. In addition to bridging existing digital inequities, I also hope that We as educators can begin to start infusing FOSS into the curriculum in meaningful ways in our E-Learning environments that are open to all.

Dr. Betül C. Özkan, Editor
The University of Arizona South


Özkan, B.C. & McKenzie, B. (2007). Open social software applications and their impact on distance education. In Proceedings of E-Learn World Conference on E-Learning on Corporate, Government, Health Care and Higher Education 2007. (7310-7312) Norfolk, VA: AACE.

Thompson, J. (2007, April-May). Is education 1.0 ready for Web 2.0 students? Innovate 3(4). Retrieved from Internet March 2, 2010