Open Source Online Learning in Rural Communities

Open Source Online Learning in Rural Communities

Gary L. Ackerman (Windsor (Vermont) School, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4206-3.ch003


Anyone is free to use open source software without the need to purchase the right to install it. Despite its appeal to school and technology leaders in rural communities, they are less likely to install it than others. In this chapter, three cases in which open source technology was installed to support teaching and learning in three rural communities are described. In each, the systems were deployed and refined using decision-making grounded in educational design research. The projects are detailed, and the method of technology planning is assessed. Unanswered questions are also addressed.
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Educational communities face many challenges as they seek to prepare students for the technology-rich future in which they will live and work. Educators must create curriculum that reflects rapidly changing content expectations (Dede, 2010; Susskind & Susskind, 2015) and that reflects emerging and incompletely understood economic, political, and cultural norms (Miller, 2011; Wokurka, Banschbach, Houlder, & Jolly, 2017). In addition, school leaders must support teachers as they create classrooms that reflect new discoveries from the learning sciences (Benassi, Overson, & Hakala, 2014; Sawyer, 2008). All of these changes can be traced, at least in part, to rapidly evolving information and computer technology and its effects on the creation and dissemination of information (Benkler, 2006). For rural communities, these challenges are exacerbated by several factors (Beeson, 2001). Rural schools tend to be smaller, thus they lack the economy of scale that can provide greater resources for larger populations (Tholkes & Sederberg, 1990). Because they are more widely dispersed, travel time between rural schools can limit the responsiveness of professionals who are shared among multiple sites. Because they serve small populations, rural educators frequently teach outside their area of specialty (Miller, 2012).

Advocates suggest the technology used to deliver online learning can be adapted to address many problems faced by educators and school leaders. For example, school leaders can use online learning to expand opportunities for students (Dabrowski & Lodge, 2017), facilitate teachers’ professional learning (Baran & Correia, 2014), and support authentic learning and assessment (Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver, 2006). Platforms for online learning are available from both proprietary publishers and from open source communities; open source platforms can be obtained and installed at no cost to the user. Ostensibly, open source tools will have wide appeal to school and technology leaders in rural communities because of the minimal costs. Despite this, there is evidence rural schools are less likely than suburban and urban schools to use open source tools to manage information and to promote learning (Kimmons, 2015). In this chapter, the author describes three projects in which open source distance learning technologies were applied to the professional needs of educators working in rural communities in the northeast United States; the planning and decision-making that focused the projects were grounded in educational design research (McKenny & Reeves, 2012).

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