Within five years, [Plano ISD Technology Director Jim] Hirsch predicts, not a single desktop in this 52,000-student school system in metropolitan Dallas will carry the image of a proprietary school software program. Gone will be the familiar Microsoft applications and desktop icons that over the years have become synonymous with document creation. In their place will be a suite of lesser-known, but equally capable alternatives--or, what Hirsch likes to call "open technologies."
The Strategic Open Source Initiative in Texas and the work Steve Hargadon and others are advancing through EdTechLIVE not only supports awareness of-- but actual implementation of open source solutions in K-20 schools that is exciting to both witness and participate in. The MIT Media Lab's $100 Laptop Initiative may currently attract more press coverage than some of these less ambitious open source educational technology initiatives, but make no mistake: Open source solutions are here to say and are only going to grow in their use and adoption by a wide variety of organizations and individuals. The Linux-based student desktop computer initiative in Indiana should and will earn the attention of educational leaders around the world, interested in more affordably bringing the promises of high technology and our flat world's information landscape to the students and families they serve. The wealth of free and open source tools available for educational leaders, like this extensive list from Miguel Guhlin of applications that can be used for "walled garden" blogging and safe digital social networking, will increasingly get the attention of even "technology-challenged" administrators who work every day with limited school budget dollars.
My perception is that some schools and school technology leaders, when faced with the prospects of open source software solutions, may feel a bit trapped by the operating-system specific software programs their teachers and students are likely using in addition to Internet web browsers, email clients, and basic productivity software.
As I discussed in my final podcast of 2005, "Educational Banners and Resolutions for 2006," web-based software that is standards-compliant should be a top priority for school officials at all levels. In 2007 and the years to come, it will increasingly become fiscally irresponsible for school finance officers and other administrators to ignore POWERFUL and FREE operating system software, client software, and web applications that not only permit users to perform more "traditional" computing tasks like word processing, printing, email, web browsing, spreadsheets, databases, and presentations, but also more collaborative tasks made possible by web 2.0 or read/write web technologies.
I am enthused to see that commercial software programs like Study Island, Accelerated Math, and Accelerated Reader have been released in web-based versions which are accessible to any user on (or potentially off) the school network using a compliant web-browser. Although I am more enthused from an instructional perspective by programs like MyAccess Writing and KidBiz3000, the fact that programs which have been exclusively client-software based (like Accelerated Reader) are moving to web-based platforms is great news, especially to money-strapped school districts eyeing open source operating system and software options.
The cost-savings schools are and can realize when they transition to open source software solutions, as Plano ISD is doing, represent substantial sums of money. The good news is, transitioning from proprietary operating system and productivity software programs to open source alternatives (like edubuntu, ubuntu, and OpenOffice) does NOT represent a "downgrade" in capability and potential for schools and the learners which work in them. Conversely, given the hostile malware environment which continues to cripple many school computer systems inadequately patched for security vulnerabilities, Linux-based computing offers exciting potential for less problematic computing for everyone: users and administrators alike.
While open source and web standards are certainly key technology trends for leaders to watch in 2007, the greatest challenge in educational technology and education in general will remain issues of "mindware" rather than hardware or software. Making the case for collaborative and engaging education which safely and effectively leverages the powerful tools of the read/write web will remain one of the abiding challenges of 2007 and the years which follow.