The growth in the use of technology and online media within education in Britain appears to herald a future of continuing growth for the course management systems on offer, according to a report recently compiled by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) funded OSS Watch service.

The use of technology in education has been prominently mentioned in the media this week, with a number of Scottish students learning their results online for the first time and bio technology students sitting their exams through computer technology in a pilot scheme that may be rolled out more generally. As such, the news that open source options for IT systems involved in managing courses would seem to fit neatly within the broader trends.

The Advances

The report has determined that there has been a remarkable growth in the use of open source course content management systems, with some 77% of all colleges and universities surveyed stating that they consider exploring open source options. However, this number becomes markedly reduced when the actual purchase and use of these systems is considered, with only 25% of institutions mentioning their use of "open source" in their policies. Similarly, only 14% of institutions using open source software know whether they make a contribution to improving the development of the software.

Undoubtedly, it will come as no surprise that the most popular operating system on PC's in educational institutions is Microsoft's Internet Explorer, with 100% of institutions offering this on their Windows desktop PCs. Interestingly, 68% also offer an alternative, namely the Mozilla Firefox system. Content Management Systems, on the other hand, is a quagmire of more than 29 different providers. In the end, of course, it all comes down to the dollars and pounds question first and foremost.

Open University

As an example of this, one finding of the report is that the primary motivation for educational institutions to make use of open source systems for course management is cost. With limited budgets and the funding ceiling very close for many managers, this should lead to further growth in the use of OSS software. The key to this may prove to be improving the awareness on the part of managers of the opportunities available.

The Government have certainly helped to highlight the issue of IT provision by placing it at the centre of the Public Sector service debate. OSS Watch are seeking to build on this awareness. To this end, the report finds that FE is enthusiastically adopting "Moodle", which is an open source management system or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Some 56% of all colleges have apparently adopted the system in the space of less than three years. In a further boost to "Moodle's" image, the Open University (OU) have also decided to adopt it.

Speaking on behalf of OSS Watch, Randy Metcalfe said: "This survey shows that although open source use is on the rise, institutional engagement with the open source development community remains patchy. OSS Watch will redouble its efforts over the next two years in order to help colleges and universities work through the challenges of engagement, from contribution of code to open source business models."

Jethro Marsh

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