Promoting Free/Open Source to an audience of Teachers and School Administrators

I have presented in the past about this, but soon I will be doing it again, and suddenly I realized I could ask for help in a friendly place where people will not be dicks! So here it goes:
Target audience: Teachers, and soon (this coming Friday!!) School Administrators
I am trying to communicate to teachers and school admins the practical advantages of using FLOSS vs. commercial software:

  • Not encouraging students to obtain software illegally (though not on purpose, of course)
  • Not having to depend on budget concerns
  • Control over which version to use, when to update
  • Being able to install, on the spot, the software you need
  • The lesson plans you prepare based around a piece of software remain viable no matter where you go

So, I am really curious about what other people may think:
Do you have any tips or comments on my arguments?
Do you have any suggestions for advantages of FLOSS in a classroom/school setting?
What else do you think I should address to help people in education use more FLOSS?
PS: here is the page about the presentation on my blog:


One immediate area you should be targeting is open source document formats: Open Office or Libre Office for example - I fought and won a battle with my daughters old school because they were insisting that not only were essays submitted in word format but the newer ‘.docx’ format.

My daughter is running the latest version of Office and has a Windows 10 machine but not every parent can afford to buy the latest software and hardware needed to run it.

I also had a major argument with them over iPhones. The school had a number of iPhone apps to help the kids learn maths, history and other subjects. When I complained that an iPhone was expletive deleted expensive and I had no intention of buying her one and that the school head should buy every child in the school an iPhone out of his own pocket I was told there are a limited number of iPads available in every class for children to use. It still doesn’t help for children who can’t afford an iPhone or iPad who want to do extra work at home though for revision for example.

So I won over open source documents and lost over Apple. This is unfortunately becoming more the case in UK schools at least if not the rest of world too. Lots of companies give schools hardware and software either free or at a significant discount because it locks them in to using particular software which they believe will be carried on into the rest of their lives. Too often it is.

Yes. Open Source is often about equality. If Open Source software is used in the schools, the students (and the teachers) are able to use the same software at home. (Aside some software that are only available on some operating systems.) That makes students more equal.

This is not just about Free/Open Source software, but some of the same arguments can be used also to motivate the use of CC-licensed material. (Wikipedia, Open Clip Art Library, Unsplash-photos, etc.)

  • Not encouraging students to obtain software illegally (though not on purpose, of course)

I have been saying this same also about for example CC-photos. It’s a good way to teach students to respect the copyrights of other people. Where to find images for essays legally and how to attribute the authors properly. That’s a skill they will need some day in the real life.

Mentioning CC-licensed material can be one way to show that this is not just about software, but the same methods are used in other areas too.

About open source formats: I agree with you 100%. However this is something that goes usually far beyond the average user. Just as well, more and more schools are “going Google”, which makes that argument a lot less evident for the average user. And you could even go with Microsoft Office Online, with quite a bit of functionality for free.
As I said: fully agreed, but hard to tackle in the format I will be presenting. I do encourage everyone to switch to LibreOffice, because of all the practical advantages: works everywhere, no worries about licensing, you can rely on it being available on any OS you switch to, any OS that your next school makes you use.

iPhone/iPad: again fully in agreement. Android may be behind in the Education market, but there is also plenty to use and enjoy. Schools should do their best to provide alternatives wherever possible. I don’t like that some schools impose on parents some burdens that they shouldn’t have to bear. I don’t want my grade 4 daughter to be walking around with 1000usd in her backpack because the school forces me to. I know of places where criminals have targeted students at certain schools because they knew most of them were carrying expensive MacBooks or iPads as a result of school requirement. Thanks, but no thanks.

For disclosure, I am the IT Manager at an international school: Bali Island School, in Indonesia.

Yes, that’s actually a good point. Creative Commons are very well known by many teachers. I should make a point of how the CC movement was actually inspired by the Free Software movement. It will bring the message home much more clearly to a lot of people.
I am also absolutely in favor of CC and of promoting OER (Open Educational Resources), but it goes beyond my focus for the presentation. There are also a lot more people talking about CC around the education sector.
Thanks for your replies!

There’s a difference between promoting an open source OS, and promoting the use of individual pieces of OSS on top of Windows. The latter is a much easier lift, because you can try things piece by piece, and keep using what you like, and the IT department is still supporting the OS they know. Trying to catalyse a move to the latter is much harder, because then one is committed to open-source-everything, pretty much, everyone who uses that machine has to retrain, and the IT department needs to learn how to support them.

So be sure to distinguish the two cases, and make it clear what you are arguing for. It’s not clear which from your original post.

Hi, thanks for replying.
I am initially going more for the OS on top of Windows/Mac, but I will be presenting it as a first step for an individual teacher with a classroom full of laptops that students own and decide what they run. Bring Your Own Laptop models are very popular among schools nowadays. Cross-platform open source tools can be amazing in this context.

Since this time the audience will have more decision makers (such as myself) that will have leverage in which systems the IT department needs to support, I will also comment on moving to an open source OS fully. Having Google Chrome available and working well on Linux makes this option much more viable for schools than it used to be.

Just as relevant for this audience is the topic of open source for the server room, a major success in our case. Costs and reliability are major points in that conversation.

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This is a mighty interesting discussion!
I’m an IT manager for 8 High Schools in The Netherlands and I plan to do a lightning talk at FOSDEM this february explaining the situation in The Netherlands (NL) now, with open source not being seen as a viable solution in education (High Schools that is), therefor not used and how we should/could start to get this to be used.

I have loads of ideas on this!

Factors in NL that hamper the situation are as follows (not exhausting)

  • Teachers stuck in 2001 and using the same old techniques that they have always used
  • IT support that is stuck in 2001, with little professional IT education and using what they know from the past and are familiar with (-> Windows, Office and other closed source software)
  • Only 3 big educational publishers that fail to create online html5 learning materials, but remain (for some part) creating Windows oriented digital material for the kids
  • Only 2 digital learning platforms available (that can connect via API’s with the 3 educational publishers) that high schools can use, that can possibly connect through API’s with our government. This is necessary for obtaining money from the government, which is based on pupil counts. Guess what: these platforms work best under Windows. One requires the dead Silverlight.
  • Management of schools that still feel that they should familiarize students with MS Office and Adobe software ‘as that will be what they will use when they get a job’
  • Almost free use of Microsoft products for education on both server and client side
  • Free O365 use
  • Free Google Apps use
  • Low TCO for Chromebooks (which they sometimes chose over Windows for kids, which they then force them to collaborate through O365, for the familiarization in the Microsoft environment. The HORROR!!)

All these factors contribute to the mostly Windows for teachers and supporting roles and either Windows or ChromeOS for students.

As I have limited time right now, I’ll follow up with my ideas on how to break out of this situation later on.

Full disclosure: in 2018 I’ll start a new job at the national governmental advisory board to give advice to high schools on how to organize IT best, and we’ll start with setting up a national IT infrastructure for high schools that want to join. Think of WAN, LAN, Wifi, private cloud solutions, digital learning platforms etc. Hopefully I’ll be in a position to advocate FLOSS in some areas


There are lots of areas where open source software is just as good as the commercial stuff and promoting Open Office (or Libre Office) is probably a good starting point.

I’d make sure everything you choose programs that are stable, in the sense that they don’t change very often, and available in the popular Linux distributions as well as Windows and Mac.

We are not going to schools to change to Linux in the short term because most IT departments don’t understand it - and don’t want to. But, if we can migrate them to open source applications that is a good first step.

Once we are using Open Office or Libre Office we can then think about introducing other software such as GIMP and build from there. We will need to see the majority of applications migrated to open source once before we can say “Know what guys, You can do all this in Linux too”.

I am wishing you and @umasse the best of luck in this endeavour and I feel sure the majority of Bad Voltage fans would support that sentiment too.

Hi @basr Thanks for joining the conversation.
I would really like to see your talk at FOSDEM, but it’s quite far for me :slight_smile: Best of luck with it!
I find it quite ironic how in education we talk a lot about “transferable skills”, but when it comes to teaching IT, then we HAVE TO use the industry standards. How to format text and how to edit photos can easily be learned with LibreOffice and GIMP, with many of the same concepts.
I have heard about those digital learning platforms in NL, but barely any details. Didn’t know about Silverlight! That’s terrible! Those API’s to the government seem the key. Are they publicly documented? There are some Dutch governments/city halls doing some interesting open source stuff, I wonder if it would be useful to reach out to them as successful stories?
I am really curious about your ideas to improve the situation there. And congratulations on that new job!

My own full disclosure: Probably moving back to Europe next summer. And my wife is from Leiden :slight_smile:

I would agree with that, mostly, but it’s changing as well. I see more and more ‘mainstream’ IT people waking up to Linux on the server side, so a lot of them see learning Linux as valuable for their careers. A random IT department in any institution may not be using Linux officially, but it’s getting more and more likely that someone working there will at least be interested in picking up the skills. The 2 IT technicians I supervise here have very much enjoyed growing in this direction, and are now doing a lot of the system admin work for me. Their motivation has definitely shown a huge improvement just by giving them the challenge to learn.

About LibreOffice as a starting point… Interesting. I actually find that GIMP is a better idea. MS Office document compatibility is a very hard requirement for many people. JPGs are JPGs, however, and people push back a lot less.

I’ve added and updated the page on my blog to include some relatively successful programs for us:
Desktop tools: - office suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access, Publisher) - photo editing (Photoshop) - vector editing (Illustrator) - video editor - music composition and notation - professional digital audio workstation

And I also want to highlight here Ubermix, but that is really going Linux for the whole system. Our students don’t have any problem with it, though!

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Hello everyone,
So I delivered my presentation, and it was reasonably well received. I believe most people attending walked away with a better understanding and at least less concerns about trying to get things done with free/open-source software.

One of the questions that was tricky was the difference with ‘freeware’ and why this is important. I was expecting it, and even have one slide on it, but somehow some people still don’t quite get it. Oh well.

Thanks everyone for the input!


In my opinion when I teach at undergradute level, the most important reason to use FOSS software is really the ability to teach properly. By that I mean teach a student how to think and obtain an outcome using a tool as opposed to you plot a graph by clicking this button that button and pressing enter.

Basically being able to teach the student to complete the task and not how to use program X. I think this point is often overlooked and is one of the reasons I favor teaching students to use python over “better” alternatives such as matlab etc.


Great point. The “one tool for one job” philosophy in many FOSS options is great for this.
In a totally different area from your example (python for doing/understanding all the steps for scientific calculations), I encourage our students to use the best tool for the task at hand:

  • Making a video, I need some fancy looking images: understand/learn that you get GIMP for the images, that you then import into Shotcut. Why do you need your video editor to have a photo editor built in? Open formats are crucial here.
  • Creating a poster: combine LibreOffice Draw or Scribus with Inkscape and GIMP. Don’t be afraid to use multiple tools to create your end product. Or maybe you find you prefer Krita instead of GIMP? Fantastic, go for it.

Understanding formats and how they open up the option to create workflows that work for you. So a point that I probably need to add to my presentation is at least focusing on applications that can work/export in open formats.

Thanks for your reply!

No worries, I feel that point is often overlooked; albeit probably because I don’t pay as much attention to the field as I should. I often see very smart people completely stumped when asked to write a presentation in open office, its both interesting and sad.

Anyway I’m glad you thought my point was good :).

This is an interesting question and to my mind there are 4 models:

  • Open source
    Code is freely available and user contributions are encouraged
    This is my favourite model.

  • Source Available
    Code is freely available but user contributions are discouraged
    This allows others to fork software but not to contribute to the original project

  • Freeware
    Code is Not available and user contributions are impossible
    This offers software for free but without the chance to modify it for your personal needs and making it very difficult to determine what else the software might be doing: emailing your bank account details to the programmers for example.

  • Commercial
    Code is Not available and user contributions are impossible
    This offers software at a cost, without the chance to modify, making it very difficult to determine what else the software might be doing: emailing your bank account details to the share holders for example.

Obviously given the community in which this this published my preference (most to least) is in the order displayed. However, this is not a claim that all software should be free. In many circumstances a ‘paid for’ model makes sense.

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there are a couple of ways to promote this that both younger members and audiences’-older would understand aswell.

there’s is also a @TIDEpodcast for further participation in digital education.

there seems to be a push in sullivan, Ohio towards closed alert apps aswell

That’s not really the topic at hand though, is it?

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