|Title:||Exploring proprietary vs open source software|
|Subject:||Proprietary vs open source software|
|Name:||Volume 4, Issue 1, Page 11, Winter 2012|
Proprietary, open source, software, blogging, websites, Web 2.0, supporting, IT resources, ePortfolios, PebblePad, tutor feedback, etc
Many of us have our own experiences of using free and open source software, whether it’s through blogging or building our own websites. And whilst some of us may relish the challenge, many of us have struggled to find our way around and decided that the software is so ‘clunky’ that we’d rather pay for software which would work just as we’d hoped and which involved minimal time outlay getting to know the technology, leaving us maximum time to use it as we wished. On an organisational scale, many higher education institutes are grappling with the same dilemma: should they choose an in-house sponsored system?
Exploring proprietary vs open source software - Published Friday 3 of February: 2012-02-03
By Colin Dalziel, Operations Director, Pebble Learning Ltd, e-Innovation Centre, University of Wolverhampton, UK - www.pebblepad.co.uk
Many of us have our own experiences of using free and open source software, whether it’s through blogging or building our own websites. And whilst some of us may relish the challenge, many of us have struggled to find our way around and decided that the software is so ‘clunky’ that we’d rather pay for software which would work just as we’d hoped and which involved minimal time outlay getting to know the technology, leaving us maximum time to use it as we wished. On an organisational scale, many higher education institutes are grappling with the same dilemma: should they choose an in-house sponsored system? Should it be from a commercial organisation or open source or should they let users choose technologies that are already out there on the web, often for free?
This article looks at the decisions which must be made when choosing between Web 2.0, open source and proprietary software. These decisions include choices about cost, secure private space; the ability to link to and use institutional systems such as active directory for authentication and student management systems to populate groups; access for tutors to work without having to have multiple passwords; and long term viability - will the web 2.0 tools you use today be here next year?
Open source may be a good option for some organisations as a system can often be set up within the organisation or managed by an appropriate external provider. It is important to appreciate that whilst the open source software may be free, implementing it and supporting it is not without cost. It’s generally agreed that if you choose to use open source software at an institutional level, you must either have significant internal or external dedicated IT resources to set it up and maintain it. If the reason for adoption is purely cost, careful analysis is needed to ensure the total cost of ownership is understood. This is also true of proprietary software although in most cases costs are more obvious.
Security is increasingly essential for organisations. We’ve all seen newspaper headlines where sensitive online data has got into the wrong hands. Online university systems are many and varied and different types of systems present different challenges. Systems controlled by tutors used to support course delivery with materials and possibly assessment upload are different to systems with Web 2.0 type functionality, where the learner has control of a personal space to create and store work in. These types of systems are often called ePortfolios or Personal learning spaces and range from those that are fairly simplistic with a ‘tick box’ and upload assignment approach, to the more sophisticated system which encourages and facilitates deep reflection. Systems like these will hold written student assignments and tutor feedback, exam results, and videos, images and presentations from coursework or work placements. They may also hold highly personal reflections from, for example, trainee doctors as they progress through their course, or qualified professionals’ reflections as they carry out continuing professional development. A system which offers the choice of whom to share this information with rather than a blanket ‘share with all cohort’ or ‘share with all tutors’ option is usually preferred by students, as is one which offers complete privacy without even administrator access. Other information which must be kept secure includes personal data such as contact details, and any details that could compromise financial or personal safety.
The ability for the new system to link to and use other institutional systems, such as an active directory for authentication, and student management systems to populate groups, is something which makes implementation far quicker, easier and more cost effective. Whilst bespoke links can be developed to integrate different systems, the process can be time-consuming and costly and care must be taken to ensure security is maintained. These types of links are only likely to be practical once a system has been widely adopted within an organisation, and are extremely unlikely across multiple Web 2.0 tools.
Tutors and students alike frequently don’t have the time, inclination or technical skills to use complicated software and therefore systems which are intuitive to use and don’t require remembering multiple passwords are likely to be best used. Ease of use is particularly important during pilot phases when training is generally cascaded through the organisation and early adopters are active in encouraging their colleagues to use new systems.
Finally, long term viability and continuity of the software chosen is also vital. Will the system continue to evolve as the world’s understanding of e-learning grows? Will work created in one version work in the next? If you are customising, will the way your open source software operates carry forward to future releases?
Countless Web 2.0 systems have vanished during the economic slowdown and many of the best have been taken over or commercialised by large corporations. What was previously free no longer is. Long term availability can present additional problems for institutions, particularly if a system is being used to support assessment processes. How does an institution maintain a long-term record of a learner’s activities for audit if the system they are using is no longer available? Choosing a company with a proven research and development function and sizeable customer base should help to ensure its longevity.
There is no magic formula for deciding which option is best for an organisation. In one situation, small scale use of a Web 2.0 tool may be perfectly acceptable, whilst for a full scale implementation a proprietary system with a proven track record may be considered the safer option. One system may be cheaper than another, or may link well to existing systems, but if the new system doesn’t support the intended activities or aims, then it’s not the right one to choose. Whatever the choice basing the final decision on as full an understanding of the issues as possible is vital.
About the author:
Colin Dalziel is the Operations Director at Pebble Learning - the company behind www.pebblepad.co.uk - an online personal learning space which goes further than most e-portfolios to encourage deep reflection. It's used by organisations from professional membership bodies to universities and colleges. PebblePad has created a list of ten questions to consider when choosing an e-portfolio system, many of which also apply to choosing other systems for HEIs: www.pebblepad.co.uk/essentialquestions.asp
The PDF version of the article is available above
Volume 4, Issue 1, Winter 2012, AngloHigher® The Magazine of Global English Speaking Higher Education™, ISSN 2041-8469 (Online)
Copyright © 2009-12 by Panethnic Limited, All Rights Reserved.