For that to happen, teachers, software developers, researchers, IT managers and citizens in general need to be educated about what free (also known as libre or open source) software is, how to use it and how to get the most benefit from it. But until now educational content and training resources about software that is free to use, copy, change, study and distribute have been woefully hard to find.
An EU-funded project has started to change that. Inspired by the community-driven development model that has led to such enormously successful initiatives as the contributor-edited online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, the researchers behind the SELF project have created an online platform to develop and collaboratively distribute educational materials about free software.
Just as Wikipedia has become one of the leading sources of information on the internet, the SELF team hopes their platform will turn into a leading resource for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of free software. The platform allows contributors to add and update a wide variety of educational materials, from simple articles to structured courses, and to collaborate on developing new training resources on diverse applications and subjects, from the Linux operating system to complex scientific programmes.
SELF project coordinator Wouter Tebbens says the team was driven to launch the project when they realised that a lack of educational resources was holding back the adoption of free software in Europe and elsewhere, despite its many advantages over proprietary alternatives.
The “free” in free software refers to freedom of use, modification and distribution, resulting in programmes that tend to be more adaptable, scalable, transparent and (frequently) more cost-effective than their proprietary counterparts.
“We identified four factors holding back the adoption of free software: Firstly, there is a lack of awareness about what free software is. Secondly, there is a perceived lack of technical support for free software products. Thirdly, teachers and trainers are mostly unprepared to teach it. And, fourthly, they didn’t have the necessary resources,” Tebbens, the president of the Amsterdam-based Free Knowledge Institute, explains.
By addressing the latter issue, in particular, the SELF team are confident that the other obstacles will also be overcome. With educational materials at their fingertips through the SELF platform, university and school teachers, vocational trainers, IT managers and software developers will have fewer excuses not to learn about free software and provide students and staff with training in it. That, in turn, should raise general awareness about free software’s benefits and uses, and, ultimately, increase the adoption of free applications and tools in both the public and private sectors.
“Our target audience is anyone with a role in teaching or training, as well as anyone in the software development community,” Tebbens says.
World first for community-created teaching materials
The SELF platform, which is obviously built using free software, is the first platform in the world that allows users to generate, update and distribute educational materials collaboratively, the project coordinator says. In essence, it merges the community-driven approach of Wikiversity – an educational information repository set up by the Wikimedia Foundation, creator of Wikipedia – with the e-learning capabilities of free software learning management systems such as Moodle.
“We have incorporated the best of both worlds, while adding some innovations of our own,” Tebbens says.
Among the innovations are a way to judge the quality of the content on the SELF platform through a popularity ranking system, middleware to allow materials in different formats to be shared, and a P2P file-sharing architecture that lets contributors host resources on their own servers.
The platform evidently does not need to be used solely for educational materials dealing with technology, but could be used to create and share any kind of educational content.
“We have seen interest from organisations outside the consortium who want to put it to other uses, and because it’s free software they are free to do so,” the SELF coordinator notes.
The consortium’s own work in the free software field is due to be continued by a new organisation that Tebbens says will be similar to the Wikimedia Foundation and will rely on donations and funding from partners to operate and maintain the SELF platform.
“Many of the SELF project partners want to continue with this for several reasons. The Open University of Catalonia (UOC), for example, wants to use it to maintain its course materials in collaboration with other partners, while an Indian partner, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, is using it as a testbed for its semantic knowledge engine,” Tebbens explains.
To raise awareness about their work, the project partners launched the Free Knowledge, Free Technology conference, the first edition of which took place in Barcelona in July 2008, attracting representatives of the software development and educational communities from around the world. They have also published a book titled ‘Introduction to Free Software’ that has been incorporated into a UOC master’s course.
“The response to the project has been very good… I think we are opening a lot of people’s eyes to the importance of combining teaching and technology,” Tebbens says.
In that awakening, he hopes people will take the project’s motto to heart: “Be SELFish, share your knowledge!”
The SELF project received funding under the ICT strand of the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme for research.
Christian Nielsen | alfa
Snake-inspired robot uses kirigami to move
22.02.2018 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Camera technology in vehicles: Low-latency image data compression
22.02.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Nachrichtentechnik, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, HHI
A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.
In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...
A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.
By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy