So, Dawson...not eating your open source dogfood anymore?

Sure I love my Mac, but will Apple really power an Ed Tech revolution? I don't think so.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

Larry Dignan wrote about his ongoing debate with Sam Diaz yesterday over Google TV. The post highlighted what will become an increasingly important debate over content-rich interactive TV vs. traditional couch potato TV (I'm with Sam, by the way). This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with education. Don't worry...I'm getting to a point here.

While Larry's post was interesting in and of itself, what was far funnier was wizard57m's talkback, finishing the debate between Larry and Sam with Sam getting himself fired and working his way through the ZDNet bloggers looking for a way to get his job back. One excerpt in particular caught my eye:

Sam Diaz: in attempt to lift his spirits, contacts a few contemporaries at former employer ZDNet, namely Garret Rogers and Christopher Dawson... Garret: Don't worry bro, just "google" for a new gig! Have you updated to Froyo yet? I mean it is just so way much cooler than RIM!.... Sam: Ehhh, thanks anyway, later! Christopher: Hey bud! Come and look at my new Apple gear!! I've given up the open source mantra, and Steve Jobs promised me a new propellor beanie! Look at all this way cool expensive stuff! Wow! I can browse the web on my Macbook Pro! Sure glad I leased this kit! Sam: No, no, Chris...I need help! How can I get back in Larry Dignan's good graces? Sheesh, you used to be somewhat helpful, now it's all "Mac this, Mac that". I need an inexpensive solution here! Christopher: You Windoze/Linsux LOOOOSER!

Now hold on a minute there, @wizard57m. I'll be the first to admit that the Mac love flowing from these fingers may have gotten a bit thick the last few days, but we all love our new toys, right? And in my case, I think I've really figured out how to tap some important productivity boosters on my Mac that work well for me. Professional musicians will often swear by a particular instrument manufacturer. Just because one guitarist refuses to use anything other than late 60's Fender Stratocasters, while another will only use new Paul Reed Smiths doesn't mean that Epiphone doesn't make some great guitars.

Now here's where I swing this all around to Ed Tech (even though I'm going to persist with this guitar analogy). If you want every student to learn to play an instrument, giving them all Paul Reed Smiths at $2500 a piece won't make it happen. They could, in fact, learn just as well on an inexpensive Strat copy. Everyone will learn to read music, improve eye-hand coordination, reinforce math and language skills, and exercise creativity, regardless of what kind of guitar they hold in their hands every day. Some may go on to become professional and will purchase high-end guitars and amps. Others will take their inexpensive guitars and modify them with new pickups, scalloped fretboards, and custom paint jobs.

Next: No, really, keep reading...there's Ed Tech ahead! »

The same goes in educational technology. Netbooks running Ubuntu can give students Internet access, programming tools, and productivity applications at extremely reasonable prices. So can refurbished laptops and, to a lesser extent, tablets and smartphones. There are many, many ways to go about weaving technology directly into what students and teachers do every day and, in education, cost very often drives the hardware and software details of the various implementations. However, when it comes down to it, the hardware and software are just tools. The real magic of 1:1 only occurs with really well-planned curricula and teachers and staff who completely buy in to the notion that computers are for more than "computer time."

Even looking beyond 1:1, there is no reason that schools can't very effectively build technology-rich curricula using commodity hardware and the open source tools of their choice, all at considerable savings over Apple and Microsoft implementations.

That being said, every student-staff-parent ecosystem must ask itself which tools meet its needs the best and what priorities it must address in terms of technology. For me, my new Mac meets my needs better than any computer I've ever owned. But it's Linux, Moodle, Apache, PHP, and WordPress that drive most of what I create and do online. I'm diving deep into everything that Adobe has to offer because, again, I'm finding that the tools, however expensive, make me more productive. Can schools benefit from teaching design principles with Adobe software? Absolutely! Is it sustainable to give every kid a decent laptop with CS5 Master Collection installed? Probably not.

No, folks, I haven't abandoned my open source roots, but neither am I Richard Stallman. Open source software and proprietary software can coexist peacefully, whether on my own computer or in a school's computer labs. Save money when you can, spend money when you need to, meet student needs, and look at curriculum first. The tech, whether open or closed source, commodity or high-end, will follow.

Editorial standards