Open Source Teaching
Aug 20, 2008 E-Learning/CALL 3003 Views
Up until today, you may have missed one of the most exciting teaching revolutions that modern technology has provided. And as some of the best revolutions are, this one is free.
We're talking about LAMS - Learning Activity Management System.
LAMS was developed in Australia by Professor James Dalziel at Macquarie University. LAMS is open source software, which allows teachers to plan lessons online, which they can then deliver to students online. This extremely flexible software and the digital lessons can then be shared with other teachers, creating what is in essence "open source teaching."
If you're not familiar with open source software, open source means that it is available to be freely distributed, modified, and developed. Although not all open software is "free" in the sense that it is without cost, LAMS is. (Open source means "free" in the sense of "freedom".) The only requirement is that if any additions or modifications to the software are distributed, they must be released as open source software under the original terms of LAMS.
For those who are paying big money for some of the alternatives for online classroom formats such as Blackboard or WebCT (who recently announced a merger), LAMS could very well provide a viable and adaptable alternative to these more costly and less flexible options. The only possible cost associated with LAMS would be to pay the fees associated with support services provided by LAMS International (the LAMS services and support company). However, these services are offered as a courtesy to users and are in no way compulsory. While Blackboard and WebCT do offer valuable tools that have proven successful at some institutions, the cost may be prohibitive to many schools who may find that LAMS can serve their needs equally well, especially as it continues to develop and evolve.
LAMS is also easy-to-use with a 'drag and drop' functionality that allows teachers to quickly and easily create and adapt their own lesson plans or to modify those they have downloaded from other teachers to meet their purposes. LAMS is designed to allow students to interact with each other through chat functions, polling, and other interactive questions that students answer. They then see the answers of their fellow students or get to discuss different ideas with each other. Teachers can facilitate this group learning from an administrator account, guiding their students through the learning sequence they have created and quickly monitoring who is keeping up with the rest of the class and who is not.
Another benefit to LAMS is the way in which it will continue to improve, potentially much faster than closed source programs. Just this week, LAMS announced its integration with Sakai, another open source software program designed as a Collaborative and Learning Environment. Sakai provides a highly scalable learning platform, which can be combined with the LAMS digital lesson plans. LAMS also has plans to integrate with the open software provider, Moodle, another scalable program designed to provide a course management system. All of this demonstrates the commitment of those with open source software to improving these resources and tools for the good of the education community. LAMS and other open source partners can continue improving and adapting to a changing environment with more ease and efficiency than traditional software options.
One of the aspects of LAMS that makes it so exciting is the community that accompanies the software. LAMS software can be an effective tool for a variety of educational levels including the K-12, university classes, and professional or vocational training. The LAMS Community is meant to be a global place of sharing, which will allow teachers at all these different levels to exchange ideas and share, search, rate, and discuss the various LAMS sequences they have created.
The LAMS community is built on the ".LRN" platform, which was originally developed as open source software by Alfred Essa at MIT. The software lent its community management functions nicely to the LAMS project and has provided the meeting place for a developing community, which has the potential to create a center for teachers to share and develop "best practices" around the world, without geographic obstacles.
The Creative Commons is designed as a place for teachers to share their content openly under another sort of open source license. As the community expands and develops, the creators anticipate that it will begin to break out into smaller groups within K-12 or higher education to form close-knit communities of related teachers who can provide specific insight into the challenges that others in their group face.
The beauty of LAMS is that it can grow and adapt in ways that even the creators could not have predicted. The future will tell whether it will become the global force in education that some have predicted. In the meantime, however, it's definitely worth investigating as a powerful tool to today's educators and an easy way for teachers to share their ideas, lessons, and best practices.
See what uses you may have for this exciting technology - www.lamscommunity.org