Badges / Education / eLearning / Higher Education / Open Educational Resources / Open Source

Ubuntu, Open Courses, and Open Badges: Three Ways the Open Source Community is improving Education

Open Source Word Cloud

CC Licensed by Nicole Engard

For weeks now I’ve been drafting a post about how the Open Source Community is making big strides in helping support and expand the reach of education.  The latest news about MIT’s announcement of edX developing an open-source learning management system has tipped me over the edge and it’s time I share three ways in which the Open Source Community is improving access to education.


You can get a full-featured and widely-support Operating System for FREE

Ever heard of Ubuntu?  How about Linux?  Wait!  Don’t run away just yet.

Ubuntu Software Center Apps

The folks over at Canonical who are behind the Ubuntu operating system, one of the most popular of the open-source, has just released version 12.04.  Besides having a rather interesting name, Precise Pangolin will be supported for five years (Thanks to Paul M for catching my previous three-year error).  So what?  This means that instead being forced to update to a newer operating system for fear of losing support and compatability, users who begin using Ubuntu now will be enjoy term support on a nice little operating system.

What if I don’t want to use Ubuntu anyways?  Not everyone who wants to learn and be productive can afford the latest Apple products or version of Windows.  Ubuntu has been refining the look and feel of their operating system in preparation for this release, which will provide a full-featured computing environment to users for free.  This means not having to pay for individual Windows or OSX licenses, not having to pay for a productivity suite like Microsoft Office (check out LibreOffice), and also having free access to the quality software and apps you already know for social media and gaming.

Chrome Firefox Thunderbird and Skype logos

For a school running on a limited budget, the savings from using Ubuntu and the free education software bundle can go towards keeping support staff and instructors on, being able to purchase better hardware or other networking systems (routers, server space, etc) or simply to maintain a more lean technology budget.  If you’re are at all interested to see how possible it is to remove your school’s dependency on expensive licenses for computer software, check out this article about Mark Osborne, a Deputy Principal at Albany Senior High School in New Zealand.  Our F/OSS class taught by Dr. Paul McKimmey was lucky enough to have Mark give a Webinar and talk about the many successes and few challenges of running a school entirely with free operating systems and software.  At any level, you can put students in front of a computer with Ubuntu on it and they just work.  No complaints, they will just work.


Some of the best College-level Instructors are working to open Education to the Masses

edX Online Course Logo

The partnerships forming between some of the top  universities in the U.S. will soon be offering more open (free) online courses than ever before.  MIT and Harvard have joined together to form edX.  Instructors from Stanford, Penn State, University of Michigan, and Princeton are offering free courses in many subjects through their group called Coursera.  Also another group of robotics researchers from Stanford have joined together to form Udacity, offering many computer science and web development courses.

Here’s a video from the edX launch last week:

edX Conference Video

The development and delivery of open courses through these partnerships is going to help shape the landscape of education, through what many are identifying as a disruptive technology.  What’s more is that the edX project is apparently planning on developing their Learning Management System (LMS) as an open source project, building in some of the latest performance-tracking and data collection mechanisms to improve the system for students.  This means that not only will the edX group be able to roll out improvements to their online course delivery, but will allow other institutions to use the same platform to offer online courses.  This is some heavy stuff.


The Open Source Community is working on standardizing the way you can show Achievements

Mozilla Open Badge logo

I’ve mentioned Mozilla’s Open Badge Infrastructure before, but this open-source method of earning, awarding, and displaying achievements beyond what an A-F grading scale can show.  Earning credit for open courses (see above) is something that is still under development, but Mozilla’s work is gaining momentum as instructors seek ways to recognize students through a standardized (and open source) microcredentialing system.  If you’re interested in finding out how Open Badges work and the possibilities of using them in education, check out this recorded Webinar by Dr. Kyle Peck (Penn State) and hosted by Brian Mulligan (Ins. of Tech, Sligo, Ireland) from Wednesday May 9:

Dr. Peck Open Badges in Education Recorded Webinar

Between Ubuntu, Open Courses, and Badges, we will be watching Education evolve quickly

These three gifts from the Open Source Community are going to support the development of open educational resources, evolving on their own as we move into the next few years.  If you didn’t know what it means to be “open source” or to offer “open educational resources,” I hope this post has given you an introduction to their implications in education.  It’s an exciting time to be in educational technology, to say the least.

Did I miss anything?  Questions and comments welcome below!

7 thoughts on “Ubuntu, Open Courses, and Open Badges: Three Ways the Open Source Community is improving Education

  1. Awesome article, Billy. I am looking forward to seeing the new LMS develop from the EdX project(s)… and would like to get involved in that. Also, Ubuntu 12.04 will be supported for FIVE years… two more than their typical LTS (long term support release). That’s worth a lot of money in terms of both licensing and personnel time – getting off the forced M$ and Apple upgrade cycles.

    • Thanks Paul. Yes, I’m also looking forward to news about the open LMS that will be coming along from the edX project. And from what I heard, the server version of Ubuntu 12.04 will be supported for 5 years, but only 3 for the desktop version. Either way, it’s good news for people who want to try out Ubuntu! I’m going to be setting up my now-dormant desktop PC to dual-boot Win7 and Ubuntu 12.04 after I move to SF. I’ll let you know how it goes :]

      • “Canonical’s Ubuntu 12.04 is known as Precise Pangolin and it is the firm’s fourth long term support (LTS) release with extended support for both desktop and server distributions for five years.”

        Curious where you found otherwise?

        Source: The Inquirer (

      • I checked again, and you’re right! Seems that this is the first LTS release that will last 5 years on both the desktop and the server distros, better than 3/5 for the previous LTS distros. Thanks for catching that, Paul. It’s been reflected in the post :]

    • Hi Brian! Yes, I believe that the data analytics are going to play a large role in the development of the edX LMS. The notion I’ve picked up on lately is that the amount of data collected has become exceedingly important (as opposed to ever-increasing types of data) and open courses that serve 100,000+ students obviously going to be collecting data on a large scale. I’m going to look into the different features that the edX LMS has planned and see how they stack up against Moodle/Blackboard/Sakai etc. Let me know if you run into anything interesting along those lines, won’t you? Thanks for commenting!

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