It’s Time to Open Source EdTech

This week another email in my inbox has popped up of yet another edtech company being bought out by another. Zaption, an online video annotation service was bought by Workday. As a supporter of special education students, Zaption held great promise in providing students the opportunities to view instructional videos which are embedded with additional content and comprehension checks. Workday, however, appears to be in the market of providing HR and financial support to businesses. Another favorite tool of mine which recently closed shop due to an unsustainable business model was Curriculet. This site provided fiction and non- fiction text with multimedia annotations as well as comprehension checks along the way.

Edtech companies have every right to a profitable business model but educators have a right to innovation, consistency, and reliability. Some of these platforms depend on educators to create content and grow its product base only to have the service become inaccessible. Hours of work by the educator are lost and the search for a replacement ensues. Having to learn a new platform, reconnect students to a new system, and provide instruction again, on how to use this new tool. This, in the long run, is inefficient for educators and may ultimately continue being a barrier to integrating technology in the classroom.

Open source software has the potential to help support educators in their needs and developers for this community are actively needed. Open source software has the potential of providing educators with stable and accessible tools which can be built to meet the direct needs of educators. The potential for an organic community consisting of educator and developers can have ultimate benefits to students without the barrier of traditional business models and profit generating. Make and keep the tools educators need! Open source has come a long way in terms of usability. My first experience a few years ago involved an installation of a vector drawing tool and having to access my computers terminal commands, install X11 and other somewhat confusing directions. This same tool is now a similar install process as any other software which a lay person can easily access.

Open sourced software may ultimately become THE accessible option for users with disabilities. Building tools in collaboration with a community can lead to a conversation about who is using it and what they need. Take, for example, the story of Julius Sweetland who built OptiKey, an open source eye gaze communication system. My personal wishes? High-quality text to speech technology baked in for any text, high-quality word prediction for writing tasks, keyboard navigation, and robust visual supports. Many of these two tools are often used by students with disabilities. So much so that they have become part of mobile operating systems.

Now the challenge to educators and developers/ programmers to connect and make a change!