jueves, 28 de octubre de 2010

On Open Source and Academic Productivity...

Yesterday, I finished the analysis of a survey I passed for one of my courses.
I used tables, pie graphs, bar graphs, and many of those features people love to see when data analysis is presented.

Oh...I also used Open Office to build the whole thing.

That reminded me of the video bashing Open Office that Microsoft launched, I presume, as part of their "We LOVE Open Source" campaign.

The video, which some view as a desperate rant by the Redmond giant while others see it as an implicit warning of the dangers a hasty migration may cause, called my attention when it mentioned the academic sphere...

Can the use of Open Office actually cause students to get lower grades? Tricky question.

I guess those who answer "YES" are just viewing the side of the students. Students are used to their "friendly" MS Office 2007/2010 and since the "backwards" school uses Open Office, they "are penalized" because of format incompatibilities. The scenario may also be inverse: a student who uses Open Office faces the rage of a teacher who is used to MS Office...

Now...this second case is the one I want to analyze. As an educator, the model of a school penalizing a student because he/she used X technological tool makes me reflect on some of the purposes of education: empowering people with knowledge, promoting tolerance, and valuing diversity.

Are teachers entitled to take out points or **shudder** reject an assignment because students used a technological tool other than that the teacher knows or likes?

Education is very powerful. It either frees people or domesticates them. As part of the education system of my country, I always hope I am doing the first and I work my best for that purpose. After all, what value is a teacher if he/she cannot help his/her students to learn how to face the world by themselves? What good is a teacher who contents himself/ herself by making small replicas of his/her own being? "I use MS Office, so YOU use it, or lose!" I cannot believe people promoting that ideology may call themselves teachers.

Now...how can schools then justify having teachers who lower grades on account of students using different technological tools? Those are not schools; those are intellect-killing institutions. Those are factories taming potential winners and turning them into part of the herd. Schools are for humanizing and freeing individuals, not for turning them into mindless beasts that just follow the rest without complaining.

"Use MS Office and boost your productivity," preaches Microsoft. I love Open Office but I must acknowledge MS Office is an excellent product. It is an excellent product, but Microsoft is failing to consider (again!) the current changes in this world when speaking about productivity.

Those who believe MS Office will always equal greater productivity, especially in the academic field, are a bit short-sighted. It was true in the past (Microsoft past glories); it may be true in the present...but the future, the future will be quite different.

In the past, nobody cared to learn a second language and they were well off. For some, that model works even today. However, most of us have realized that today's world demands knowing at least two languages if one really wants to be productive. Some academics argue that knowing a third language is the best bet.

What is happening in the world of computers? Computers are changing...Apple's vision outruns Microsoft's. (Microsoft is now playing catch-up trying to get its tablet!)

As another example, One Laptop Per Child is teaching children in developing countries to speak a language...and that language is not Microsoft's: Sugar, the OS of those low-cost tablets, is Open Source!

That means that new generations will be growing...and they will be speaking two languages: Open Source and maybe Microsoft's (or Apple's, if Microsoft's vision continues as it is today.)

Those kids, fully bilingual when grown, won't find relevant today's "Use MS Office to boost your productivity," much less in the academic field: they grew up with open source!

Also, there's another language embodied by also open-sourced Google Documents: the language of cloud computing. It's not a secret cloud computing is growing stronger everyday. Microsoft couldn't see it at first, although they are trying to make up for their mistake.

Interesting sight...children in developing countries will be far more knowledgeable and productive technologically than those in developed countries because children in the latter stayed speaking only one language. Their schools failed to teach them well and didn't prepare them for the changing world. Individuals who use open source usually find no trouble using Microsoft's products; they are productive in both spheres. It is not so, however, with those who just know Microsoft.

Knowledge is power, they say...Terrible words if spoken in the information era....

5 comentarios:

  1. You are right: paradigms are shifting. People sometimes fail to see it, but it is a reality of the Information Revolution. There is more information available, so people can choose not to believe only one source.

    Lies cannot hold if people look for alternative sources of information...

  2. Right. For example, I wonder how relevant MS Office will be in a couple of years, when cloud computing becomes the norm.
    Will people indeed care what office suite they are using while working in the cloud? Open standards will be the norm then...Kids will just make a document knowing that people very far away will view them without the need to ask "what version of MS Office do you use?" "Do you have the compatibility patch for docx?"

  3. Education definately is power. In the XXI century, the productivity of individuals is determined by their capacity to perform tasks that requiere innovation rather than by the software a person may use. Instead of narrowing students' initiative, education should be the vehicle by which people learn to develop the innovative ideas that move today's world. All individuals should have the necessary freedom to decide whether or not a specific technological tool works for them. Open Source certainly is a great option to develop new projects while reducing costs. This kind of software creates opportunities to improve education by giving students the possibility to have handy software that offers cutting edge tools. Technological advances should be for everyone to enjoy, so all efforts to widen people's access to these products should be strengthened.

  4. Costa Rica is one of the countries with a high level of literacy. However, I certainly think that its educational system has become non-updated in the sense that it does not look into the future. In fact, Costa Rican educational system seems to take everything for granted. This attitude of conformity can be also reflected on the use of technologies; for instance, many Costa Rican only knows about the most common and popular technologies. For example, students from primary and high schools usually receive computer classes based on Microsoft’s utilities whereas they know a little about alternatives operating systems such as Linux. My purpose is not to criticize Microsoft; rather, I want to point out that many users, particularly students, simply ignore that these alternative operating system are as useful as Microsoft’s products and have less risks. In addition, it is important to keep in to consideration the consequences if Microsoft technologies eventually failed. Thus, if students are used to different alternatives they will be able to adapt during a possible change. Another important benefit is the fact that Linux is free, which can contribute to reduce the costs in public education at the same time that students can increase their knowledge that will definitely help them in their future as productive professionals. Pérez, A.