Apereo Values: Section 3 - The Value of Open Source Software in Education
3. The Value of Open Source Software in Education
Higher education faces an increased and increasing series of financial, policy and structural challenges. These of course operate against the backdrop of the COVID-19 Pandemic and global threats to the environment. All the signs are that the sector is becoming more reliant on software to deliver its mission. Standard, closed and proprietary software is often a poor fit for the academic enterprise. It frequently does not serve often unique processes supporting institutions. Critically, it may act to stifle innovation at precisely the economic and educational inflexion points where innovation is most required.
Cloud solutions, while apparently offering immediate economies, raise a series of concerns about data ownership, protection, and capacity to innovate. Differences in national or supra-national legal frameworks - particularly around privacy - make a complex set of issues more complex still, with insufficient experience or case law to provide rounded and mature perspectives. Above all, if cloud offerings are not to become another means of proprietary lock-in, and act to retard innovation, stable, open interfaces are essential. At a time when higher education is seeking to innovate to respond to crisis, and operates in an increasingly global context, the lack of resolution of legal issues surrounding cloud offerings remains a ticking time-bomb.
Costs, Resources and Mission
Urgency surrounding resource constraint and cost certainly are appropriate reasons to consider open source software more thoroughly, but such exploration should be much more comprehensive.
It is becoming increasingly obvious to many that, in higher education, the cost of information and communication technologies supporting administrative purposes is disproportionate, when set against the costs of technologies deployed to support the core mission areas of learning, teaching and research. This is why Apereo has a specific focus on software to support the academic mission.
Licensing costs, however, are not the only factors. We should remind ourselves that supporting the academic mission with digital technology is a new phenomena. Certain areas are better understood than others, but higher education is at the start of a transformative journey in this respect. Collaboration and cooperation within education to produce software and services can help realize and integrate innovation far more rapidly than by commercial-proprietary routes. Disintermediation of innovation, closing the loop between the practitioner capable of identifying needs, and developer capable of creating software to realize solutions to meet them, is arguably the central problem space of educational software development. Methods associated with open source software do not necessarily close this loop automatically - but they do make the loop far easier to close by making its elements more visible and transparent. This is why Apereo stewards software that is “by education, for education”.
Open Source Program Offices
Open source software has made a variety of connections with higher education practice. Open Source Program Offices have been created in many businesses to act as a single interface between internal developments and external open source communities. During late 2019 and early 2020 an initiative was formed, led by Johns Hopkins University, to create lighthouse OSPOs in twenty higher education institutions. The initiative has a specific emphasis on the potential for developing sustainability for software outputs of the research process. The JHU internal OSPO has strong support from senior management within the institution. Apereo supports moves to establish OSPOs in higher education.
Open source software is sometimes portrayed as being “anti-commercial”. The opposite is true. Licensed appropriately, open source software creates conditions for commercial opportunity, and such commercial opportunity is an essential component of the development of a healthy software ecosystem serving innovation in education, rather than acting to restrain it. Apereo’s Commercial Affiliates Program engages with a variety of commercial partners, and is a vital part of ensuring choice and flexibility for educational institutions. We remain committed to developing commercial engagement in our support ecosystem. Strong and inclusive communities, with strong organizations to serve them, are the best guarantee both against monopolization and for innovation.
Distributed under a Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 License
Illustrations by Giulia Forsythe