Earlier this week, I wrote a story about why startups should be involved in open source, referencing the work that LearnBoost has done in that area. And the following day, the startup open sourced another one of the tools it's developed, Soda. At the risk of sounding like the rogue wing of its PR department and with the realization that a node.js development tool isn't something that I expect a lot of teachers are shouting "This is what we've been waiting for!" I want to reiterate why I think it's incredibly important to have at our disposal open source and open content tools.
An analogy: I love LEGOs. And while, sure, I say this partly out of nostalgia, I think the LEGO sets from my childhood were far better than the ones you get now. Compare the castle sets from the 1980s to contemporary ones, for example. I remember my brother had one castle set that was really just a massive box full of yellow bricks, a drawbridge, and a couple of figures with sharp spears and nice-looking helmets. The instructions for the castle were pages long, a step-by-step process of building from the ground up. Building it was an achievement. Then modifying it and waging battles in it -- pure awesome. Now, when you buy a castle set, there aren't as many of the simple brick pieces. Instead, you get large pieces of pre-formed walls and windows. And sure, you can still build a beautiful castle from which to wage LEGO warfare. But by having only a dozen or so pre-formed castle pieces rather than hundreds of 1x2, 1x4, and 1x6 bricks, what you can build is pretty limited. It's harder to be imaginative, innovative.
My point: I want teachers, students, (ed-)tech folks to be able to build cool stuff. And okay, the LEGO analogy only goes so far. After all, LEGO wants to sue other interlocking brick toys for trademark infringement, so it's hardly a model company for "open."
What I want to stress, nonetheless, is the importance of having access to the building blocks, the raw materials. It's a shame to simply lock down all the tools in and for classrooms. We have to be able to build the castles we want and need. And we should be able to work collaboratively to build them.
For some, it may be a stretch to see the connection between an ed-tech startup open sourcing a web development tool and the development of a better education system. But see, that's one of the great things about "open" -- people contribute, and the code, the content, and the community get stronger.