- Free Software Tools are the most powerful Teaching Tools.
Since 1995, CSU Northridge's Web Project has trained over 1000 Northridge and Community College faculty to use free software teaching tools. Our set of separate and independent free software tools--HyperNews and Internet Relay Chat--are more flexible and powerful teaching tools than proprietary tools in a "box." We are currently developing a free software interactive testing program,Q, which has more useful features than current commercial programs.
- Free Software Lowers Infrastructure Costs.
The computer infrastructure costs to support free software teaching tools are considerably lower than commercial teaching programs and commercial server support. Our servers and the teaching tools are supported by Linux, Apache and Perl, the three most important free software programs used on the Web. The key feature of free software is that their source code is open to the world. They are public software programs, which means that our technical staff has complete control over installing, maintaining, modifying and upgrading them. We do not depend on commercial software packages which have ongoing service contracts and upgrade costs.
- Free Software Develops Faculty and Staff Autonomy.
Using free software in online teaching and its infrastructure support develops faculty and technical staff expert knowledge,which increases their autonomy.
- Faculty Teaching Autonomy
The most important factors in Online teaching are the same as in the traditional classroom: Creative imagination and love of learning. The best Internet teaching comes from faculty engaged with a set of powerful teaching tools. We give our faculty complete control of the free software tools and challenge their imagination (See: Play Day). Because the freeware tools nurture autonomy, faculty do not rely on "blackbox" software and anonymous distant support staff. Instead they form learning commmunities dedicated to helping each other use the tools in new and creative ways. For examples of such communities, see Virtual Visions and Sundays in Cyberspace. Our program is the antithesis of "everything in a box" commercial programs that proudly proclaim that faculty don't have to learn anything to teach online. We expect our faculty to be students--to learn the tools. Although at times hard and time-consuming, the end result is empowerment.
- Technical Staff Autonomy
Administering the free software programs also challenges our technical staff. Rather than employees who do low-level installation of commercial programs and call 1-800 when something goes wrong, the technical staff become part of the teaching team. As they continue to expand their expertise in Linux, Apache, Perl, HyperNews and IRC, the staff, together with the faculty, constantly imagine new ways to make the tools serve teaching.
- Free Software Embodies a Core Value of Public Education: The Free Exchange of Ideas.
- The Internet has realized one dream of democracy: the world-wide free exchange of ideas. Free software is by definition free and accessible. Our documentation and guides for using our free software teaching tools are on our public servers and free for the taking.
- Our Virtual classrooms are open because we believe the mission of public education is to engage the public in informed, critical thinking. Anyone in the world can view our course materials and read our discussion forums. Colleagues in the global village can benefit from examining our pedagogy just as we have been enriched by visiting their virtual classrooms.
- Using teaching programs that lock the main entrance to the virtual clasroom, admitting only those who pay for the secret passwords, denies citizens of the global village exposure to the rich ideas of the faculty teaching behind those closed doors. While restricting access might be acceptable for private educational institutions, it is a questionable practice for public institutions whose mission is to serve the common good. We should all follow the example of MIT, which is now opening its classrooms to the world: MIT OpenCourseWare.
- The medium is the message. Teaching with free software embodies the values we teach in the tools we use. Hence the motto of our program: "Public Software for Public Education."
Revised April 2001