Why opt for an Open Source VLE?

In 2005 Dr Stuart Lee wrote an interesting article on this topic entitled Finally a free lunch: the benefits of an open source VLE/LMS; even though he wrote about Bodington, (which is the software underpinning the original WebLearn,) most of the points pertaining to the open source nature of the product he made are as relevant today, to Sakai, as they were then.

The main benefits of choosing an open source system are:

flexibility: Oxford’s IT infrastructure means that ‘one size certainly does not fit all’; commercial VLEs do not support Oxford’s model of devolved administration.
responsiveness: the central VLE team can respond very quickly to performance problems, bug reports and requests for new functionality.

customisation: of terminology, interface and toolset.

no licensing restrictions: there are no restrictions on the number of users allowed to access the service; in a research-intensive institution such as Oxford it essential that external collaborators can have an account and work within the VLE without us having to worry about licencing restrictions.

integration with other Oxford IT systems: it is easy to modify the software and follow the recommended Service Oriented Architecture approach recommended by the JISC; for example, we have integrated Sakai with the Oxford Single Sign-On (SSO) service (WebAuth), the new Oak Authorisation service and various library systems; in the future we are committed to embrace the Oak Groups service, the institutional RSS service OxItems, Groupware (SharePoint / Exchange) and the proposed OUCS mobile computing infrastructure.

external funding: open source software is generally more amenable to the use of open standards and thus allowed OUCS to pursue external research grants through the JISC and the like.

clear exit strategy – no product lock-in: content can be imported and exported with comparative ease.
free from commercial risk: ironically because there is no company backing the system there is thus no risk of the company being taken over by one of its rivals and us being forced to move to a new platform against our wishes!

Posted in Learning Technologies Group | Tagged , | 1 Comment

One Response to “Why opt for an Open Source VLE?”

  1. Ross Gardler says:

    Whilst I agree with all of your comments it is important to highlight a couple of issues.

    Firstly, the benefits of open source can only be realised when one recognises that open source is not about a licence, it is a development methodology that is protected by a licence. The first line of the home page of the open source initiative states “Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process.”

    If we fail to recognise this and simply slap an open source licence on the code we have nothing more than freely available code. For truly sustainable open source development we need to ensure that a viable ,a href=”http://www.oss-watch.ac.uk/resources/howtobuildcommunity.xml”>project community is built around the project.

    Furthermore, adopting open source and modifying it for local use without engaging with the project community leads to a different form of product lock-in. For example, the local modifications will result in a gradual divergence from the donor project. This results in an inability to upgrade easily to new versions of the code.

    OSS Watch exist to assist in the evaluation of open source communities to ensure that it is sustainable. We can also help ensure that local modifications do not result in an unintended lock-in to specific versions of the software.