While some educators have been quick to grasp the potential and promise of open source software, many others have been hesitant to stray from the comfortable zone of commercial applications. Yet that’s changing.
More teachers and institutions are now participating with organizations like SchoolForge, the Open Source Education Foundation, and Open Source Schools.
These educators are beginning to see that the open source philosophy has the power to transform education in several key ways.
First, schools can use open source apps to replace costly commercial software and free up resources for other purposes.
For example, openSIS performs the same tasks as closed-source school administration programs (scheduling, grades, report cards, attendance, etc.) while reducing total cost of ownership up to 75 percent.
Second, open source applications are changing the ways students and teachers interact, as applications like Moodle make eLearning simple an affordable.
Some institutions, notably MIT and UC Berkeley, have taken the concept of open source distance learning one step further. As members of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, they’ve made the content of some courses available for free, so that anyone in the world can benefit from their expertise.
Finally, open-source software gives educators more options than ever before.
Today, instructors have dozens, if not hundreds, of options for free and open source applications that help them present lessons on everything from learning the ABCs to modeling the complex interactions of molecules during biochemical processes.
The list below provides just a small sampling of the open source applications available to help educators teach and inspire their students.
Just added to this list: Open source educational apps by KDE (see entries #50-55).
The “Open Source Student Information System,” or openSIS, claims to lower a school district’s total cost of ownership by 75 percent when compared to comparable commercial systems.
It includes student demographics, contact information, scheduling, grade book, reporting, report cards, transcripts, health records, attendance, a built-in parent portal, and advanced security features. Operating System: Windows, Linux.
Downloaded more than 7 million times, Stellarium is one of the most popular open-source education apps available.
With this app, you can input coordinates for any point on earth and view the night skies for any particular point in time.
It’s so accurate, it’s even used to power many planetariums. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
Like Stellarium, Celestia lets you view the night skies from earth, but it also lets you fly through 3D space to any place in the known universe.
When possible, it uses actual photographs of planets, asteroids, and other objects, so that you can see what they really look like. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
3.) Space Trajectory Analysis
This app lets researchers analyze, simulate, and visualize the paths of objects that have been launched into space.
It’s currently being used by the European Space Agency and a number of international universities. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
Scientists building models of biochemical networks or pathways can use ByoDyn to estimate and analyze the parameters underlying these processes.
In addition to the downloadable version, it can also be accessed online as a Web app. Operating System: Linux, OS X.
This java-based app lets students create diagrams of atoms, molecules, macromolecules, crystals, and more.
The site includes a handbook and tutorials for helping you learn how to use the software. Operating System: OS Independent.
ProtoMol is a framework for molecular dynamics simulation. It’s designed to be highly flexible, easily extensible, and to meet high performance demands. Operating System: Linux, Unix, Windows.
Short for “intelligent teaching and learning with computers,” iTALC makes it easier for teachers to interact with students using PCs in the classroom or those joining from home via a VPN connection.
With it, you can view a snapshot of every screen in the class, show students a demo from your screen, lock workstations (so students have to pay attention to you), send text messages, and more. Operating System: Windows, Linux.
Mando lets you create an interactive whiteboard. If you have your computer connected to a camera and a projector, you can use your laser pointer to control the computer in front of the class, just as you would use a mouse at your desk. Operating System: Linux.
Digital Content Management
Winner of several awards, Archon simplifies the process of creating a searchable Web site to house archival materials.
Administrators can input or edit information via Web forms, and the software automatically uploads and publishes the data.
It’s currently being used by more than 40 universities, zoos, historical societies, and other institutions. Operating System: OS Independent.
11.) Fedora Commons
Fedora Commons allows you to manage, preserve, and link different types of digital content.
For example, you can use it to create an archive of video, audio, and text files on a particular topic which users can then search or comment on. Operating System: OS Independent.
12.) Seismic Toolkit (STK)
This app makes it easier for scientists and researchers to analyze data from seismic events. It includes tools for filtering and plotting data, evolutive polarization, and more. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
13.) Tux Paint
This award-winning art program lets kids create small drawings using paintbrush, rubber stamp, line, shape, and text tools, as well as “magic” special effects.
TuxPaint is designed for kids age 3-12, but its simple design and cartoon characters (including help from Tux the Linux penguin) make it most suitable for kids in preschool through second grade. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
In this arcade style game, kids prevent comets from destroying igloos by solving math problems.
You can set the preferences so that it focuses on a particular type of problem—anything from simply locating the right number on the keyboard through addition and subtraction to multiplication and division with both positive and negative numbers. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
ChildsPlay includes a number of different games suitable for preschoolers and kindergarteners. Some of the games are educational (letter memory) and some are just fun (classic Pong).
The CognitionPlay version contains similar activities designed for people suffering from mental illness. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
This educational suite currently contains more than 100 educational activities for children ages two through ten and more are being added all the time.
It includes games that teach keyboard skills, math, science, geography, reading, and several games that are mostly fun, but also develop problem-solving skills (chess, sudoku, etc.) Operating System: Windows, Linux.
The Java Vocabulary Learning Tool, or jVLT combines a flashcard-like tool with a dictionary and a quiz tool to help students learn a foreign language.
You can input your own vocabulary list or use one of the downloadable files, which include German-French, Thai-English, French-English, practical Chinese, and several others. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
Input Chinese characters and ZWDisplay will show the pronunciation (in Pinyin) and the English translation.
You can also use it to create flashcards and keep track of which Mandarin characters you’ve learned. Operating System: Linux.
Zkanji is designed to help English speakers learn Japanese. It includes a dictionary, vocabulary lists, a study program, tests, and other helpful features. Operating System: Windows.
With FlashQard, you can create flashcards to help students review just about any subject matter.
It allows you to create different cards for different purposes, insert pictures, record answers, and it includes an “espeak” feature. Operating System: Windows, Linux.
21.) The Mnemosyne Project
In addition to allowing you to create your own flashcards, this app uses a sophisticated algorithm to determine which card should appear next in order to maximize your learning (in other words, the cards you get wrong frequently will appear most often).
If you use the software, you can also choose to upload your data to a research project studying memory. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
This flashcard app is designed to strengthen your ultra-short-term, short-term, and long-term memory.
Because you create your own flashcards, you can use it to help you remember vocabulary words, capitals, important dates, and other facts.
In addition to the standard version, it’s also available in a mini version for mobile devices. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
Like the other software in this category, jMemorize lets you create your own flashcards and then quizzes you on those cards.
The feature that sets this app apart is the series of graphs on the main screen which make it easy to keep track of how many of your cards you know well, which you sometimes know, and which you don’t know at all. Operating System: OS Independent.
Developed by NASA, WorldWind allows you to access satellite imagery of any point on earth.
It’s very similar to Google Earth, but does offer some different features, including the ability to access satellite imagery of the moon. Operating System: Windows.
Elementary school and foreign language instructors often find that a game of Bingo breaks up the monotony of learning new vocabulary words.
This app makes it easy to generate random cards from a set of images. Operating System: OS Independent.
OpenBiblio is an automated library system that includes a public catalog, circulation, and administration features.
It works with any scanners that can display a barcode as keyboard input, and a list of scanners known to work with the system is available on the site. Operating System: OS Independent.
Designed by libraries for libraries, VuFind replaces the traditional online public access catalog (OPAC) with a Web 2.0 portal for searching all of your library’s resources.
Unique features include the ability to browse all resources, faceted results to search queries, a “more like this” link for searches, and the ability to text yourself a call number so you don’t have to write it down on a little slip of paper. Operating System: OS Independent.
This app lets you build an “argument map”: a visual representation of the structure of an argument.
It’s helpful for students studying critical reasoning, logic, debate, philosophy, and persuasive writing, as well as lawyers and law students. Operating System: Windows.
Gnuplot creates both 2D and 3D graphs to make it easier to visualize mathematical functions or scientific data.
Graphs can be saved or exported in numerous file formats or sent directly to your printer. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Unix, OS X, and others.
Multiple-award-winning GeoGebra creates dynamic models useful for learning about geometry, arithmetic, algebra, and calculus.
In addition to the downloadable version, you can also use the applet version while you’re online.
At the site, you’ll also find extensive wikis, worksheets, and other help for math teachers. Operating System: OS Independent.
Why buy a graphing calculator when you can run GraphCalc for free on your PC? It’s at least as easy to use as a standalone graphing calculator and it creates graphs in both 2D and 3D. Operating System: Windows.
TTCalc is a scientific calculator that lets you use really big numbers. Features include arithmetical functions, trigonometric and inverse trigonometric functions, hyperbolic and inverse hyperbolic functions, logical operators, logarithms, and more. Operating System: Windows.
This computer algebra system solves equations and plots data and functions in both 2D and 3D.
The Maxima Web site also includes a handy list of links to other open-source computer algebra software. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
LenMus combines a bunch of useful tools for learning music into a single download. It includes ear training activities, music theory exercises, and a score editor so you can write your own compositions. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
35.) GNU Solfege
Wish you had perfect pitch? GNU Solfege is an ear-training application that teaches students to identify and sing intervals, recognize rhythms patterns, sing scales and chords, and identify harmonic progressions. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
If you’re trying to transcribe, orchestrate, or just learn how to play a particular piece, it can be really helpful to be able to slow down a recording.
But slowing down a recording usually changes the pitch. BestPractice lets musicians slow down CD tracks or MP3s without lowering the pitch of the music. Operating System: Windows.
Claroline makes it easy to set up an online class or organize student activities on the Web.
With it, teachers can write a course description, publish multimedia documents for students to view, prepare online exercises, administer a wiki and a forum, assign homework, send announcements, track student usage, and more. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Unix, OS X.
One of the most popular open source class management systems, Moodle boasts more than 24 million users.
Key features include assignments, blogs, chats, forums, polls, surveys, quizzes, wikis, and more.
The site includes a great deal of help for teachers and administrators new to online education. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
Like Claroline and Moodle, eFront lets you author online content, create tests, communicate with the class, assign homework, and track progress, and it also includes a survey feature and the ability to create your own certifications.
In addition to the free community edition, eFront is also available in fee-based editions that are customized for educational institutions or enterprises. Operating System: Windows, Linux.
Widely used internationally, you can attend ILIAS conferences and user meetings around the world in order to learn more about this learning management system.
Like the others in the category, it includes features like course management, online exercises, surveys, chat, forums, etc.
It also boasts compliance with relevant standards and strong authentication protocols. Operating System: Windows, Linux.
Short for “Collaborative Face-to-Face Educational Environment,” CoFFEE aims to help groups of students work together on problem-solving activities.
It includes a set of tools for collaboration, shared work, individual work, and communication that can be managed and monitored by the instructor. Operating System: OS Independent.
42.) BOSS Online Submission System
Developed by the University of Warwick, the BOSS Online Submission System isn’t a complete eLearning solution, but does allow students to submit assignments online securely.
Teachers can then run tests on submissions and grade assignments online. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Unix, OS X.
A number of universities around the world aren’t just utilizing open-source software, they’re “open-sourcing” the content of their courses by making it freely available online.
EduCommons is a content management system designed for these OpenCourseWare projects.
(More information about the movement is available from the OCW Consortium.) Operating System: OS Independent.
Xoscope turns any Linux PC into a digital oscilloscope for analyzing sound waves. You can visualize up to eight channels at once, control the time scale, make measurements, and more. Operating System: Linux.
Remember the days of making note cards and bibliography cards by hand? WIKINDX replaces that laborious process with a digital system that makes it much easier to search for a quote or collaborate with multiple authors.
And it automatically formats footnotes, endnotes, and bibliography for you based on your chosen style guide. Operating System: OS Independent.
46.) The Player Project
More middle and high school are offering classes in robotics, and The Player Project provides some of the software that supports instruction in robotics.
It includes Player, a network server for robot control; Stage, a 2D multiple robot simulator; and Gazebo, a 3D multiple robot simulator with dynamics for simulating outdoor environments. Operating System: Linux, Unix.
Compared to traditional pen-and-paper testing, TCExam makes grading much faster and more accurate, and it makes it more difficult for students to cheat.
It installs on any server, and students can take the test from any computer or PDA with a browser. Operating System: OS Independent.
48.) Safe Exam Browser
This app locks down students’ PCs so that they can’t use any unauthorized materials while taking an online exam.
By default, it prevents students from closing or leaving the testing window, using keyboard shortcuts, using the right-click menus, switching to other applications, or surfing the Internet. Operating System: Windows.
In addition to typing lessons, TuxType includes two games for practicing your keyboarding skills.
In Fish Cascade, kids help Tux the Linux penguin eat fish by typing the correct letters, and in Comet Zap, they save Tux from destruction by typing the correct letters.
With its simple nature and cartoon character, this app is best for elementary-school kids who are just learning their way around the keyboard. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
In addition to the standard “qwerty” keyboard, Klavaro supports five other international keyboards and even lets you custom design your own keyboard.
It includes a basic course for learning the locations of letters, as well as exercises for increasing adaptability (typing unfamiliar words), velocity, and fluidness.
It also includes a progress tracking and a Linux-only game where students can challenge each other in the fluidness exercises. Operating System: Windows, Linux.
Open Source Education Apps by KDE
Developed by the KDE Education Project, KStars is a planetarium program that’s very similar to Stellarium. Unique features include an altitude vs. time tool, what’s up tonight tool, and an AAVSO Lightcurve Generator. Operating System: Linux.
Kalzium contains more information about the periodic table of the elements than most high school students ever wanted to know.
It also solves chemical equations, shows pictures of the elements, and includes a helpful glossary. Operating System: Linux.
Part of the KDE Education Project, the Parley flashcard app stands out because of its extensive set of pre-existing flashcard files available for download.
In addition to sets of cards to help you learn more than a dozen different languages, it also has cards to help you learn important dates, anatomy, music theory, chemical elements, and more. Operating System: Windows, Linux.
Marble is similar to WorldWind and Google Earth, but in addition to satellite imagery, it also lets you explore maps of the world.
Choose from topographic maps, street maps, temperature and precipitation maps, and flat, Mercator projection, and globe views. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Unix, OS X.
Sometimes it’s difficult to demonstrate the principles of physics in a live lab. Enter Step.
With this physics simulator, you place an object in a scene, add forces like springs or gravity, and see what happens. Operating System: Linux.