Troy Patterson

Educator, Thinker, Consultant

Category: Open Source

OER Returns

OER (Open Educational Resources) is in the news again. The United States Education Department has launched a campaign to encourage schools, districts and states to Go Open (actually, it’s #GoOpen, thus further acknowledging that everything must have a hashtag). The GoOpen movement is being touted by the The United States Education Department as a way to “ensure that high quality resources created through our public funds are shared with the public”. The underlying idea is to provide high quality materials for all students. This movement is directly connected to materials that are created through grants from The United States Education Department.

Andrew Marcinek was hired as the first open educator adviser for the U.S. Education Department.

Additionally, a ten districts have taken up the #GoOpen challenge to replace at least one textbook with openly licensed educational resources within the next year. Additionally, there are Ambassador Districts which have committed to help more districts move to open resources.

I’ve written before about OER (Open Textbooks). In that post, I noted that the movement had begun a few years ago, but seemed to have died down. California has an Open Educational Resources Council, but California pivoted from PreK-12 to focus on Community Colleges. This happened in 2012. Utah similarly seemed to be pushing for open resources, but the latest post on their blog is from January of 2013. The Utah Open Textbook Calculator has moved off of the Utah Open Textbook site to the Open Ed group.

Michigan has supported open textbooks through the 22i TRIG program. Michigan has developed four social studies books. These books cover fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade and economics. There was quite a bit of controversy when they were first released. The books were criticized for grammatical issues and cultural bias. (There was very little follow up that I could find from WXYZ about the corrections made in the book).

The optimistic side of me is extremely pleased that we are focusing on open resources. As I’ve noted in other posts, I think that open resources could be extremely powerful and useful for schools. Open resources have the potential of providing better content at a lower cost. These could be customized and adapted for schools much more quickly and effectively than the textbooks that we traditionally purchased. Most of the textbooks that we purchased were targeted to the standards and expectation of Texas and California. Open textbooks could be tweaked to be much appropriate for states and districts around the country. As a middle school principal, we used textbooks that were older than the students. This was in large part due to the high cost of textbooks.

The pessimistic side of me is concerned that this will be the latest trend. Several schools, districts and states will “jump on board” with the OER movement. However, the hard work that is necessary to create, refine and implement OER will be missing. Some of those schools, districts and states will move on the next big thing before the true value of OER is realized. I’m also somewhat concerned that we won’t truly create open resources, but resources that are heavily dependent upon something else.

The President and First Lady have announced an initiative to provide ebooks for Title I schools and special education teachers. While this isn’t an Open Education Resource program, it is being billed in the same vein. The problem is that the resources aren’t open, most are private copyright enforced. Rather the resources are available only through an iOS app. So, the irony here is that the students who are identified as living in poverty (Title I), need an expensive device to access the free materials. It is better that this option exists than not, but I find the situation somewhat frustrating. (In full disclosure, I’m a really big proponent of the iOS eco system. I have a lot of Apple© products. I even bought Apple© stock long ago because I believed in the products.)

OER resources will remain a challenge. CK-12 is a leader in providing open resources. It is not an oversight that most of their materials are Math or Science. 3+4=7 can’t be copyrighted. Language arts becomes much more difficult. Copyright issues will continue to be a consideration when creating and using open textbooks. This is partly why the Department of Education announcement is crucial. It does mean that things created using Government grants must be open source. Most of the things that a government agency creates are open source. Thus, we get some great resources through NASA.

I truly hope that OER takes off. I hope that education will make the long term commitment to make OER an instrumental part of the educational process. I will work and support options that make that happen. But, let’s be clear. Creating resources is hard work. Making them easily available is a challenge as well. However, I believe in the many hard working, forward thinking, dedicated educators in America.


In China, we had a need for teleprompter software. We would read a story out loud. It was helpful to display the story on the big screen so that the Chinese teachers could also see the story as it was being read. This would also work well for teachers reading stories to kids. However, not everyone has teleprompter software on their computer. Oh, and some people were using iPads.

Well, I’ve discovered a neat option. Easy Prompter is a web based text teleprompter. It includes the ability to adjust the scroll speed of the text. It also includes the ability to resize the text easily. It has built in controls along the bottom of the window that allow you to control all of the settings. These controls can also be detached to provide a separate window to control the program. You can also use the space bar to start and stop the scrolling.

But it gets better, much better. You can easily download the program. Since it is all web standards, it works on just about anything. I saved the downloaded file to a Box folder, but you could use Drop Box or any other online space. Now, I can open the teleprompter software on my Mac, my PC or my iPad. Terrific.

Be aware that this only does text, no images. However, sometimes you just want to provide text.

I use teleprompter software when I make certain presentations. I also used it to display the story that I was reading in China. If you are looking for an easy to use, free, portable, cross platform teleprompter software solution, check out Easy Prompter.

Directions from their web site:

EasyPrompter portable offline version!

What does this mean?
It means that you can now run EasyPrompter without worrying whether you have an active internet connection!
Simply right click the link below to download the file to your computer. Then open it any time to edit your script. All the code and images are encoded into this one file so just throw it on a flash drive and you’ll always have prompter software with you wherever your are. How cool is that?

To save the file below do the following depending on your browser:

  • Firefox / Chrome: Right click on the link. Click “Save Link As”
  • Opera: Right click on the link. Click “Save Linked Content As”
  • Internet Explorer: Right click on the link. Click “Save Target As”
  • Safari: Right click on the link. Click “Download Linked File As”


LimeSurvey - the free and open source survey software tool! 2015-01-27 20-52-21

One piece of software that I keep coming back to is LimeSurvey. A quick guess will reveal that this is survey software. It is open source, wonderfully powerful survey software. Full featured and ready for complex surveys software.

This is not for every use. It is overkill for many people and many situations. I use Google Forms as much as the next person. If you just need to create a survey with a couple of questions, Google Forms is hard to beat. It is easy to use and incorporates well with other Google Apps. You can even create quick quizzes (exit tickets, short quizzes, formative assessments, etc) in Google Forms. Google Forms will even shuffle the questions and answers now.

Of course surveys can also be done in Moodle as well. In fact, Moodle is more powerful with more options than Google Forms. Moodle will allow the teacher to actually have different questions presented to each student. Options (answers and distractors) can be shuffled within a question. Lots of power. Lots of options.

Sometimes, though, a survey with complex rules is needed. That is where LimeSurvey comes in. Granted, you need to have access to a web server (really, not that hard these days) to install it. However, once you do so, you can create surveys that sing.

For example, I was recently asked to create a survey where respondents will indicate whether they have had interactions with a variety of groups. For the groups that they have, there are follow up questions. So, let’s say we have ten groups. If you’ve dealt with two of those groups, but not the other eight, you would get follow up questions only about the two groups. If I’ve dealt with five of the groups, but not the other five, I would get follow up questions just about the five that I’ve dealt with. LimeSurvey makes this pretty dog gone easy to do.

In the example above, I created an Array with the names of the ten groups. The question was “have you interacted with….” and the answers were Yes/No/Uncertain. Then there were a series of follow up questions pertinent to each group. A conditional rule set to display the follow up question only if Yes was chosen for that department. Powerful. And easy to use.

LimeSurvey also allows for multiple languages. (You do have to write the questions in each language. This is actually very preferable to the “translated” questions which can have unintended consequences.) For schools, multiple language support can be extremely important.

LimeSurvey also allows you to create templates from questions. This feature is a real time saver. Once I’ve entered all of the schools, I don’t have to that again. These templates mean that common questions can be quickly and easily reused. Of course, you can also export and import full questions from one survey to the next.

Templates are also customizable for making the survey reflect your organization. Adding the logo and custom text that is specific to your organization provides a different experience than a common or popular survey site. It also lets your users know what type of survey that they are completing.

LimeSurvey also provides very powerful results. It will give you quick graphs in a variety of formats. You can export the data to popular formats.

Of course, the data is all yours. You control the information.

If you are looking to really “up your game” with surveys, and you have access to a web server, LimeSurvey is a great way to go.


I’ve posted about open source software in the past. One of my favorite pieces of open source software is Moodle. I’ve been working with Moodle for several years now. It keeps getting better and better. It is a very powerful tool. However, that power sometimes leads to a bit of confusion. The barrier to get going can be intimidating for some teachers.

I’ve been busy working on some projects that revolve around Moodle and making Moodle easier to use and understand. Some of these projects are public and some private. But all of them involve making Moodle easier to use for teachers.

I’ve been working on some tutorials for teachers that take the Common Core Standards and apply them to lessons within Moodle. The focus on these lessons is currently middle school lessons. The idea is that teachers can use the lessons directly, adapt them for their classroom (or grade level) and learn how to use Moodle along the way. This way, they can then implement their own lessons within Moodle as an expert. This is taking a lot longer than I had originally anticipated. However, it is not necessarily a bad thing. I continue learning and growing on implementing blended learning experiences. I’ve had the opportunity to teach in a blended learning situation. I also get to talk to teachers to learn exactly what their struggles are.

For some teachers, the basics are Moodle are confusing. I’m spending some time developing materials that should help teachers better understand the what and how – the main guts – of Moodle better. This leads to teachers having a deeper understanding and being more confident in using Moodle. I believe that this will pay off in spades in the long run.

I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to be in a student role using Moodle. This refreshing point of view really helped me sharpen my instincts as to what can make Moodle easier to use for students. This, in turn, has encouraged me to continue pushing a couple of projects that will hopefully bear fruit soon.

I’m really fortunate to be able to work with a Moodle Master. Plus, I’ve made some other connections that are extremely valuable in learning how to use Moodle for instructional purposes. The idea of developing that support system is crucial to all. The sum is greater than any of the parts. For those that continue to help, support and push me, I’m grateful.

Open Source- Part 1

Open source software is software that is free to use, modify, copy, distribute and more (actually, one could charge for open source, but the licensing means that the code must be freely available). Open source software has a big place in technology and our world. I’m a big believer in open source software. It is something that hits at our altruistic nature. But it really is more than that.

How can something that is free be any good? How can it be sustainable? How can it be trusted?

Quite frankly, I’m usually suspicious of things that are free. After all, there is no free lunch (at least that’s what my mom taught me). I worry about a lot of free services that educators “buy” into. After all, in most cases, if you are paying for it, you are the product. Some of these work out fine. Some don’t.

Let’s take a look at some free and some open source software.

Google Model

Although Google software isn’t usually open source, it is free. Google wants to keep you on the web. They make money be selling advertising. The more you are enculturated to spending time on the web, the more money that they make. Thus, trading services for your habits works for them. This is a similar model to television for much of the life of television (though that changed a bit with cable TV). (This also leaves out of the discussion entirely the concepts of privacy and how Google may be sifting through your data). For the most part, this is a trade off that people are satisfied to make. People trade seeing ads for free email service. People trade seeing ads for the ability to upload and watch videos.


Nings were very popular at one point. Nings provided a social aspect combined with blogs. Lots of people spent considerable time and energy developing communities that were tied to Nings. Only one problem, the owner of Nings needed to pay the bills. They decided to switch over to a pay model. Currently, Ning is still around. For $25 a month, you can get a basic plan.


There are lots of free sites out there for teachers to use. However, all of them have bills to pay, server fees, hosting fees, and more. Some make money like Google by selling advertising. Others sell products or other services and use the free portions as their own type of advertising. Some are free now and will convert to a pay model once they have enough users (see Ning above).

Open source

So how does open source work? Well, generally, open source works on a couple of plains. Number one, the code is shared. Thus, even if the originator or original company wants to make a profit from the product, others can still use it for free. Others can continue to modify and develop the software.

Open source- model one – extras

One model of open source provides for the basic functionality of a product. If you want extras, you can pay for them. This is great model and people can try things out and decide if they need the advanced features or not. It also allows for users to become used to using things and decide on their own that they want additional features. This model is also useful in that people with highly technical skills (or the willingness to learn) can use the free version, but those who want someone else to do the work can simply pay for the service.

Open source- model two – altruism

A second model of open source is something that is developed and given to the world. This is one expression of altruism. These are frequently shared by many experts. Many of these products drive our world today. Things like Linux, which most web servers run, and Apache, another web server software piece, have been developed to make the world a better place.

Open source – model three – support

Sometimes businesses realize that they can make money off providing support and training for the software instead of the software itself. This is roughly analogous to music bands that really make their money by touring and doing live shows.

Many times businesses realize that their business is improved by contributing to open source software. Thus, some very large companies will actually provide employee time to continue to work on and develop open source software.


Below are a few examples of open source software that I use. This is not a comprehensive list. These are things that I actually use.

LibreOffice – This is a suite of software tools that can replace MicroSoft Office.

OpenOffice – See LibreOffice.

Calibre – eBook management. Also very useful for converting ebook files from one format to another.

Moodle – Learning management. You’ll need access to a server to use this. This is a very powerful learning management system.

GIMP – image editor package. Similar to Photoshop.

Open Source

I'm a big believer in open source. I love the idea of leveraging a little bit of work from each of us for the betterment of all. I use several open source software solutions. I'll be discussing some of these in this blog. Here are a few that I like:

  • Moodle
  • LimeSurvey
  • LibreOffice or OpenOffice
  • WordPress
    Of these, Moodle is what I'm working on most currently. Moodle is an LMS (Learning Management System). Moodle allows teachers to leverage on-line strategies. Differentiation has always been possible. However, for many teachers, differentiation was incredibly difficult because it took so much time and energy. The teachers that tend to have done it well are teachers that would spend huge amounts of time. Moodle still takes time, but it can leverage that time much more efficiently. Additionally, Moodle can help leverage time by easily sharing great resources.

The problem with Moodle is that it is incredibly powerful. (One huge advantage of Moodle is that is incredibly powerful!) It is sometimes clunky (though it is getting better and better). This combination can mean a large learning curve for new users. And, although Moodle allows for teachers to easily share activities and resources, the development of really good resources is still in its infancy. This is something will continue to develop and more and more great activities will be available.

Some day, hopefully soon, Moodle will be more user friendly. Moodle will also have tons of shareable resources that teachers can download, manipulate for their uses and use for students to learn and grow. We're not there yet, but we are on our way.

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