The Corpus Callosum

Open Source for K-12

i-6c6ff9e5fb0fa4223dec8e76e6e0876c-COW.jpgNeil Bush’s “COW” is probably the
closest the
Bush family ever has come
to real ranching.  Now the COW may be going the way of the href="http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/expeditions/treasure_fossil/Treasures/Dodo/dodo.html?dinos"
rel="tag">Dodo This may turn out to be one of the
best things that could happen to public education in the USA.

The COW, for those of you not familiar, is the href="http://www.ignitelearning.com/COW/index.html">Curriculum
on Wheels.  It is a proprietary computer designed
for instructional use.  

Of course, it uses proprietary
software.  The machine href="http://bostonherald.com/news/national/politics/general/view.bg?articleid=1043207">costs
$3,800.  It requires yearly software updates that
cost an additional $1,000 per machine.  In other words, it’s a
ripoff.

Incidentally, the Department of Education recently announced that it is
href="http://bostonherald.com/news/national/politics/general/view.bg?articleid=1043207">beginning
an investigation into whether Federal money is being
diverted, inappropriately, toward the purchase of COWs.

i-2a93fb41eaf49c7fa07109b3fa73429f-180px-ExtinctDodoBird.jpegThe COW is produced by Neil Bush’s company,
Ignite! Learning Inc.  It has been controversial, in part
because of Barbara “Let them eat cake” Bush’s decision to donate money
to Katrina victims, with the href="http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/metro/3742329.html">stipulation
that the money go to the purchase of COWs.  Note
that Ms. Bush is an investor in Ignite! Learning!

Anyway, that is just background, but it points out the need for
teachers to have access to cost-effective solutions.  K-12
education is a
perfect environment for open-source alternatives.  There is
absolutely no reason for a school to be beholden to some third-rate
company for educational material.

Note that I don’t mean to imply that the COW is useless.  On
the contrary, in the right hands, I suspect it can be effective.
 My objection is to the cost, and to the design that makes it
difficult for educators to get the full use of what the school has
purchased.  

Now, Linux Insider reports (well, reprints from USA Today) on a
solution:

href="http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/Free-Online-Materials-Could-Save-Schools-Billions-60200.html">Free
Online Materials Could Save Schools Billions

By Greg Toppo
USA Today
11/07/07 11:37 AM PT

Could Free-Reading offer a
glimpse of the
future, when big, bulky — and expensive — textbooks go the way of the
film strip? Adam Newman of Eduventures, an education research and
consulting firm in Boston, thinks so. “This is a shot across the bow
for a lot of people,” he says.

Since March, Dixon Deutsch and his students have been
quietly
experimenting with a little Web site that could one day rock the
foundation of how schools do business.

A K-2 teacher at Achievement First Bushwick Elementary Charter School
in Brooklyn, N.Y., Deutsch, 28, has been using Free-Reading.net, a
reading instruction program that allows him to download, copy and share
lessons with colleagues.

He can visit the Web site and comment on what works and what doesn’t.
He can modify lessons to suit his students’ needs and post the
modifications online: Think of a cross between a first-grade reading
workbook and Wikipedia Latest News about Wikipedia, the popular online
encyclopedia written and edited by users.

If Deutsch wants to see a lesson taught by someone who already has
mastered it, he clicks on a YouTube video
linked to the site and sees a short demo. “I find it’s more
teacher-friendly than a textbook,” he says…


This could be good for home-schoolers, too.

The whole endeavor could make textbook publishing less lucrative, but
then, obsolescence is inevitable as technology improves.