Date: Jan 21, 2013 5:17 PM
Author: kirby urner
Subject: Will more schools self-engineer their own solutions?
I had one of my not-so-unusual conversations with a faculty
person the other day, about Banner, software so many schools
use as their course enrollment and registration software.
And then they have their outreach or distance learning
solutions. There're the open source versions, say Moodle,
which Lewis & Clark (private college) is going with, and
then there're the bigger commercial / proprietary
solutions. Some have cobbled together admixtures.
My opening question is classically journalistic: "Why
don't a consortium of colleges and universities
collaboratively develop their own shared in-house
solutions to these problems, as open source projects
they'll freely share and use to show off the student-
The shorter version is "why don't universities eat their
own dog food?"
I think you already know the pat answers from those that
don't, but I'll recite them anyway: the university is
not a business and it makes more sense to outsource these
core functions to a business you can then yell at and
When a feature isn't implemented, it isn't directly your
problem. Having the stack be mostly open source,
perhaps with proprietary (unshared) plug-ins, would put
the U in direct competition with the private sector, and
that might be a problem (for tax reasons even?).
My guess is that incoming students who've had the
privilege to hack on shared source in their high schools,
those developing a spirited school archives (on-line,
but some parts requiring passwords / authentication of
course), are going to bringa DIY open source ethic to
their computer science departments and chafe at the idea
that their school isn't actually self sufficient in this
respect, and that a substantial percentage of their
tuition is forwarded to license holders. If you're gonna
pay someone to work on your internal machinery, why not
a student intern?
That use of school funds will run contrary to their high
school and home school experience. They'll be paying for
software vicariously, plus attending an institution that
can't walk it's own talk, i.e. it teaches programming,
but since when could it even do its own web site /
There's a lack of school pride when that happens.
My guess is many schools will want to develop ways to
self administer their own communities, as social networks
with everything integrated, including earned credits i.e.
transcripts, office hour visits, catalogs, discussion
groups, taped lectures, live streaming.
This will be especially true at first of the purely
"on line" schools, but the solutions developed there
will trickle out to some charters (public schools of a
new kind) and some colleges / universities. I'm
presuming the inertia will be too high for the majority
at first i.e. we'll have the classic pattern of early
adopters, with a later bandwagon, then the laggards.
Off course in the old days the job of registering and
tracking students, filling courses, was considered
clerical, not computational, and not a matter of GUI and
web site design. There was no SQL involved, no boolean
All that has changed now of course, and software
engineers are expected to computerize all that
bookkeeping, meaning they need to learn it, meaning they
need opportunities to see the real deal in action,
including under the hood. Imagine a van repair shop
that wouldn't let mechanics who work there work on the
company van. What would that say about "level of
The discipline it takes to administer one's own computer
network is reflected throughout a school. Having a core
IT department that's strong enough to write at least some
of its own code vis-a-vis enterprise-critical components
is a benchmark in the corporate / private sector.
Parallel logic implies a business, computer science and
mathematics faculty that's at least up to serving on
planning committees, with students expected, in their
various roles, to learn by doing w/r to a shared codebase.
One can always run, hack on a sandbox version. Open
source does not mean open data. Operating systems are
engineered to protect privacy presuming you know how to
take advantage of their file ownership features. We
learned that in high school.