To start us off, here is a bit of research I carried out. Please comment and do download a copy of the full research paper at the bottom of the page. Leave suggestions for any topics you might want researched.
Given the current economic climate, do free ICT resources provide a viable alternative to commercially available resources?
The aim of this research was to see if freely available software could replace commercially available products. The research looked at the combination of schools’ shrinking budgets, increasingly interactive internet and often complex and expensive software licenses and how they are now, in some cases, forcing schools to look elsewhere for solutions.
A detailed investigation was carried out to find out how schools were dealing with budget cuts, resource acquisitions, technological advances and vital decision making within schools. The research consisted of:
Detailed survey on Survey Monkey
Secondary Data from Becta Survey of 2009
Interview with Alex Rees in his capacity as schools improvement adviser
The survey was made available online and the link to it was made available to all parts of the country through contacts, Twitter, professional organisations such as CAS and all members. Respondents included classroom teachers, senior leaders and even non-teaching staff. Supporting the survey was specially selected data from a Becta (2009) commissioned survey that investigated all aspects of ICT usage, administration, acquisition and support within the education sector. That research reflected more accurately the view from around the country and in a lot more areas than I could cover in my own survey. Finally I interviewed Alex Rees in his capacity as the schools’ improvement adviser for the Redbridge local authority. Alex Rees was the ideal candidate for an interview as he comes into contact with schools, technology providers and he works for the local council. Mr. Rees’ unbiased insight into the problems facing schools and the options available to them was central to and supplemented the other research I had carried out.
Key questions covered
In carrying out the research, I intended to find out a number of things. Crucially I wanted to find out how key ICT decisions are made in schools. I needed to see how involved the senior management was when it came to making strategic decisions in schools. With ICT affecting all facets of education, it was vital to see whether ICT policies were in use and whether their maintenance reflected the ever changing landscape of technological advancements. That then led on to increasingly relevant question on the availability and use of web based resources and the fact that the internet allowed anybody to create and publish resources for the world to use from the comfort of their houses. As a possible solution, I asked about the use of open source resources and the development of the various open licenses that are increasingly becoming popular in certain communities. With so many options schools could turn to for their resources, I questioned the use (and non-use) of aggregation services by schools. With organisations negotiating aggregated deals for lower prices, I looked at the way in which aggregation was playing a part for cash strapped schools. The ultimate question then has to be: With quite a number of free (software) resources available, do they make a viable alternative to their licensed and paid for counterparts?
Key findings from the research revealed that a lot of schools lack the necessary decision making acumen at strategic level to be confident in deciding what to get for their school. A lot of respondents responsible for ICT acquisitions and maintenance felt frustrated at the fact that their management failed to consider alternatives to paid for resources. As a result most schools are having to make do with what they have and when it comes to renewing their licenses, they do so without even considering the alternatives – a costly exercise in some cases. The research also showed that non ICT staff generally rely on others to tell them what resources are out there, though some are quite adventurous and regularly go online to see what is out there they could use. Open source solutions seemed more popular with the more technically able respondents. There was however the fear that the costs of customizing open source products such as Moodle might end up ballooning over time. Open source, though ideal to some, appeared to have too many uncertainties to be considered viable solutions for the long run. With regards to aggregation, there was a mixed response. While most of those who have heard of it admit that there were benefits to be had in aggregation, most still did not opt for such services and did not offer a reason why.
Actions Schools could take
From the research carried out the following is a summary of actions that schools could take:
ICT decisions need to be made at strategic levels
Decisions need to be made according to the needs of the school
Investigate free alternatives departments could use as they are easy to discard if they do not work
Use established networks to share reviews of resources used
Free resources do not always mean free as costs of customising and maintenance need to be taken into account
For pupils, resources like Office 365 and Google Apps which are cloud based offer viable alternatives and allow free use of online based application programs such as word processors and spreadsheets
Aggregation is another option that schools could investigate.
More details of the research paper
Full Title: Given the current economic climate, do free ICT resources provide a viable alternative to commercially available resources?
Author: Tarisai C Chikomba
Download Full Research here: Full Research Paper