What are Open Technologies?

Open technologies is an umbrella term that includes open source software, open standards, and open hardware.

The Open Source Initiative, a non-profit corporation, offers a complete definition of open source on its Website. The key element is that the distribution terms of open source software must comply with the following criteria:

  • Free redistribution
  • Source code is included
  • The license must allow modifications and derived works
  • The integrity of the author’s source code is maintained
  • No discrimination against persons or groups
  • No discrimination against fields of endeavor
  • The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed
  • Licenses must not be specific to a product
  • Licenses must not restrict other software
  • Licenses must be technology-neutral

Usually open source software is distributed for free, although vendors can charge for their versions of open software and for technical support. Changes to open source code remain “open” even through subsequent redistribution. Open source software is different from “public domain” whose copyright is held by the public and “freeware” or “shareware” which are applications that are distributed in some form for free but whose source code is held by the author and cannot be freely changed or redistributed.

Most users of open source software, such as Linux or Open Office, rarely touch the source code. Instead they use the compiled final open source application.

Open standards refers to the conventions and rules for interoperability and data exchange that are established by widely recognized standards bodies, such as the Schools Interoperability Framework Association (SIFA), the IMS Global Learning Consortium and Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) (SCORM). Standards provide specific methods for connecting, tagging, and exchanging information. Additionally, open standards such as HTML have provided the genesis of our current network environment – the Internet. Open source software may be – but is not required to be – open standards compliant.

School technology leaders must examine all software including open source and proprietary systems to determine if each is open-standards compliant and if it is relevant to their needs for data exchange.

Open hardware refers to computers and other devices that run open-standards-based software.


The use of open technologies in education is now commonplace throughout the world with one notable exception, the United States.School and district technology leaders need to become aware of how these other educational systems are leveraging the use of open technologies to improve student learning, engage parent and community interest in education, provide home access to technologies used in school and use their financial resources in the most effective way possible. Consider these possible benefits:

  • Cost: License Fees and TCO – Licensing and purchasing costs for proprietary technologies often limit the scope of use in educational settings. Open technologies, often blended with proprietary technologies, may provide a means for the use of technology in a more ubiquitous fashion for students and teachers by leveraging the funding available.
  • Data integrity/interoperability – Data interoperability through open standards increases the efficiency of systems through the use of common data elements and ensures greater data integrity. These open standards assist in both proprietary and open source applications working well together in a blended technology environment.
  • Independence and Flexibility – Because the source code is open, advanced users can deeply customize applications and operating systems to their environment. This opens the door to innovation which is in turned shared with others. Upgrades are voluntary, so users are not locked into continuing maintenance fees or enforced obsolescence.
  • Stability and Reliability – There is high confidence that open source software will have a viable future because so many people are independently vested in it. It is stable because so many skilled developers are working on it and testing it in many different environments. Open source operating system users report that their systems are more reliable, offer greater performance, are easier to manage, and provide better support.
  • Broader Access to Information – Huge libraries of content are being assembled by organizations, agencies and individuals. Search engines make this quickly available at the point of instruction.
  • Community Support – Content management systems make it easy to build attractive informational sites to communicate to the public. An informed community in turn supports schools.
  • Engage Students in Collaboration – It’s well documented that our students live in a world characterized by collaboration. They expect to be part of a larger community in the creation of knowledge, not just sharing, but actively contributing to the end result, whether it’s the area of music, research or literature. The use of open technologies in education reinforces that view of the world and encourages students and teachers to be active members of the global community typically involved in the creation of these technologies.