Navigate: Commercial vs. Open Virtual Classrooms Quest

posted May 17, 2016, 9:28 AM by Emily Kroutil   [ updated May 19, 2016, 8:08 AM ]
Open Source software is useful at times.  It is usually free and often replaces programs that are much more expensive.  Sometimes, the websites hosting the software request donations, but not always.  However, they often use non-standard file formats (open office anyone?) and aren't as polished as commercial forms.  The code is available for people to view and use, which is nice for developers and people that know how to use code (My husband the software developer likes open source software because he likes exploring the code.  What he does with it, I don't know, but he enjoys snooping around the code...).  I've used a few open source programs and they're pretty useful, but I wouldn't want to rely on them for anything important.  Because they aren't as polished, they change often and aren't as reliable, in my experience.

Open source is useful for students that need free software (again, Open Office...).  It's also useful if you want something that you can use when switching between districts.  However, now, there are a variety of software programs that are commercial, but aren't tied to a particular district.

If I have the choice, I prefer commercial software.  Sometimes this software is still available for free, such as Google Hangout, Google Drive, Google Sites, etc.  Other times, you have to pay for the software, but they often offer a free trial.  Commercial software is more polished and reliable.  I'm not super concerned about the look of software if it does what I need it to do, but reliability is especially important.  Nothing is more annoying than planning a lesson and finding out the software doesn't work or the website is down or whatever.  Last year, I used Google Classroom with my AP students.  A couple things happened: they had to register with their school email addresses instead of their primary email, the district disabled their access when they didn't reset their passwords in a timely manner (even though they weren't given notice), and it locked them out of all google applications on their personal computers if they were logged into their school email when their access was disabled.  It took weeks to resolve this problem, basically bringing our online experience to a halt.  I resolved not to use this again unless big changes were made.  Google classroom isn't open source, but it illustrates the importance of reliable software.  If I'm going to plan a completely virtual class, or even a blended class, I want my software to work.  I don't want to plan a virtual meeting with my students and have trouble getting everyone in the "meeting space".  We don't need to be wasting the bulk of our time troubleshooting.  We need to spend our time learning and asking/answering questions.  Thus, if I had to choose, I would choose commercial software for something important like teaching a class.  If I'm just playing around online on my own time, I have no problem using open source software.