Open Source Resources

From ElateWiki

In times of shrinking budgets, open-source and royalty-free online resources provide a welcome alternative to costly software licenses. A vast and growing array of these resources exists ranging from course management systems to online social media development sites. User forums and informational exchange sites have grown up around the software to provide perspectives on installation and use.

Not only do quality freeware and digital resources save time and effort, these tools offer the collective wisdom of a community of developers working without a profit motivation. In fact, while commercial software vendors often seek to lock-in and standardize features, open-source developers usually work to improve software systems, promote flexibility and add innovative features important to current projects.

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to the use of open source software is to know what is available. Often, faculty members do not have time to chase down various resources and may not even realize particular applications exist. The following sections provide several links to digital resources organized into categories.

(Note: These links do not suggest endorsements, so readers should peruse the fine print for each resource before using.)




Learning / Course Management Software: Moodle ( ) is a well known, open-source course management system. The Sakai Project ( ) is another such endeavor.

Content Management: Joomla ( is a content management system used to develop websites and maintain online information resources. Another example is Drupal ( which supports a variety of websites from simple blogs to large community-driven websites.

Social Media

Wiki Software: MediaWiki ( enables the building of communities- or networks- of-practice (CoP or NoP’s) around shared information and learning interests. Using this freeware does require some technological savvy and access to hosting services on university servers. “Wikifarms” offer the hosting of contents but often no access to the underlying software that supports the interactivity. Well known wikifarms include PBWorks (formerly PBWiki) ( and Wetpaint ( Even more commercialized sites such as WikiSpaces ( provide free and low cost alternatives for educators. Web Logging / Blogging Software: Open-source blogging software options include Word Press ( , Movable Type ( and LIfeType (

Social Bookmarking: Various free software strengthens educators’ abilities to bookmark or tag particular resources that they find and want to share with their classes. CiteuLike ( ) offers ways to capture and store references online. Delicious ( offers a method of tagging Web contents to create folksonomies. Others like Diigo’s educator site ( promotes a focus on academic bookmarking while some Digg like ( promote user rankings of news releases.

Human Connections

Forums: Global forums may bring together individuals around particular events and ideas. Big Think ( offers some discussions on issues through multimedia and text. Topix ( provides current event and other information organized according to user interest categories.

Microblogging: Short, real-time exchanges of information may be possible for a kind of real-time sentience in e-learning through services like Twitter (

Social Networking: Learners may connect with each other through social networking sites, such as MySpace ( and Facebook ( Various other social networking sites congregate people around shared networks of colleagues. An example of this is LinkedIn (

Electronic Mailing Lists The Distance Education Online Symposium (DEOS) Listserv ( ) is managed by professors out of Penn State University. This list reaches a wide variety of faculty and professionals involved in distance education. Additional information on this list can be found at Other specific lists for those involved in immersive learning and virtual worlds such as the following: Educause Virtual Worlds Listserv: VW@LISTSERV.EDUCAUSE.EDU Temple University: PRESENCE-L@LISTSERV.TEMPLE.EDU Second Life Researcher List: Second Life Education Group:

Free Access to Immersive Spaces: Free accounts in immersive spaces like Second Life ( offer ways to connect and interact virtually. The costs currently do not start unless “land,” digital resources or coding are purchased to enhance the learning experience.

Digital Information

Creative Commons-Released Information: Freely available information may is often released under a Creative Commons License ( The most general licensure involves attribution only ( Other licensure may require that users share derivative contents based on the particular attributes of the original work or may restrict other aspects of use such as derivation and modification. Or a license may require that all use be non-commercial.

Wiki Encyclopedias: Wikipedia ( ) is a user-created encyclopedia of information that is released under Creative Common’s licenses or made available wholly by release into the public domain. Wikipedia includes both information and visuals like downloadable imagery. Another example is the e-Learning and Teaching Wiki ( where material and information related to higher education can be located and freely used.

Electronic Books in the Public Domain: There are e-books in the public domain. Some e-book sites that include public domain works include Project Gutenberg @; Bartleby @; The Universal Digital Library @, and others. Google also offers half a million public domain eBooks to users of Sony Readers and Kindles (e-book reading devices). Other sites like Scribd ( and Bookboon ( provide material that can be freely downloaded and used in the classroom. Athabasca University Press (AU Press) ( offers scholarly books for free download and use through a Creative Commons license.

Video Sharing: YouTube ( and Vimeo ( offer ways for academicians and others to create video channels based on a particular organization or theme. Other online video archives include Community Clips from Microsoft Labs ( and Screen Toast ( where user-developed computer screen capture tutorial videos can be created and posted.

Live Video Streaming: In addition to storing videos, free resources are available for stream live broadcasts over the Internet. Leading among these sites are UStream ( and Stickam (

Photo Sharing: Flickr (, PhotoBucket (, TinyPic ( and other sites allow people to upload and share images among a small group of selected individuals or publicly.

Government Sites: Government sites (.gov sites) often offer information that is released in the public domain.

Digital Resources


Journals: The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL of Athabasca University ( ) offers quality academic articles related to e-learning three times a year. The Canadian Institution of Distance Education Research (CIDER) makes resources available to the wider public ( The contents of this publication are released under an “Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works” Creative Commons License ( .

The Journal of Online Learning and Teaching or JOLT ( ) of the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching or MERLOT ( ) offers quality academic and research articles on a quarterly basis. These contents are released under a Creative Commons license (albeit not for commercial purposes).

Digital Content Repositories and Referatories

Repositories: Digital repositories of contents with “blanket” copyright releases may be helpful. Faculty members may find such repositories for specific domain fields that will allow them to download and use information and imagery. Some repositories may offer memory-heavy contents like video and geographical information in addition to text and articles.

Referatories: The Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) is a referatory (that points to various digital learning objects hosted on various servers) that may be used by instructors. There are additional resources such as evaluations of learning resources and annotations of these resources. Value-added learning contents are added to these resources as well. MERLOT is available at

Digital Imagery

Open-source digital imagery may be found using most search engines with the desired object and a term like “royalty-free” or “open source” or “Creative Commons.” Stock imagery and clip art may be downloaded for free from Open Clip Art ( Numerous other sites can be found using Google and other search engines.

Communities of Practice / Networks of Practice

Supportive Virtual Communities

The Electronic Learning and Teaching Exchange wiki or ELATEwiki ( ) brings together practitioners in e-learning to share their expertise. This resource was started by a team from Kansas State University.

Closing Caveats

A Linking (Partial) Solution: In addition to actually acquiring and reposting digital information, in many cases it is possible to simply link to the information even if it is copyrighted. Sites have become more sophisticated about keeping uniform identifiers and URLs to ensure their contents are remain findable and persistent for this reason.

A Note about “Open Access”: “Open-access” repositories support federated searching of copyrighted contents from various repositories. Open-access is not the same as copyright- or royalty-free information. Open-access just means a resource is easier to locate. The Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting or OAISTER ( offers access to helpful informational resources (with varying copyright protections).

Information Provenance: It helps to keep a record about where information comes from, and to have a copy of the site’s policy releasing a particular work before using it.

To encourage more free resources, users may want to create free high-value digital contents to share with others. Such endeavors may encourage more sharing from everyone.

See Also

Tobacco cessation- helps people to quit smoking so that people can live longer, healthier lives and end the harm caused by tobacco to children ( Freedom From Smoking struggles to make a world smoke-free (

Beyond tobacco, excellent resources exist for drug abuse in general. A new, far-reaching website intended to help a broader audience. Can be found here: