> At the moment, you can't do it with fully free software (at least at
> Monash). Sometimes even required to use proprietary windows only software.
>   - free software tools
> Sometimes actively encouraged, sometimes not permitted. Never seen it
> encouraged due to being free software, always another reason. Sometimes it
> gets mentioned that it's free software, though generally referred to as
> open source.

I guess you're right (about the reason not being explicitly free software).
Our old Computer Science course at Melbourne Uni was pretty
free-software-friendly. The Unix and C courses could be done entirely with
free software -- we used Solaris at uni but ran GCC, Make, Bash, and so on.
Certainly a core contingent of the staff were free software advocates. But
we also had projects in Java (before it was free software) and some in
Visio (eww). As for the wider university, I don't think they have ever had
any kind of leaning towards free software -- computers around the campus
all run Windows or Mac, as you would expect I suppose.

In recent years, there has been a definite trend away from the old model,
as our department has been folded in to Engineering, which is entirely
Windows-based. The old Solaris machines (which were not free, but were at
least teaching students skills compatible with free software) have been
phased out and replaced with Windows machines, although we still teach C
and Java using Eclipse (which are all free software). When I was teaching,
I always made a conscious effort to help students get it working on Linux
or other free software distributions (there are always 2 or 3 in a given

For our part, we did undertake an initiative to produce a weird mix of free
software and "software as a service" for teaching -- I'd be interested to
hear what the group thinks of this. Conscious of the move away from Unix,
we wanted control over the software our students were using (particularly,
Python), so we built a web-based Python learning environment (
http://www.ivle.org/). Fortunately, the professor who was in charge was a
free software fan, so he put it under the GPL, and we run it on servers at
the university. I wonder if this is good or bad for free software -- on the
one hand, it is all free software (the server runs on Ubuntu, the entire
application is GPL, and anybody can run their own instance). On the other
hand, it kind of hides its "freeness" behind the web browser, so students
don't really get exposed to the free software; they just see a web app.

On Fri, Feb 24, 2012 at 11:46 AM, Geoff Shaw <g.s...@unimelb.edu.au> wrote:

> At the university of Melbourne you can access the information futures
> report
> http://www.informationfutures.unimelb.edu.au/commission/reports
> which states:
> To deal with globalisation of education and its infrastructure we will:
>   Leverage the opportunities offered by being part of a global
> collaborative community. 6.
> We will actively seek to participate in collaborative communities and
> partnerships that enable us to influence and leverage abilities beyond our
> means as an individual organisation. We will use open standards, open
> source and other open initiatives to ensure that we can effectively
> collaborate, 'trade' and re-use the work of whole communities. We will not
> invest in creating bespoke solutions that we could readily achieve in other
> ways or where they do not add unique and deep value to our mission.
> The report online is dated 2008, but I believe it has been reiterated in a
> Dec 2011 update. So The University of Melbourne apparently encourages use
> of open source software!
> Geoff

Wow, that really surprises me. I'm fairly confident that the university in
no way practices what they preach. I don't know of any "open standards,
open source [or] other open initiatives" anywhere in the university,
besides initiatives taken by individual staff members such as our project.
In particular, several years ago (probably 2006), the University jumped on
the Blackboard bandwagon (which I understand pretty much all universities
in the world use) -- the central "learning management system" is entirely
proprietary software by Blackboard Inc, known for their patent lawsuits
against other learning management systems. I know several staff members in
our department who petitioned the university to use the open source Moodle
instead, but apparently it fell on deaf ears.

At Monash the IT lab computers dual boot windows and some distro I can't
> remember, but they keep that distro really out of date and don't even
> install dev tools on it in IT labs. One of my tutors last semester thinks
> it's so no one will use it so they won't have to support it. Given that,
> I'd expect active resistance to trying to get the tools we need on them.

That's pretty good that they even support a Linux (I presume) distro. It is
a pretty big call to ask IT departments to support two operating systems.
For one thing, they need to be able to remotely upgrade the systems, which
means they need to be turned on all the time -- it's hard to have a
computer permanently booted into two operating systems. Also, it's probably
kind of annoying for teachers and students to go into a lab, sit down, and
have half the computers randomly booted into the "wrong" operating system,
and having to wait to restart. (Where "wrong" is simply whichever operating
system the class isn't supposed to be using for that lab.)

  - requirements on submitting assignments
>      - getting course requirements changed
>   - Ben F: does MS office naively support ODF?
> I don't know, but you receive a list of formats you are allowed to submit
> in - for anything you would want to submit as odt it ranges from .doc only,
> pdf only or both.

I think this is the most important -- students should not be forced to
submit work in proprietary formats. PDF is the standard format for
presenting documents, and it should be the standard format for submitting
as well.

Some could be sympathetic, but I see it being very difficult to get them to
> allow using fully free software. Allowing complete use of a free software
> operating system is more realistic for now.

I think it's far more realistic to have a uni support free software on a
proprietary OS than proprietary software on a free OS. As I said above,
it's hard to manage two OSes on a machine. At least if our mission is to
get them to install free software alongside other stuff on Windows, that is
something that can be achieved on a program-by-program basis, and not
requiring major infrastructure changes. Given that in any case, students
will be unable to have administrator access, the underlying OS is less
important than the software running on it. Perhaps a good set of
applications to support would be:

- Firefox or Chromium (I assume most university computers already have
- LibreOffice (helping justify the PDF or ODF submission assignment)
- Eclipse with C, C++ and Java (for programming courses, or in general)
- Python (same)
- Gimp (for artwork)
- Inkscape (same)
- Blender (for modelling and animation courses)
- OpenShot or Pitivi (for video editing, though admittedly, I have tried
these and they are both very weak next to commercial offerings)

The standard Engineering image at Unimelb includes several of the above
(Firefox, Eclipse, Python, Gimp, not sure about LibreOffice/OpenOffice), so
I guess that's a good start.

Also it is perhaps helpful to point out to administrators who may not be
aware that this software carries no installation or licensing costs, so it
should be much easier to commit to even temporarily supporting any of the
above software than it would be to commit to proprietary software.
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