The purpose of this paper is to explore the political economy of open source and
open educational resources, by presenting an overview of inter-related projects
in New Zealand and how each is a building block to achieving national development
goals through technology-mediated learning.
THE CHALLENGE IN CONTEXT
New Zealand is a geographically remote country distant from world markets. The
population, at approximately four million, is relatively small and spread across
a geographical area comparable to Britain, meaning there is internal geographical
remoteness as well as external remoteness.
The geographical spread of the population has been a contributing factor to
a large number of education providers. There are 3 Wananga providing further
education with a focus on Maori, 8 Universities, 19 Institutes of Technology
and Polytechnics, 41 Industry Training Organisations and 266 Private Training
While New Zealand is a developed and prosperous country, the challenges for
spreading an inherently limited education budget for the uptake of e-learning
has some commonality with other countries. There is uneven access and know-how.
Cost is a significant barrier to entry for small organisations, thereby contributing
to a digital divide within the education system. Across the system there is
significant duplication of investment and activity. Those able to invest in
platforms such as BlackBoard and WebCT, while e-learning enabled, have commented
on the lack of flexibility, lack of cultural identity and rigid constructs in
pedagogy partly due to their inability to innovate with the code base.
ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGE
The growth of the open source movement in education presents New Zealand, and
similarly developing countries, with an opportunity to escape from technological
dependence, while also providing a catalyst for innovation and self-determination
in distance and technology-mediated learning initiatives. In addition to delivering
on the promise for an economically sustainable technology investment pathway,
significant collaborative initiatives have been enabled through the use of open
In 2003, the New Zealand Government designated funding, to be administered
by the Tertiary Education Commission, for e-learning capability development
initiatives throughout New Zealand spanning a time period of 2004 to 2007. The
e-Learning Collaborative Development Fund (eCDF), a contestable funding model
available to New Zealand tertiary education organisations, is designed to improve
the tertiary education system’s capability to deliver e-learning that
improves education access and/or quality for learners. In particular the eCDF
seeks to encourage a consolidated approach of tertiary education organisations
sharing e-learning costs and systems where this is more efficient than individual
organisations replicating investment.
NEW ZEALAND OPEN SOURCE VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT (NZOSVLE) PROJECT
The New Zealand Open Source Virtual Learning Environment (NZOSVLE) project is
a consortium-based project, involving twenty further and higher education institutions,
focused on developing open source application software for education. The project
team adopts, adapts and contributes back code to selected open source communities
with specific focus on Moodle (Learning Management System), ELGG and EPrints.
The virtual learning environment adopts a flexible technical architecture in
which individual application components use open standards and are independent,
modular, and extendable.
A key distinguishing feature of the project is the collaborative philosophy.
This is perhaps best illustrated by there being no intention to develop a brand
new e-learning platform. Instead, the project involves selection, integration,
adapting, and contributing to existing open source e-learning software freely
available from highly regarded open source communities that support software
applications with large installation bases. It is our preference to avoid forks
in the open source communities. Inevitably a fork results in a smaller community
of users to support the application’s development.
The NZOSVLE Project was designed to strengthen system capability and quality,
while simultaneously reducing the total cost of ownership for New Zealand e-learning
across tertiary and secondary education, industry and enterprise growth sectors.
Many tertiary organisations in New Zealand have less than 2000 students. To
date, these organisations have not been able to afford licensing and support
of an e-learning environment. A key goal, that has been widely met, has been
to lower the barriers to entry in using e-learning technologies. The widespread
deployment of Moodle significantly increases the e-learning capabilities of
the sector, provides a catalyst for innovation, and accelerates the adoption
of e-learning in a manner aligned with national objectives for a knowledge economy.
The result is a significant increase in the e-learning capability of the tertiary
education system, in terms of information and communication technology (ICT)
tools and knowledge supporting e-learning delivery. The project’s output
in terms of infrastructure and operational model has enormous potential for
The work on the Moodle open source learning management system (LMS), in particular,
has had an enormous impact across New Zealand’s education system with
Moodle now the most widely deployed LMS in New Zealand further education sector.
The research and evaluation of open source learning management systems (LMS)
took several months in early 2004. All documentation for this process is available
from the project space on Eduforge (https://eduforge.org/docman/?group_id=7).
Ultimately, three systems were short-listed for full technical evaluation: ATutor,
Moodle, and Ilias. These systems were then deployed in a test bed environment
for in-depth evaluation from both technology and pedagogical perspectives.
Moodle was selected for its following strengths 1) open and active developer
community 2) good system help files and end-user documentation 3) quality of
the code and modular system architecture 4) ability to interface with other
systems 5) course centric rather than tool centric and 6) flexibility including
the ability for instructors to adjust courses on the fly.
Once Moodle was selected, the development team started in earnest has been
working on Moodle full-time since June 2004. The first areas of focus were to
enhance overall site security and performance. An antivirus tool was integrated
as a standard feature. A multi-enrolment plugin was developed for a student
management system interface and the ability to create courses from existing
courses was developed. It was an intense period of development with over 400
code changes. 2004 saw the first of many large scale deployments in the tertiary
education sector. The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand’s Moodle site went
live in November 2004 and supports upwards of 35,000 learners. Performance improvements
were vital for such a large deployment. The Open Polytechnic, Waikato Institute
of Technology, Lincoln University and others were now in a position to migrate
to Moodle with the confidence that the system would support their students at
an enterprise production level. The work started to get noticed internationally
and contributed to decisions to adopt Moodle being made at Athabasca University
in Canada, and Open University in the United Kingdom.
During 2005 and 2006, the development effort moved towards the feature set
with new forum discussion options, feedback module, role play module, an interface
to repository and e-portfolio systems. All code development is open source.
A key motivation for considering open source solutions was the need to accommodate
alternative pedagogical approaches and different contextual interfaces with
an emphasis on Te Reo Maori and Pacific Island cultural requirements. One group
of tertiary organisations has focused on contextual interface development of
the virtual learning environment, including cultural look and feel themes, creating
technical help, pedagogical support files, and tutorial packages, in appropriate
languages to assist learners and instructors become familiar with the e-learning
Collaboration on Support Services
There are two core reasons why the NZOSVLE project established a support service
for open source applications in education in New Zealand, delivered by open
source specialists Catalyst IT Limited (www.catalyst.net.nz).
Firstly, lack of know-how or organisational cultural barriers remain a barrier
to adoption for many organisations. Cost remains a significant factor despite
the cost benefits of royalty free open source licensing. Secondly, objections
to open source in general often focus on a perceived lack of credibility in
comparison to that normally associated with the backing of a large proprietary
The NZOSVLE project facilitated the establishment of a shared hosting facility
which delivers economies of scale on hardware, hosting, disaster recovery systems,
availability of appropriate expertise, bandwidth and 2nd/3rd level support services.
By collaborating on shared infrastructure 24 by 7 support, 99.9% uptime service
levels are available for mission critical systems at a significantly lower cost
than if individual institutions were to set up these systems and services individually.
Elgg and MyPortfolio.ac.nz
The e-portfolio tool is for many a recognised tool employed for a multitude
of purposes: employment; assessment; life-long learning; professional development
and accreditation of prior learning. While the number of institutions adopting
some type of e-portfolio system is increasing dramatically, there remains questions
over how best to engage the learner, and not create yet another e-learning hurdle.
The traditional lecture model is giving way to alternative approaches due to
innovations with online learning. In some instances, even the very model of
a course is experiencing pressure as organisations recognise the significance
of less formal learning that happens in communities, in employment situations,
and knowledge networks.
In this context, the team at Elgg (www.elgg.org)
have an interesting and promising approach. Rather than a narrowly defined e-portfolio
their approach is to create a bundle of social networking tools alongside storage,
with an appropriate permissions system, for digital artefacts. They term this
an “online landscape”.
In this sense, Elgg provides a stand-alone system that supports constructivist
learning, which is very aligned to the philosophy behind Moodle. Elgg includes
blogs and social networking. Social networking allows people to discover new
contacts by traversing relationship links between people.
The NZOSVLE team started work on Elgg in late 2005, and similarly to Moodle
work the year before, the initial focus was on enhancing the existing platform.
The improved Elgg system is simpler for programmers to work on, more secure,
more portable and with some functionality improvements.
After the enhancements were completed, MyPortfolio (www.myportfolio.ac.nz)
was launched as a national e-portfolio platform using the Elgg system. Instead
of separate e-portfolio systems connected to every institution MyPortfolio uses
a Shibboleth style solution for single sign-on with the Moodle platform. Development
work is ongoing throughout 2006 and into 2007.
Early in the NZOSVLE project, it was recognised there was a need for an online
environment for project collaboration. Instead of being focused on a specific
project, Eduforge was established as an open access environment designed for
the sharing of ideas, research outcomes, open content and open source software
Eduforge (www.eduforge.org) was developed in February 2004, using a combination
of customised code from GForge (www.gforge.org), Serendipity (www.s9y.org) and
PhpWiki (http://phpwiki.sourceforge.et/phpwiki/). GForge has tools for team
collaboration like forums document folders, and source code management tools.
On its own it is a great application for software developers. However, the goal
with Eduforge was to try to bring software developers and educators into the
First, PhpWiki was integrated which has been particularly useful in requirements
gathering and collaborative documentation from the education community. Serendipity
is a weblog application. Each project has a blogging tool and in addition Planet
Eduforge (http://planet.eduforge.org) was deployed to aggregate news feeds and
blogs together into a single combined resource.
As of July 2006, there are 125 hosted projects on Eduforge, with over 1300
registered users on Eduforge from throughout the world. Eduforge generates approximately
1.5 million page views per month and provides a focal point for development,
distribution and maintenance of open source software for education.
The eXe project (www.exelearning.org),
also funded by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand, has developed
an authoring tool to assist teachers to easily publish structured, web based
learning content and activities. The thinking behind eXe, conceived by Wayne
Mackintosh, is to develop a simple to use tool that assists the instructor to
create quality learning design, a balance between content and form. The project
team uses the term ‘instructional device’ to describe a range of
customisable pedagogical templates.
Adherence to the principles of interoperability means that eXe is a very useful
authoring tool for creating Moodle courses. eXe is open source with a standard
OPEN SOURCE LEARNING OBJECT REPOSITORIES
The Open Source Learning Object Repository project is focused on selecting and
developing a repository system that will interface and support federated search
from Moodle. Candidate repository systems were evaluated on the quality of code,
strength of community, and ability to store multiple file formats.
EPrints (www.eprints.org) is designed
as an institutional repository for research output. The project team focused
on enhancements that would enable Eprints to operate as a dual repository system
– research outputs and courseware storage and retrieval.
Code was written to enable EPrints to import SCORM packages, improve versioning
functionality, PostgreSQL support for improved scalability, and development
of a plug-in architecture for the Moodle system.
OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES
The objective of the Open Educational Resources project (OER) is to develop
courseware that is freely available to all educational institutions in New Zealand
and beyond. On the basis of a successful pilot, a further output of the project
is to develop a model to initiate future collaborative courseware developments
for the benefit of the education sector at a system-wide level.
Course materials are developed as reusable content packages, with the level
of granularity for the packages determined for each course to best enable customisation,
increase the potential for re-use, and lower the cost of maintenance. Materials
will be developed in a mark-up language that enables them to be transformed
into different formats, and learning design and technical specifications will
include adherence to accessibility standards. Original source files and sample
style sheets will be available for download to enable educational organisations
to contextualise materials to their particular student audience or delivery
model if required.
Nominated subject matter experts academically and technically moderate materials.
Each course development includes a showcase example of how they can be set-up
for use in a learning management system.
At an infrastructural level this project builds upon the Open Source Learning
Object Repository and NZOSVLE projects by using EPrints and Moodle respectively.
All courseware outputs will be accessible via www.repository.ac.nz and come
under a Creative Commons license.
OPEN ACCESS REPOSITORIES IN NEW ZEALAND
The Open Access Repositories in New Zealand (OARINZ) project will implement
a national network of open access repositories for publicly funded research
and teaching repositories during 2006 and 2007. New Zealand research institutions
will have the necessary infrastructure and know-how to enable them to join with
the global research community to establish a network of Institutional Repositories,
into which authors deposit copies of their research outputs. This gives authors
a way to make their research results available to anyone with Internet access.
Anyone can search the full texts of deposited outputs in their field of research
interest, wherever these are held. By putting research outputs in a repository,
authors will enhance the visibility and impact not just of their research, but
that of the whole New Zealand research sector.
NATIONAL E-LEARNING NETWORK
The e-Learning Networked Education Pilot is developing a network-based strategy
to achieve more co-operative and strategic implementation of e-learning courses
across multiple institutions. This development will be underpinned by open source,
open standards and open educational resources delivered by the NZOSVLE, OSLOR,
OER and OARINZ projects. At a technical level, the use of open source and open
standards is enabling the development of an e-learning network to harness collaborative
tutoring and learning at a system-wide level.
Widespread involvement by tertiary education providers in the NZOSVLE, OSLOR,
OER and OARINZ projects is resulting in increased collaboration across e-learning
academic programmes, for both learners and professional development. However,
fully online or predominantly online course delivery remains outside of the
organisational cultures of most educational institutions in New Zealand, including
specialist distance learning providers. Instead, there are many pockets of high
value activity unevenly spread across the sector. A networked, collaborative
environment for teachers, learners and organisations will help harness the synergies
from an innovative and geographically spread community of practitioners. This
work is changing approaches to open and distance learning strategy, professional
development for tutors, and engagement with learners.
Students, enrolled at their regional further education institution, will be
able to supplement their programme with access to e-learning based delivery
from another institution via an online, networked environment. The pilot programme
will develop a portfolio of e-learning offerings that complements those of each
network partner and optimises options for learners, including the provision
of clear stair-casing pathways.
Networked e-learning provision is strongly student centred by enabling learners
to study at more than one organisation. Consortium partners will co-ordinate
the selection of the networked online portfolio to actively avoid cannibalising
core provision, avoid the inefficiencies and risk of duplication and thereby
complement and strengthen regional offerings with a student centred approach.
The open educational resources movement holds great promise for delivering cost
effective e-learning infrastructure, increased innovation in our education and
greater levels of collaboration in its delivery, at a system-wide level.
The commitment to open standards, modular, flexible and extensible architecture
underpins the systems framework of the NZOSVLE and interrelated open source
projects in New Zealand. A key strength of these projects lies in the philosophy
of building upon established, well regarded open source projects. The intent
is to contribute to and harness the synergy from a collaborative, international
community of expertise. The result is a virtual learning environment raised
to a new level of competitiveness with proprietary alternatives and a catalyst
for further innovation across the sector.
The interwoven open source projects have set the foundations for continuing
innovations in education delivery and have enabled the potential for deeper
levels of collaboration across consortia and networks between industry and education.
The National E-Learning Network is the first step in that process. To date,
the combined open source initiatives have far reaching implications for New
Zealand’s e-learning environment and knowledge economy. The intent of
the e-Learning Network is to extend these outcomes and leverage related projects
to deliver increased e-learning capability across the education system, efficiently
and cost-effectively. This direction heralds a fundamental shift in the educational
design and delivery of open and distance learning in New Zealand.
- Shibboleth is standards-based, open source middleware software which provides
single sign-on across or within organisational boundaries. See http://shibboleth.internet2.edu/
- Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is a set of standards for
e-learning course materials to communicate to their host environment –
typically Learning Management System. The standard uses Extensible Mark-up
- PostgreSQL is a sophisticated open source object-relational database management