The free software movement was inspired by the ideals of academic
research, and in the last few years it has given some of the fruits of that inspiration back to
academia. One of the largest open source projects in academia is the WebCT. Its functions are to assist universities in
administering Web servers, teachers in preparing online course components, and both teachers and
students in designing and using portfolios, which are academically oriented personal Web pages.
Despite some flaws, the project fulfills its functions well.
Academic portfolios evolved from
samples of work assembled by writers and artists. In the last five years they have become a major part
of online learning. Instructors’ portfolios usually consist of syllabuses for the courses they are
teaching and samples of professional work. Students’ portfolios show their efforts to understand
course material, often by a combination of two elements: Reflections, or blog-like writing about the
course material, and artifacts, which are related graphics or sound and movie clips. Both professor
and student portfolios may also contain contact information and résuméés. Students’ portfolios may be
public, or shared selectively, and are often coordinated with online course components that may also
include elearning modules and student presentations.
These are the needs that OSP is designed
to support. OSP was begun in January 2003 as a joint project of the University of Minnesota, the
University of Delaware, and The rSmart Group, a commercial
company specializing in open source applications for education. The first version, released in July
2003, was built on top of a job application program. The second version, funded by a grant of $518,000
from the Mellon Foundation and matching funds from Indiana University and The rSmart Group, is built
on SAKAI, an open source content management system for
education. OSP 2.0.1, a maintenance release, was released in August 2005, and version 2.1 is scheduled
for release next month.