Open Source Options For Education

by Mark Johnson on 13 January 2013 , last updated


This document presents options for open source software for use in the education sector. Some of these may have uses outside of education, but they are presented here in the context of their specific benefits to educational establishments, or their use in the course of teaching and learning.

The document is intended to complement the UK Cabinet Office’s Open Source Options document, which is presented as part of its Open Source Procurement Toolkit in recognition that open source software is underused across the public sector. As such, the aims and context of this document are the same as those stated in the original document.

OSS watch maintains a briefing on Making Use of the Cabinet Office’s Guidance on Open Source Software. The guidance in the briefing can also be applied to this document.

The document in its current form is the product of an ongoing collaboration between OSS Watch, the UK education community, and open source software communities. If you have examples of open source software that is specifically useful in an educational context, or an example of one of the pieces of software being used in education, please get in touch with us or add your contributions to the publicly editable version of the document.


Solution Software Consider as Alternative to Comments Real World Use
Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)
  • Blackboard
  • Echo 360
  • Desire2Learn
  • StudyWiz
  • Frog
  • Moodle is used internationally by hundreds of institutions.
  • There is a highly active Moodle user community providing support.
  • Moodle can be extended an integrated with other systems using the large library of available plug-ins.
  • The Sakai project was founded from a collaboration between Indiana University, MIT, Stanford and University of Michigan. It currently maintains two systems - the Collaborative Learning Environment (CLE) and the Open Academic Environment (OAE).
  • Gibbon aims to meet the needs of teachers, reducing workload and helping students learn. It also handles SIM functionality, providing all information in one place.
  • Manchester Metropolitan University selected Moodle as its VLE after an extensive review. Reference
  • The Open University uses Moodle to deliver distance learning courses with one of the world’s largest Moodle instances. Reference
  • Over 4000 schools, colleges, universities and companies have an active Moodle site in the UK alone. Reference
  • The University of Oxford uses Sakai as the basis of their WebLearn platform for teaching, research and collaboration. References
  • In August 2013, Sakai OAE was relaunched as Apereo OAE.
  • The Utah Education Network replaced Blackboard with Canvas in 9 state-owned colleges and universities. Ref
  • The International College of Hong Kong uses Gibbon. Ref
Lecture Capture/Podcasting
  • MediaSite
  • Panopto
  • Matterhorn provides an end-to-end solution from automated lecture capture through processing and distribution.
  • Videos can also be published to existing public platforms such as YouTube or iTunes.
  • Captioning, keyboard navigation and screen readers are well supported.
  • Media can be encoded using standard formats, ensuring your media isn’t locked in to a particular system or playback software.
  • Oxford Brookes University are piloting Matterhorn, including integration with their Moodle VLE. Reference
  • Loughborough University use Matterhorn, using it to capture around 90% of lectures in 2011. Reference
  • Camtasia
  • Adobe Captivate
  • iSpring Presenter
  • Jing
  • SMART Notebook page recording feature
  • CamStudio allows you to make a video of what’s happening on your screen. It will also capture audio from a microphone.
  • As well as capturing a lecture or presentation, it can be used to record a tutorial or walk through of a system.
  • Videos can be recorded to AVI, or to SWF for streaming via Flash.
  • Windows Sound Recorder
  • GoldWave
  • Mobile phone
  • Audacity is a fully-featured audio recorder and editor for Windows, Linux and Mac.
  • Multiple tracks can be recorded separately and edited together.
  • Additional audio tracks can be imported.
  • Files can be saved to a number of formats.
  • University of Oxford recommends Audacity for recording an editing podcasts. Reference
Online Lectures/Webinars/Remote Participation
  • Adobe Connect
  • Blackboard Collaborate
  • Mega Meeting
  • These systems allow multiple participants to participate in a session via the web.
  • Users can collaborate on a shared “whiteboard”.
  • Video, audio and text chat are supported.
  • Users can share presentations and applications from their screen with other users.
  • University of the West of Scotland rolled out BigBlueButton in September 2012 following a successful pilot. Reference
  • Goldsmiths University of London provide BigBlueButton for use through its Moodle VLE. Reference (Login as Guest)
Video Streaming
  • Planet eStream
  • ClickView
  • MediaCore
  • vShare
  • PHP Motion
  • These products provide a locally-hosted “YouTube” style system.
  • Users can upload videos which are converted into a streamable format and shared.
  • Videos can be embedded into a web page or VLE.
  • Users can rate and comment on videos.
  • Bonn University uses Plumi for its podcast portal. Reference
  • University of Mary Washington moved away from Kaltura after finding the open source version limiting.
Interactive Content Creation
  • Adobe Authorware
  • Articulate + Articulate storyline
  • HotPotatoes
  • Qwizdom
  • Xerte allows you to create interactive learning materials, including multimedia content and interactive exercises.
  • Content can be created locally, or online using Xerte Online Toolkits.
  • Once created, Xerte packages materials in a standard format that can be imported into most VLEs, and viewed using Flash.
  • The XENITH project allows materials authored with Xerte to be viewed using HTML5, providing support for more devices.
  • Materials created using Xerte allow users to change fonts and colour schemes, as well as supporting text-to-speech, ensuring that materials are accessible to all users.
  • Xerte was developed by the University of Nottingham. Reference
  • University of Derby support Xerte as part of its Technology Enhanced Learning resources. Reference
Ebook Authoring
  • Microsoft Office
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • OpenOffice and LibreOffice provide word processing and drawing programs that can be used for simple desktop publishing.
  • Documents can be saved to PDF format.
  • iBooks Author
  • Adobe InDesign
  • Sigil is a cross-platform suite for authoring ebooks in the standard and widely-supported ePub format.
  • Provides a WYSIWYG interface, as well as allowing direct source editing.
  • TeX and variants
  • TeX is a powerful typesetting mark-up language designed to allow users to easily create high-quality electronic or printed books which display consistently across devices and platforms.
  • TeX is particularly useful for displaying mathematical and scientific formulae in a consistent manner.
  • Documents written in the TeX mark-up language can be rendered to files in the DVI file format, or converted to other formats.
E-book management
  • iBooks
  • Google Play Books
  • Kindle apps
  • Calibre is a cross-platform tool for managing a personal ebook library.
  • Converts between formats including PDF, ePUB and MOBI (Kindle).
  • Supports a wide range of e-readers, tablets and phones for syncing.
  • Provides a desktop e-book reader.
  • Links to online libraries to allow the download and purchase of e-books.
Collaborative Authoring
  • Google Docs
  • Etherpad provides an interface for multiple users to collaborate on a document in real-time over the web.
  • Basic formatting is supported, and users’ contributions can be identified by colour.
  • Documents can be imported and exported using various formats, including HTML and MS Word.
  • The entire history of a document can be viewed using a time slider.
  • Gobby provides similar functionality to etherpad, but uses a client-server infrastructure.
  • Gobby clients are available for Windows/Mac/Linux
  • Owncloud Documents provides Google Docs-style document sharing and collaboration, as well as Dropbox-style synchronisation.


Solution Software Consider as Alternative to Comments Real World Use
High-stakes assessment
  • Rogō (formerly TouchStone)
  • QuestionMark
  • Rogō aims to provide an online assessment system with a focus on consistent quality, usability and security.
  • The system supports informal progress tests and surveys, self assessment, as well as formal exam papers.
  • A range of common question types are supported.
  • Features for managing the assessment life-cycle are included, such as standards setting and peer review of papers.
  • Rogō supports Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) allowing it to be connected to VLEs implementing the LTI standard.
  • University of Nottingham provides Rogō for online assessment. Reference
  • 5 UK institutions including University of Oxford and University of the West of Scotland engaged in a pilot project to assess Rogō against the needs of HE institutions. Reference
  • PebblePad
  • Elgg
  • Mahara allows easy integration with Moodle. Students can save work created or submitted in Moodle to their Mahara portfolio. Single Sign-On is also supported.
  • Students can present selections from their portfolio through customised pages, which they control access to.
  • Students can network with one another and share artefacts through groups.
  • The LEAP2A standard is supported for interoperability with other e-portfolio systems.
  • Southampton Solent University uses Mahara for it’s myPortfolio system. Reference
  • Sparsholt College, Hampshire uses Mahara to support it’s ICT Key Skills programme.

Classroom tools

Solution Software Consider as Alternative to Comments Real World Use
Interactive Whiteboard Software
  • SMART Notebook
  • Promethean ActivInspire/ActivOffice
  • OpenSankoré provides an interactive cross-platform interface for whiteboards, touch tables, or any type of computer.
  • Whiteboard-style drawing is supported, as well as inserting documents and media.
  • The environment’s functionality can be extended by the addition of Widgets.
  • OpenSankoré was originally developed and used by the University of Lausanne. Ref
Classroom Management
  • SMART Sync
  • LANschool
  • InterCLASS
  • iTALC provides tools for managing the PCs in a classroom.
  • A teacher can view students’ screens in overview mode.
  • Computers can be remote controlled to provide assistance.
  • Workstations can be locked to reduce distractions.
  • Demonstrations can be broadcast to all workstations.

Library Systems

Solution Software Consider as Alternative to Comments Real World Use
Integrated Library System (ILS)
  • Heritage
  • Koha includes modules for circulation, cataloguing, acquisitions, serials, reserves, patron management, branch relationships, and more.
  • Koha supports standard formats and protocols to ensure interoperability with other library systems.
  • An online demo of Koha is available on the project’s website.
  • The open source Koha project from is not to be confused with LibLime Koha or LibLime Academic Koha. LibLime Koha is a fork of the original project managed by LibLime, while LibLime Academic Koha is a separate product developed for a consortium of institutions.
  • OpenBiblio is an automated library system containing OPAC, circulation, cataloging, and staff administration functionality.
  • Staffordshire University use Koha hosted by PTFS Europe
  • The British Library for Development Studies at the Institute for Development Studies uses Koha
Reading Lists
  • Talis Aspire
  • Refworks
  • A demonstration of LORLS and its features is available on the project’s website.
  • LORLS is developed by the University of Loughborough and is used by several universities around the UK. Ref
Digital Collection Management
  • DigiTool
  • Islandora is built upon an open source base using components from Drupal, Fedora Commons and Apache Solr
  • Islandora is modular, proving Solution Packs to implement best-practice workflows for managing different content types.
  • Islandora is used by the University of St Andrews library. Ref

Mobile Solutions

Solution Software Consider as Alternative to Comments Real World Use
Mobile Apps for Students
  • CampusM
  • Molly provides a framework for building information portals for mobile devices.
  • A range of mobile devices are supported from low- to high-end through a single web interface using feature detection
  • Data can be pulled from a range of sources
  • Molly can be run in-house, allowing all institutional data to be kept secure within the institution’s network.
  • Molly powers Mobile Oxford, used by University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes. Ref

Enterprise Architecture and Service Management

Solution Software Consider as Alternative to Comments Real World Use
Enterprise Architecture
  • Archi and BizzDesign Architect are both enterprise architecture modelling applications that use the Archimate standard.
  • Archi has been used to introduce Enterprise Architecture modelling to several universities around the UK, including Staffordshire University, University of Bolton, and Coventry University. Refs,,

Management Information Systems

Solution Software Consider as Alternative to Comments Real World Use
Management Information System (MIS)/Student Records
  • Ellucian Banner
  • PeopleSoft Campus
  • A1 Academia Has many core modules for Mid-Large campus management e.g Student Records, Students Finance, Admissions, Registration, Curriculum Management, Course Mgmt, Exams, Hostels etc
  • SIMS
  • SchoolTool is a web-based student information system with features including student record management, attendance logging, gradebooks, and timetabling.
  • SchoolTool integrates with systems including the Moodle VLE via CAS authentication.
  • CanDo is a competancy tracking application built on SchoolTool by teachers and students in Virginia. Ref

Subject-specific tools

Subject Software Consider as Alternative to Comments Real World Use
  • ProTools
  • Cubase
  • Sibelius
  • Audacity enables recording, editing and mixing of audio tracks. It provides a comprehensive suite of editing tools, as well as supporting a range of effects through LADSPA plug-ins.
  • Ardour also provides a suite for recording and editing audio, but unlike Audacity, also supports multi-track recording.
  • Unlike Audacity, Ardour is a “non destructive” editor, allowing effects to be adjusted repeatedly.
  • FL Studio
  • Sibelius
  • Rosegarden provides a multi-track MIDI sequencer and composition environment.
  • Hydrogen is a cross-platform drum machine.
  • MuseScore allows you to create, play and print sheet music.
  • MuseScore is used internationally by schools, universities and private music teachers at all levels, including by Redbridge College and De Montfort University in the UK. Refs,
  • Hydrogen is used at Glen View High School in Beaumont, California for teaching loop-based audio production. Ref
  • Grégoire
  • Gregorio provides tools for the typesetting of Gregorian chant notation.
  • Gregorio can be used via a command line, through the TeXWorks GUI, or integrated with the Scribus DTP package.
  • Reason
  • Ubuntu Studio is a specialised Linux distribution focused on media creation.
  • While there is no single open source application that provides all features of a comprehensive package like Reason, there are distributions of Linux designed for studio workstations, combining several applications to provide comparable features.
  • Featured software includes multi-track recorders, MIDI sequencers, virtual amplifiers and effects processors.
  • Ubuntu Studio also features JACK, an advanced audio system allowing the audio inputs and outputs of separate applications to be connected together.
  • As with many Linux distributions, studio-focused distributions can often be run from CD for testing without installing anything to the computer’s hard drive.
Film/Media Production
  • Windows Movie Maker
  • Final Cut Pro
  • Adobe Premiere
  • KDEnlive and PiTiVi are fully featured multi-track non-linear video editors.
  • Based on open source media libraries, a wide range of video and audio formats are supported from a large number of devices.
  • Output to standard formats including H.264 is supported, as well as lossless formats.
  • Blender is an industry-quality tool for 3D animation.
  • The 2010 Undergraduate and Postgraduate fine art exhibition at the University of Reading featured a piece of digital sculpture created with Blender. Ref
  • University of Plymouth use Blender as part of its Media Production degree, and for data visualisation in their planetarium. Ref,
  • Lancaster University provides Avidemux in its computer labs. Ref
  • Q Light Controller is a cross-platform application for controlling DMX or analogue lighting systems like moving heads, dimmers, scanners etc.
  • QLab
  • SFX
  • Soundboard is a cross-platform tool for building and executing sound cues.
  • Final Draft
  • Celtx is a fully-featured cross-platform screen-writing application.
  • Celtx can sync with cloud services and mobile apps, although these are not open source.
  • Fountain is a plain-text format which can be used for screen writing and rendered to a formatted screenplay.
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Z Brush
  • The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) provides a complete set of tools for editing bitmaps, including layering, effects, and colour tools.
  • Plug-ins and scripts are supported to provide extensibility.
  • Images can be imported from a range of formats, including from scanners and Photoshop files.
  • Images can be saved to a range of standard formats.
  • A large community of users have produced extensive documentation and tutorials on The GIMP’s features.
  • The engineering department at the University of Cambridge uses GIMP for image manipulation. Ref
  • London Metropolitan University provides GIMP as an alternative to Photoshop. Ref
  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Apple Aperture
  • Adobe Bridge
  • Photography workflow and RAW processing tools
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Inkscape is a cross-platform program for creating vector graphics, based on the standard SVG format.
  • Importing and exporting of bitmap graphics formats is supported, as is import of Adobe Illustrator files.
  • The Oxford Internet Institute uses Inkscape to produce data visualisations. Ref
Design and Technology
  • Adobe InDesign
  • QuarkXPress
  • Scribus is a cross-platform Desktop Publishing application.
  • As well as typesetting, a range of standard image formats are supported, as are Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator files.
  • University of Oxford IT Services run a termly course on Desktop Publishing with Scribus. Ref
  • 3ds Max
  • As well as animation, Blender can be used for 3D modelling.
  • Models created in Blender can be used for 3D printing.
  • The Blender community has a forum for discussing blender usage in Academic and Research contexts. Ref
  • AutoCAD
  • QCAD and LibreCAD are a cross-platform 2D CAD packages.
  • LibreCAD is based on QCAD but provides a more modern interface
  • AutoCAD
  • SolidWorks
  • FreeCAD is a 3D CAD package.
  • Microsoft Visual Studio
  • Eclipse and NetBeans are both popular general purpose Integrated Development Environments (IDEs).
  • Eclipse is used as the basis for many platforms’ Software Development Kits (SDKs), including Android.
  • Eclipse and NetBeans support a variety of languages through plug-ins and extensions.
  • MonoDevelop is an IDE specifically designed for building cross-platform software using an open source implementation of the .NET framework (Mono).
  • Pascal
  • Delphi
  • Visual Basic
  • VB.NET
  • Scratch is a language designed for teaching programming concepts, allowing students to create programs by dragging blocks onto a canvas rather than typing commands.
  • Ruby, Python and PHP are all widely-used interpreted programming languages.
  • Lazarus is an alternative to Delphi, can run on both Windows and Linux platforms and uses an almost identical interface.
  • PHP is designed for building dynamic web applications.
  • Many common web applications such as Wordpress, MediaWiki, Drupal and Moodle are written in PHP.
  • Ruby and Python are powerful multi-purpose languages which can be used to build both desktop and web applications.
  • Ruby and Python feature consistent intuitive syntax which makes them ideal for teaching.
  • Each language is supported by a vibrant community of users and developers, which comprehensive documentation.
  • A recent survey of the UK Computing At School (CAS) and Computers of Education Society in Ireland (CESI) communities showed Scratch to be the most widely taught language for 11-14 year olds, Python and Scratch to be the 2 most widely taught languages for 14-16 year olds, and Python to be the second most widely taught for 16-18 year olds. Ref
  • Presentation
  • Applications that help in running experiments in psychology, for example presenting stimuli to subjects and measuring responses
  • PEBL comes with a library of common tests
  • Allow users to develop their own experiments using scripting or programming
  • PsyScope is used by many university Psychology departments in the UK, including University of Bangor.
Geography Related Subjects
  • Bentley Map
  • MapInfo
  • Geospatial
  • gvSIG Educa is a customization of the gvSIG Desktop Open Source GIS, adapted as a tool for the education of issues that have a geographic component.
  • The aim is to provide educators with a tool that helps students to analyse and understand space, and which can be adapted to different levels or education systems.
  • gvSIG Educa is not only useful for the teaching of geographic material, but can also be used for learning any subject that contains a spatial component such as history, economics, natural science, sociology…
  • Facilitates learning by letting students interact with the information, by adding a spatial component to the study of the material, and by facilitating the assimilation of concepts through visual tools such as thematic maps.
  • gvSIG Educa provides analysis tools that help to understand spatial relationships.
  • Other open source GIS packages provide similar feature sets.
  • gvSIG Educa arose out of the gvSIG Batoví distribution, which is available to all children of Common Education (grades 1 to 6) and their respective teachers in public schools across Uruguay, thanks to the Ceibal project. Refs,
  • NI MultiSIM
  • Open Circuit Design is a collection of tools providing features such as PCB layout design and component simulation.
Religious Studies
  • Logos
  • E-Sword
  • The SWORD project provides free cross-platform tools for bible study.
  • Al-Misbah
  • Zekr Qur’an is a cross-platform tool for Qur’an study
Mathematics & Statistics
  • SPSS
  • SAS
  • S-PLUS
  • Minitab
  • R is a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics. It is an open source implementation of the “S” programing language.
  • R-Commander is a basic statistics GUI for R, consisting of a window containing menus, buttons, and information fields.
  • R is widely used by professional statisticians and data miners, as well as professors and university students. Ref
  • SageMath
  • Magma
  • Maple
  • Mathematica
  • Sage is a free open-source mathematics software system licensed under the GPL. It combines the power of many existing open-source packages into a common interface.
  • Sage’s mission is “to create a viable free open source alternative to Magma, Maple, Mathematica and Matlab.”

Further Reading

Related information from OSS Watch: