Hey FOSS Force, when I left the education field to start a career in technology almost two decades ago, I had no idea it would one day lead me so deep into open source.

Education is a Microsoft shop in most places nowadays and this makes things difficult when you try to steer people towards an open source solution for their education needs. When attempting it there are three of four things that usually happen:

1) They look at your like you have 3 heads

2) Mentally they go down the list of what they need this system to do and stick with MS because “it has all those features.”  (so does LibreOffice, but 99% of education users don’t know that).

3) They ask about price and education discounts and when you tell them “it’s free” they think that means it won’t work.

4) When the system is being set up, education staff expect to find a giant complicated mess of things that don’t work right out of the box.  After all every school district has their own way of doing things so why would this be different?

I’ve found there are several steps I need to take before education users will even consider using open source education tools instead of closed source or proprietary education tools. If you aren’t taking these steps then you are wasting your time trying to convince people otherwise. What are those steps?

Well here they are in no particular order…

Spend the first meeting just talking about education in general.  Don’t get into open source or anything else, just talk education.  Why did they go into education?  What was their favorite part of being a teacher?  What is their least favorite thing about education today?  My old physics professor once told me education was a business and you have to sell yourself.  If people aren’t interested in education itself then it’s going to be hard for them to care about the tools they use in education.

Make sure your solution can do everything they want out of the box .I’ve often found that education systems (and workstation setups) are full of add ons and extras that teachers don’t really but were purchased because “this system has everything!”  Just having a education system that does what they want is not enough, it also needs to have all these extra features they are used to.

Education systems are always changing so make sure you are able to keep up with their pace .  The education environment is moving so fast these days it’s difficult for education departments (or any department) to stay with the system upgrades.  If they bring in new versions of Windows, Linux, LibreOffice or whatever then you might need to update your solution at the same time or risk losing them as a customer.

You will most likely be the only person familiar with your education solution around so don’t expect anyone else helping with troubleshooting when things go wrong .  The education person responsible for the system will need to rely on you entirely when it comes to fixing problems.  Make sure you are able to assist them as much as possible and don’t leave their education system in a broken state too often because that will lose even more education customers to someone else.

Finally education systems are like any other computer setup, if done right people will pay far less attention to it than they did before .  If your education solution can handle 90% of what they want without breaking the bank, making them jump through hoops or requiring special training for how it works then chances are they won’t even notice it anymore.

I’m still looking for better ways to convince schools and departments of education that open source

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