For the last few days, I was down in San Diego, California for the 2012 ISTE conference. I was down there running a session for people to learn about Drupal. I have added the notes I used for my presentation into the handbook in the Tutorials section.
During the conference, I wandered onto the vendor floor to touch base with some friends who were working in different booths. Once I recovered from the shock of a bright orange gimp-man shilling hardware, I was struck by the overwhelming lack of any open source representation. Aside from a single Moodle vendor, I didn't see any open source representation.
This paucity is all the more striking because of the amazing, innovative work I see happening within education using open source tools. On a very regular basis, I see schools using a range of open source tools to support curriculum mapping, online classes, collaborative projects, community outreach, professional development, portfolios - and in these cases, schools aren't paying exorbitant fees to vendors, or losing control of the work performed by teachers and students, or ceding flexibility for convenience. They are just working - intelligently, intentionally, making mindful progress towards articulated goals, and using open source tools to support and extend that work.
But this narrative seemed largely missing at ISTE - possibly, this is due to the company I keep, as I tend to gravitate more toward people who are doing the day to day work in the classroom. But from visiting the vendor floor, the story of educational technology - at least this year - seemed to be one of convenience and speed over vision and ongoing effort. Technology, at least the vision of it being articulated and sold on the vendor floor - is the panacea. It is the thing that makes the difficult easy, and makes all of us smarter.
Open source has a role to play in articulating a different narrative about education - a narrative that values individual effort within a community that is loosely united toward a common goal. The development model within open source communities (and this model has been in place and thriving well before the days of Web 2.0-ifying everything) has always supported (in general terms) peer to peer learning and support. The absence of open source companies in the larger mainstream educational technology world is a loss for both open source and educational technology.
For an additional perspective on the state of data control and access to data, Audrey Watters has a piece over at Hack Education on how vendors responded to questions about data portability and apis. She was aided on the quest by Kin Lane, who knows a thing or three about APIs.