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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

SD Higher Ed: Look for Savings on Software

Of course, if we can't get South Dakota voters to pony up tax dollars to pay for their investment in higher education, we'll have to find ways to spend less. One area where we might realize more savings: software that doesn't cosst an arm and a leg. This morning's examples:

Bibliography managers. These are programs that help researchers and students keep track journal articles, research notes, and citations, the kind of thing you did on note cards when you wrote your senior term paper for Mr. Dockendorf at MHS. Dakota State University has spent money to make one popular proprietary bib manager, EndNote, available to students and faculty. Before DSU got licenses for the software, I balked at the $120 the company was asking as a student price and turned to an open-source solution, Zotero. I love it! It does everything I need as a grad student. It can also do everything the National Science Foundation needs: NSF has worked the software hard and now likes it so much they've hired the Zotero team to build a custom version for their in-house use.

Course content management systems.
These are secure web-based systems we use to (among other things) post course content, deliver assignments and quizzes, conduct online class discussions, and post grades. The Board of Regents spent big money last year to switch from WebCT to Desire2Learn, a Canadian product. As a student and especially as a teacher, I have found I can do more work more flexibly and effectively with a patchwork of freely available blogs and other online tools than I can with this expensive proprietary software. I have built free Wordpress course blogs allow me much more flexibility in delivering content and engaging students. I've built a dissertation website with Drupal (you know the stuff the White House digs) that would be impossible in the confines of Desire2Learn. A team of creative DSU undergrads could use the same Drupal platform to build a course management system that would run circles around Desire2Learn. Plus, they'd build great job skills and save us money to boot.

These are just a couple examples of savings we could make on software. We may also want to watch whether Los Angeles gets savings by moving their e-mail to Google's cloud.

Higher ed shouldn't have to prove itself to win back the 58% state funding it used to get just ten years ago. But we'll keep trying anyway. Let's pare down that software bill!

[Friendly reminder: yes, I'm an employee of the Board of Regents. I'm also a student. But I'm speaking here as a taxpayer and voter. The thoughts expressed here belong to me, me, me, not my boss, not my profs, not my neighbor and regent Randy Schaefer.]


  1. If I remember correctly Google charges for institutional email service. But that infrastructure doesn't cost the state anything until they upgrade every server to the new version of Exchange and every client to the new version of Outlook.
    For real savings every state employee could use OpenOffice.org instead of Microsoft Office. The servers in Pierre could run on Linux. And the email client could be Thunderbird (Mozilla.org).
    When higher education teaches nothing but Microsoft the graduates do nothing but perpetuate the dependence on proprietary software.
    (In the interest of full disclosure I'm a non-IT state employee that uses Linux at home.)

  2. Here's one way to extend the tax dollar - cut ITers pay.


    Hoping there will be a budget increase for the funding squid of higher education, (which for no apparent reason increases costs faster than inflation or anything other than healthcare), is self-delusional. The Iowa governor had the spine to propose real budget cuts to deal with revenue shortfalls. Across-the-board cuts are inartful, at best, but may be the most politically achievable. It will be interesting to see how SDBOR "contributes" to the solution of the state's $200 million budget shortfall.
    John Kelley

  3. Mr. Klumper! Great ideas! We may be able to turn this $200-million shortfall into the perfect opportunity for an OpenOffice/Linux revolution!

  4. I'm in awe of what wordpress can do. We've paid a little money for a theme installation and support for our new website. If you are curious www.blackstudios.com

    I'm having to learn again about that programming stuff like we used to do at DSU. We only used to need to need to know Lotus 123, dBase, DOS and DiplayWrite. How the times have changed


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