Sun to Open-Source Education

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2006-03-07

Sun to Open-Source Education

NEW YORK—Sun Microsystems is taking a cue from its successes with open source to help shape the future of education and bridge the digital divide, according to the companys chief executive, Scott McNealy.

In a speech at Suns WWERC (Worldwide Education and Research Conference) here on March 7, McNealy said Sun has spun out its GELC (Global Education and Learning Community) effort into a nonprofit organization aimed at aimed at delivering self-paced, Web-based, free and open content—including curriculum, resources and assessment—for the K-12 segment.

Or, as McNealy put it, GELC is "open-sourcing education."

McNealy said, "[The] opportunity here is to apply all the community development to textbooks, curriculum and assessment for K-12. So with the help of some folks at Sun we created the GELC, with 2,700 members worldwide and 370-plus projects."

McNealy introduced Barbara "Bobbi" Kurshan as the newly appointed executive director of GELC.

Kurshan said she sees GELC as "a great way to look at how open source can impact learning. I think we have a phenomenal opportunity to make reform in education."

Sun spins off an online education project as a nonprofit. Click here to read more.

Kurshan added that her initial areas of focus will be on fund raising, ensuring that the organization maintains a strong Web presence, and developing new partnerships. Kurshan also said she is considering a new name for the organization.

"Its really wonderful to open-source browsers and other technology, but thats nothing compared to open-sourcing education," McNealy said.

Meanwhile, as part of a demonstration of new technology Sun is working on to assist educators, McNealy called Roger Meike, a principal researcher at Sun Labs, to come onstage and demonstrate the new Sun SPOT (Small Programmable Object Technology), announced March 6.

Meike said Project Sun SPOT provides a way to easily, affordably and quickly build Java-based sensor applications that run directly on the CPU without any underlying operating system.

"People are using these for teaching," Meike said, displaying a small SPOT device that he said featured light sensors, temperature sensors and motion (directional) sensors.

"They can be used for things like package tracking," he said. "Were interested in the education, research and hobbyist markets," he added. And Sun officials said the company is in talks with the Lego Group about possibly doing games or kits based on the SPOT technology.

Next Page: Sun gives away grid time.

Sun Gives Away Grid


McNealy also discussed other Sun efforts to collaborate with educators through programs such as STAR (Sun Technology and Academic Resource). Sun gives away about $8 million in hardware annually, he said.

In addition, Sun is awarding 10 institutions the Sun Grid Education Grant for 100,000 hours of CPU time on the Sun grid. "Were donating one million CPU hours to academia," McNealy said. "Princeton has used 20,000 hours of their 100,000."

Dave Lambert, CIO at Georgetown University in Washington, joined McNealy onstage and said, of the big IT issues, "the one foremost in my mind is dealing with the explosion of enterprise applications" that are part of daily life at a major university.

Lambert said Georgetown standardized on Suns software and systems because of Suns "commitment to openness and collaboration."

McNealy entitled his talk "Delivering the Participation Age" and said, "Everyone and everything is participating on the network, and thats a good thing … Our cause is to eliminate the digital divide."

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McNealy said despite the fact that more than 3 million people a week are getting on the Internet, by 2007 that would still mean that "three out of every four people will not be on the Net."

However, McNealy said he believes Sun has "some interesting technologies and strategies around open source" that can help bridge the digital divide.

One such strategy is Suns support for the education community, which McNealy called "one of the most important communities we have."

McNealy said Suns integrated software platform, JES (Java Enterprise System), has more than 1.1 million subscribers, and 40 percent of major universities use JES. "It all works together, no assembly required, no IBM Global Services necessary."

McNealy did a parody of a college yearbook where he identified Sun products under different headings. Under "Most Likely to Change the World" he listed the Sun Grid offering of grid services for $1 per CPU hour.

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