Sun to Open-Source Education

Sun Microsystems' CEO Scott McNealy said his company plans to leverage its open-source successes to help transform education and bridge the digital divide.

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."

/zimages/1/28571.gifSun 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.

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