Wayne Skipper //

Why Do Open Technology Standards Matter in Education?

A woman's hands at a desk using a keyboard and mouse.

This post originally appeared on Edarabia in April 2018.

What are open technology standards? A great example of open technology standards is the Internet. The Internet is made possible because a set of common, open standards and a common language called HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) allow devices, apps, and services to work together from anywhere in the world. Without open standards, you probably wouldn’t be reading this or anything else on the web.

In the world of technology, open standards give people from anywhere in the world the ability to interact, share, and collaborate through compatible technology systems.

In education, open technologies refer to open source software, open standards, and open hardware that are used by leaders to plan, develop, and evaluate process associated when using open technologies.

Let’s start simply and talk about what the word “standard” means in the world of technology. Picture a bicycle: just from the name, you know that something needs to have two tires to be considered a bicycle. One tire makes it a unicycle, and three, a tricycle. The concept of a technical standard is similar to the idea of a document stating bicycles need to have two tires, except it gives rules for technical systems. Put more abstractly, a standard is a document with information and criteria about how a technical system ought to function to be considered an example, or implementation, of that standard.

Technical standards help end users to know what to expect from a product. Let’s revisit the bicycle example again. We can expect every implementation of the bicycle standard to have some traits in common: two tires, a seat, pedals, a braking system and handlebars for steering. Similarly, technical standards help end users know the basic features that should be available to them in any given implementation.

We can also expect that if we want to swap out the seat, the part of the frame that holds the seat stock is the right size to accept other seat stocks. If we need to change the wheels, we can expect the frame is built to attach to most bicycle tire rims. In this same way, technical standards ensure a consistent structure in implementations so that other technical systems can predictably interact with them. Being able to interact predictably with other systems is called interoperability.

Although they are very useful, some technical standards are not available to everyone. Closed technical standards are not publicly available and require the purchase of a license if you want to build software that implements the standard. A closed standard allows the owner to charge for their product and control exactly how it is used.

An open standard is available to everyone and anyone may implement it without needing to purchase a license. Open standards are usually being continually reviewed and improved upon, so they encourage innovation and cooperation in the tech world. Since they are open, they benefit everyone instead of being limited to just the people who purchase a license. Open Badges is a digital credential and an open standard which signals learning achievements.