Wikimedia Commons – first source for Open Content

Wikimedia Commons has almost 14 million free images for you and your students. Wikimedia is the place where Wikipedia images are stored and it’s the first place I go when looking for imagest for a presentation.

When we teach our students about ethical use of media, Wikimedia is one resource they should know about.

One of the best things about Wikimedia is that the images are categorized and documented. There is usually no ambiguity about what the photo is, who is the author and the license for re-use.

The kind of documentation is a rarity with photos you find with Google.

Don’t just consume media, contribute!

Wikimedia Commons is a great way to model collaborative learning to your students. Even with millions of images, Wikimedia still has lots of gaps.

I could imagine a lesson built around creating images for Wikimedia. Students could take pictures of something like a local historical site in your city and contribute those to Wikimedia with all the proper documentation. Wikimedia is also looking for diagrams and illustrations.

Wikimedia Commons

Description: Wikimedia Commons is a media file repository of public domain and freely-licensed educational media content.

License: Creative Commons or public domain

Alternatives: Flickr,

Rating: very useful



Three Easy First Steps Towards an Open Library

1) Install LibreOffice on your own computers. Spend an hour learning it.

Install and learn to use the LibreOffice text and spreadsheet modules. If you know Word and Excel, then you already know 95% of what you need to know to use LibreOffice.

2) Allow Assignments to be Submitted in Open Text format.

Accept assignments written in LibreOffice.  Don’t make your students use Word.  Let the class know about LibreOffice when you talk about submitting assignments. Tell them that the software is free .

3) Install LibreOffice on your library computers.

Better yet, keep a shortcut to LibreOffice prominently on the desktop (and make students search a little for MS Office). If you are assisting a student, get them started in LibreOffice rather than Word.

If your IT department doesn’t let you install software, you probably can install the portable version.  ( or Mac version)


Year of Living Open Source





I heard Sam Muirhead on the radio today.   He is a filmmaker in Berlin and he’s trying to live for a year as an OpenSourcerer.

What makes him especially interesting is that he’s not a natural DIYer, like those of us in the 0pen-source movement tend to be.

I suspect that one of his biggest challenges is going to be video.   When I decided to do grad school with only open-source tools, video was my biggest challenge.    I did edit video but it wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t professional level.

Muirhead seems to have a good sense of humor and I think his project might be fun to follow.

He isn’t just doing open-source software but at all kinds of things like open-source toothpaste and undies.


Year of Open Source


I really wanted to like Scribd but I just can’t recommend it.

I was attracted to Scribd because they use the Creative Commons licensing system and because they allow you to embed your document as flash animation on your web page.  This seems like an open and very useful system.

But, I simply could not upload my file to Scribd after wrestling with it for an hour.

The problem is that Scribd is dedicated to the PDF/Acrobat format.   This is fine if you have invested hundreds of dollars into Acrobat.  But, if you are using open-source tools, this is a huge hassle.

Of course, most kids wanting to publish a ‘zine are going to scan their ‘zines as Jpegs and want to upload those.   Scribd does not allow this!   It’s inexplicable that they would forbid the most common way to do something.

So, I can’t recommend it.


I worked on this more and finally got a PDF file created and uploaded using only open-source tool.  It wouldn’t call it extremely difficult but I would not want to teach it to a class.    Creating the PDFs was the hardest part.

Here is the embedded Scribd document:

Earth Akilter by Mercy Green


I tried doing the same thing with Google Docs and found it about as easy.

Description: A web-based publishing site that allows you to embed your documents into your website.

Tool: Scribd

License: Open-source licensing

Alternatives: GoogleDocs,

Rating: not useful

IrfanView – photo processor

There are a lot of photo editors on market, many of them open-source but I have yet to find one that does what IrfanView does so well — photo processing.

I call it processing because it doesn’t replace a full-feature editing program like GIMP (or Photoshop).

If, for example, you have 600 photos from your students that are all too big and a few too small — IrfanView can resize them with ease. The same for a bunch of photos that all are poorly exposed. Or a directory of photos that all need to be rotated. Or converted from GIF to JPEG.

IrfanView is also a very efficient file viewer where you can view a batch of photos and tweak them one-by-one. You could do this with Photoshop or GIMP but not as efficiently. It also works nicely for batch scanning.

IrfanView is not open-source but it is free for individuals. I include it here because I have not found an open-source program which replaces it.  If you decline to have the adware installed, it is as well-behaved as most open-source packages.

If your library is running Windows PCs, I consider it a must-install.

IrfanView is only for Windows but it runs fairly well in Linux using Wine (a Windows emulator). Reportedly, it can run on a Mac using a Windows emulator.


Portable version:
a photo processor for resizing, cropping, rotating, sharpening, batch-scanning, creating panoramas and much more. Many features can be done in batch mode.
free but not open-source.
many, notably GIMP.
very useful for Windows users

PortableApps (dot com)

Portable Apps As a Linux user in a Windows and Mac world, I have become very dependent on PortableApps (.com).

I have a 16gb thumb drive loaded with Mac and Windows versions of all my favorite Linux programs — most importantly Firefox and LibreOffice. There is plenty of room left for my personal documents.

Of course the computers at my university are loaded with software but using portable programs from my flash drive saves a lot of time since they have all my bookmarks and favorite plug-ins. It’s as if my home computer is available wherever I go even if have to use a Mac or Windows machine.

Running a presentation from a flashdrive using a portable application is much more reliable than running your presentation on a host machine. While my fellow classmates struggle to get their presentation running, mine runs flawlessly, just like I practiced it at home.

PortableApps could be helpful for our homeless “couch surfing” kids who have to work on borrowed computers. There is no need to install software wherever they are crashing few days.

Similarly, PortableApps can be “installed” on school computers which normally deny this privilege for users. Since PortableApps don’t change the computer’s registry, your IT department needn’t know they are there. If students are allocated a personal “Y Drive” (aka cloud drive) on a central server, the programs can be installed there as well.


PortableApps (.com)

Description: versions of popular software, tweaked to run from a flashdrive or a network folder

License: free and GPL (mostly)

Alternatives: PenDriveApps (.com)

Rating: very useful

The Five Best Places To Find Free Creative Commons Photos

MakeUseOf (.com) has a useful article on finding open-content photos.

Looking to add some images to your blog post? Obviously, I sympathize. All of the writers at MakeUseOf are on the prowl for ways to add some visual flair to our articles, but we also have to make sure we respect the rights of photographers while doing so.

That’s why we like Creative Commons content. There are a lot of places that you can find such images, some of which you may have already heard of, and others you probably haven’t. The five websites listed in this article certainly are not the only places you can find free images but they are my favorite. …read more

They mention Flickr, a favorite of mine.   They don’t mention Wikimedia Commons, another favorite.

The LibreOffice challenge — learn it this summer!

LibreOffice WelcomescreenWhy not learn LibreOffice this summer? Install it on your laptop and learn it at the beach! If you have even a passing interest in the open-source world, this is the place to start. For educators, there is no better tool.

Once you have learned it, make LibreOffice files one of the formats you accept for assignments. It could be your first step to solving the chronic problem of students giving you files you can’t read.

LibreOffice is a split from OpenOffice because of some sort of dispute. You can think of it as essentially the same product but definitely install LibreOffice rather than OpenOffice which hasn’t been updated for awhile. This may change, of course. As far as I know, all the file formats are the same. Usefully, Google Docs imports/exports to LibreOffice file formats.

The components of LibreOffice are:


A word processor with similar functionality and file support to Microsoft Word or WordPerfect. It has extensive WYSIWYG word processing capabilities, but can also be used as a basic text editor.


A spreadsheet program, similar to Microsoft Excel or Lotus 1-2-3.


A presentation program resembling Microsoft PowerPoint. Presentations can be exported as SWF files, allowing them to be viewed on any computer with Adobe Flash installed.


A vector graphics editor and diagramming tool similar to Microsoft Visio and comparable in features to early versions of CorelDRAW. It also includes features similar to desktop publishing software such as Scribus and Microsoft Publisher.


A database management program, similar to Microsoft Access.


An application designed for creating and editing mathematical formulae. The application uses a variant of XML for creating formulas, as defined in the OpenDocument specification.

(From Wikipedia

I suggest you first learn “Writer” “Draw” and “Impress”. If you are a math teacher, you’ll surely want to learn “Math.”

I use Writer the most. (I’m using it right now.) Writer reminds me of Microsoft Word 95.

For class presentations I use Impress. Nobody seems to notice that I’m not using PowerPoint. I put my presentation on a thumb drive along with a portable version of LibreOffice. While other students often struggle getting their presentations to run, mine always go flawlessly

For desktop publishing I use “Draw.” It took me awhile to learn “Draw” but I can now do almost anything with “Draw” that I did with Microsoft Publisher.

I have yet to learn “Base”. I’ve tried! The learning curve is steep.

I use “Calc” as well, but not for teaching. Like Word, it seems like Excel from about ten years ago.

Seeming like a 10 year-old Microsoft Office is not a bad thing. If you are like me, I don’t need all the fancy menus and extra features of the current version of MS Office. I find the old-style menus more intuitive. If you are super power user, LibreOffice is probably not for you.



LibreOffice Portable for your flashdrive

Description: a free office suite available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Reads and writes to MS Office and Google Docs.

License: free, GNU

Alternatives: GoogleDocs (free but not open-source)

Rating: very useful