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50 Open Source Tools That Replace Popular Education Apps

Open source educational software is rapidly gaining adoption in a wide array of teaching environments.
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The educational community has discovered open source tools in a big way. Analysts predict that schools will spend up to $489.9 million on support and services for open source software by 2012, and that only includes charges related to operating systems and learning management systems. Teachers, professors and home schoolers are using open source applications as part of their educational curriculum for a wide variety of subjects.

In addition, educators have created numerous organizations and Web sites dedicated to open source educational software, including SchoolForge, the Open Source Education Foundation (OSEF), OpenOptions, the National Center for Open Source and Education and FlossEd.org

For this list, we've collected educational apps from a variety of categories that can replace popular commercial software. In many cases, the open source options listed here offer features that aren't matched by their closed source counterparts. And while we limited our list to 50 apps, you can find many more on the Web.

Astronomy

1. Celestia replaces Starry Night

Celestia lets you view the night skies from any point on earth at any time or virtually fly through space to see the sky from any point in the known universe. Although Starry Night comes with some additional resources (a book and some videos) that add more information about space, Celestia offers the same functionality—and it's free instead of hundreds of dollars. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

2. Stellarium replaces Perseus, SkyMap Lite

While Stellarium doesn't let you fly through the universe like Celestia (above), it does let you view the night skies from any point on earth's surface at any date and time. It's so accurate, it's used by a number of planetariums, and it's better than most of the comparable commercial applications. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

3. KStars replaces Perseus, SkyMap Lite

Part of the KDE desktop, KStars offers much the same functionality as Stellarium—seeing the night sky from any point on earth at any time. It also adds some features for amateur astronomers, like the observing list, altitude vs. time tool, and the what's up tonight tool. (Note that in order to use KStars on Windows, you'll have to download KDE for Windows.) Operating System: Windows, Linux.

Art

4. Tux Paint replaces KidPix

Best for younger children, TuxPaint lets kids make their own artistic creations with a variety of stamps, drawing tools, and special effects. Because of its light footprint, it can run on old or new PCs, including tablets. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Chemistry

5. Kalzium replaces The Elements and Isotopes Kalzium offers a free guide to the periodic table, including chemical data, energy information, diagrams, and a glossary. It also includes a helpful equation solver and calculator. (Note that in order to use Kalzium on Windows, you'll have to download KDE for Windows.)Operating System: Windows, Linux.

Classroom Management

6. iTALC replaces Vision6, LanSchool, NetSupport School

Intelligent Teaching and Learning with Computers, aka iTALC, gives teachers the tools they need to manage a computer-based classroom without the high license fees of commercial software. Key features include remote control, demo viewing, overview mode, workstation locking and VPN access for off-site students. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

Educational Games

7. GCompris replaces Various JumpStart Packages, Various Reader Rabbit Packages

Kids age 2 to 10 will find a huge number of educational games to play in GCompris. It covers basic keyboard awareness, geography, algebra, reading, art and much more. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

8. ChildsPlay replaces Various JumpStart Packages, Various Reader Rabbit Packages

Aimed at pre-schoolers and kindergarteners, this app includes a variety of memory and letter recognition games, as well as classic pong and pacman. The graphics aren't as well developed as the commercial products, and it doesn't have a storyline, but the games are fun for young children. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

Foreign Language

9. ZWDisplay replaces Declan's ReadWrite Chinese

Learning to read Mandarin? Input Chinese characters, and this app will show you how to pronounce them (in pinyin) and what they mean in English. Like a flashcard application, it also remembers which words you have already learned. Operating System: Linux.

10. Step Into Chinese replaces Declan's ReadWrite Chinese

Like ZWDisplay, Step Into Chinese helps English-speaking Chinese learners recognize Chinese characters. It also includes a screensaver and flashcard mode. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.

11. Zkanji replaces JISHOP

Zkanji includes a kanji dictionary and several other helpful functions. It offers multiple search methods (including drawing characters with a mouse or tablet), a built-in study program, a tool that teaches you to draw the characters and more. Operating System: Windows.

Flashcards

12. FlashQard replaces Flash Card Manager, studyPerfect, WinFlash

Based on the Leitner Method, FlashQard lets you create "different card types for different purposes" and presents the cards in a manner designed to optimize learning. It also includes a handy "e-speak" feature that pronounces vocabulary words for you. Operating System: Windows, Linux.

13. jVLT replaces Flash Card Manager, studyPerfect, WinFlash

Designed primarily for learning a foreign language, this Java-based program includes the capabilities to track a vocabulary word's gender, part of speech, and examples of the word in use in a sentence. Other jVLT users have created pre-existing vocab lists that you can download, including English-Czech, German-French, Thai-English, French-English, practical Chinese, and several others. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.


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