Teachers and school administrators are having to get creative about finding quality educational software they can afford. Jack Wallen introduces 10 topnotch open source solutions to help manage and administer educational programs and teach children of all ages.

Good educational software is hard to come by. And with ever-tightening budgets, it only makes sense that many schools are turning to Linux and open source software to save money. Most people have no idea how many outstanding educational applications there are for the Linux operating system. In the following list, you should find at least one application that’s just right for your situation.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: ATutor

If you are a teacher, you should definitely look into ATutor. It’s online software that allows you to manage your courses and gives students a means of keeping up with what’s going on with course work. With ATutor, you can post assignments, tests, grades, and more. Students can create accounts and keep track of their particular classes and assignments. Students and teachers can also keep in touch with one another via email and messaging. ATutor lets you create workgroups to group students for projects, classes, etc. Once you deploy ATutor, you will find your teaching life much more organized, and your students will thank you for it.

2: iTalc

iTalc is a powerful didactical tool that allows you to watch and control computers for educational purposes. You can show demos and even lock computers to get the attention of your students. iTalc will also allow you to reboot or shut off machines remotely. And unlike other more costly solutions, iTalc is free and released under the GPL. iTalc also supports Linux and Windows XP and will soon support Windows Vista.

3: Online Grades

Online Grades allows teachers to post students’ grades and attendance online. It takes exports from many popular gradebook apps (such as Easy Grade Pro and Gradekeeper) and displays them online. Online Grades gives each student/parent, teacher, and/or administrator his or her own unique login, to keep security high. A parent with more than one child in a school using Online Grades will need only one login for all of their children. Online Grades was originally based on Basmati and is released under the GPL. The cost for this system? $0.00. You will find different areas for administrators, faculty, students, and parents.

4: Open Admin for Schools

Open Admin for Schools is an outstanding open source application that allows schools to do full student administration, including enrollment/withdrawal, student reports, attendance, schedules, report cards, fees, medical reports, and discipline. Open Admin is broken into four sites: Administration, Teachers, Parents, and Special Education. Each site is tailored to meet the needs of that specific group. One powerful aspect of Open Admin is that it allows administrative types easy access to the demographics of their school. With competition being a big issue in schools, knowing your demographics can keep you ahead of the curve.

5: FET

FET simplifies the complicated scheduling of K-12 and university schedules. It uses a heuristic algorithm to take these things into consideration: days per week, hours, subjects, activities, teachers, years, groups, subgroups, buildings, rooms, and time/space constraints. After you enter all of the necessary data, FET will run the algorithm against it. If a scheduling problem occurs, FET will show you the problem so you can make corrections. FET is available for Linux, Windows, and OS X.

6: GCompris

GCompris is geared toward educating children ages 2 to 10 through various activities and games. Some of the activities are focused on helping children better understand how to use a computer; others focus on standard subjects, such as: math, algebra, science, geography, and reading. Currently, GCompris has more than 100 activities. And since it’s open source, you can add to it and share your additions (if you have the ability to do so). If you are interested in developing for GCompris, the download includes full documentation that describes the internals of the system.

7: Edubuntu

Edubuntu is a Linux distribution geared specifically for educational environments. It includes educational software, tools, content, and themes. Edubuntu is based on Ubuntu 8.10, so it will enjoy longterm support. The applications that ship with Edubuntu include Dia, GCompris, Gobby, Gnu Paint, Inkscape, iTalc, kalgebra, Kalzium, Kbruch, Kig, and kmplot, among others. For anyone looking for an education-focused operating system, Edubuntu certainly makes the grade.

8: KStars

KStars is a desktop planetarium that is part of the KDE Education project. It offers an accurate night sky simulation from any location on the planet. KStars includes over 100 million stars, 13,000 deep-sky objects, eight planets, the sun and moon, comets, and asteroids. KStars offers features for teachers and students, as well as amateur astronomers. Its outstanding features include observing lists, FOV editor, “What’s up tonight” tool, Attitude vs. Time tool, and Sky Calendar tool.

9: KWordQuiz

KWordQuiz is a flashcard-based application aimed at helping vocabulary training, but it can be applied to many other subjects. If you’re familiar with the Windows application WordQuiz, you will instantly know your way around KWordQuiz. One of the most outstanding features of KWordQuiz is that you can download data files of various subjects (anatomy, music, geography, languages, history, etc.). KWordQuiz can also read/write WordQuiz files, so any data file you have for the Windows equivalent will work on this application.

10: ChildsPlay

ChildsPlay is a suite of tools aimed at helping young children learn various maths and languages. The tools include: Memory, Letters, Numbers, SoundNPic, and many more game-oriented applications. ChildsPlay uses a plug-in system, so you can add and remove different games as they are needed.

What educational tools do you use?

Education is a critical function of the PC. And with our current economic situation, schools and educators should be looking toward open source for solutions to help manage and administer programs and teach children of all ages. This list of education-focused open source software only grazes the surface of what is available. Have you found an open source tool that has solved a problem for your students or your institution? Or do you have a need that the open source community can fill? If so, share with your fellow TechRepublic members.