In 1997, David Moore, a sophomore at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., got together with then senior Ben Krefting and developed an interactive Web site for the school, called CAPOnline.
Most schools today have Web sites, but this one was different, because the high level of interactivity and personalization enabled students, teachers, and parents to keep up with assignments, upcoming events, and each other.
The project went over big -- teachers loved having the ability to distribute handouts and notices electronically, and students actually used the site to discuss class topics. At its peak, the site was logging some 2,900 hits every day.
Later that year, Moore improved the project when he rewrote it in C and released it as an Open Source project. Now that he's a sophomore at California Institute of Technology, he still spends a lot of time on the project he adopted and renamed Authenticated User Community (AUC).
"The feedback I get from people is what keeps me interested," says Moore. "As far as Open Source is concerned, I'm not really trying to make a case for it in education. I'm simply trying to be the best product available."
Moore must be doing something right, because the AUC project is a major success among its peers. Several developers have started Open Source education projects, and many of them languish, apparently victims of apathy or ignorance from the educational community they were created to serve.
Says Moore, "I think school administrators need to be made aware of the benefits of Open Source. If these projects had a liaison organization accustomed to dealing with school systems, there would be more success. If a commercial entity ... dealt with [the] traditional channels of acquisition, I don't think we could lose."
Moore thinks that students, teachers, and technical people should be part of the process when equipping schools with computers and the software systems to run them. Administrators are not aware of the financial and educational benefits of open source applications -- they need to be convinced that Microsoft is not the only game in town, he says.
"That's why projects like AUC are more successful overseas -- because the United States system of education has far more bureaucracy than foreign systems," says Moore.
In fact, AUC is so popular in Europe that the software, still in beta, is available in five languages. The software has been downloaded from its home at Sourceforge more than 3,000 times. Moore doesn't seem surprised by the success of the project, probably because of his belief that open source and education are natural partners.
Says Moore, "Education is not about business decisions. It's about imparting the responsibility of learning to students. Open Source is similar, in that a developer takes a risk by investing time in a project in the hopes that users will find it useful. It's natural for students to have exposure to this kind of project, because it's the kind of philosophy they need to have."