The COVID-19 Pandemic has sharply challenged traditional higher education institutions to move their offerings wholly, or very significantly, online. In what is widely perceived as an existential crisis for higher education as a whole, uncertainty has become the new normal. For higher education information technology, that general uncertainty is compounded by widely-used commercial-proprietary software. Will the “sweetheart licensing deals” offered by proprietary vendors early in the pandemic be maintained? How long for? How will this impact cost and the capability to innovate to meet new challenges? With technology now central to the existence of higher education institutions, can we accept a future where innovation is constrained to proprietary software that is effectively invisible to us, and subject to vendor-provided modification only?
Open source software can help higher education institutions shape their responses to the pandemic. Freedom from restrictive licensing, enabling institutional and collaborative innovation with no license costs, allow flexibility not available to institutions using commercial-proprietary software. How does open source work? What are the pitfalls and challenges? This paper will reflect the real-world experience of the open source Apereo Community in addressing these and other questions.