1. Introduction

2. Open Source in Computers and Composition

3. Defining Access

4. The Access Research Agenda

5. Access and Open Source Research

6. Conclusion: Directions and Challenges

7. References

8. A Note on Webtext Design
Access and Open Source Research

As I wrote in the previous section, I believe questions about the use of open source software, including simply the extent to which users are aware that many programs are available for no cost and can be modified at the code level, can be raised in some of the studies that Moran calls for, as well as Hawisher, Selfe, and coauthors' literacy narrative case studies. While it remains to be seen whether or not open source software can lower technology costs for institutions, it has great potential to enable individuals to have and use software they may not have been able to afford otherwise. I believe, then, that open source software can help to address the first definition of access, which concerns having a computer and software to use. Research about access and about open source can converge here, certainly; scholars can, for example, do research about global open source education initiatives such as One Laptop Per Child and Free and Open Source Software Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA).

For those interested in doing locally-based research, I believe that open source and access can be examined together productively to engage the issue of higher-order access -- advanced technological literacy that comes with not only having computer technology but also having a sophisticated understanding of how to use it. Researchers and university administrators interested in technological literacy -- of which I am one -- often most value the outcome of students' "learning how to learn" new hardware and software. This skill, this transfer of knowledge, is, I would argue, in the category of access. As far back as 1987, Paul Olson understood access in these terms (p. 202):

it is the advanced symbolic forms -- maths, languages, and music -- in which computers have the most revolutionary effects. These, of course, are exactly the kinds of skills areas which have always formed the vocational sustenance of the middle class. Given these cultural properties together with the capital, it seems most likely that computer usage will increase knowledge and status gaps in learning. This impact is likely to be especially acute since acquiring knowledge, an attitudinal disposition toward schooling, and background skills are interactive and accumulative. Hence, even where access to computers at the school level is similar, the background knowledge, understanding why a particular program may be important, and peer support will be grossly at variance.

Access in this sense is about learning interface: understanding how to use software to create texts and other projects, from one interface to the next, which is helped by exposure to an array of programs. Admittedly, with the proliferation of computer games and smart phones, and given the fact that students may have experience using Windows PCs and Apple products as well (iPods, iPhones), they already have some of this knowledge. However, as we know, those devices are not available or affordable for everyone. There will always be people who cannot afford the phones, consoles, gadgets, and games, and if we can reach those people, we can help to expose them to a variety of interfaces by showing them where to download and how to use open source programs. Taylor and Riley (2004) advocate a pedagogy based on the open source software development model, a teaching method that would not only use open source software but also cast the classroom as a small open source development community, resulting in a highly interactive and collaborative learning environment. They write:

Elements of composition classes such as peer review, collaborative authorship, and the multiple-draft process regularly parallel elements of Open Source. Whereas courses in other fields may emphasize rote learning and do not necessarily require elements like collaborative work and peer review, composition classes generally focus on production. This focus on production demands a method that not only incorporates, but explicates writing processes.

Students taught in such an environment that demands collaboration and production, while using open source software and doing focused analysis of interfaces and their similarities and differences, can heighten their level of knowledge of interface design. They can also, perhaps, be in a better and more experienced position to learn how to learn hardware and software, a sign of increased access.