For his cutting-edge use of open-source software in the classroom and as a research focus, Charles Schweik, associate professor of Environmental Conservation and Public Policy, has been named one of this year’s top 50 innovators in education by the Center for Digital Education, a national research and advisory institute specializing in education technology trends, policy and funding.
Schweik joined the faculty in 1999 and was an early proponent of using wikis as a learning tool to help engage his students. In 2004 he co-founded the Open Source Laboratory, a resource for social science students and faculty. Schweik also has been actively involved in the launching of the Open Education Initiative, a project started last year by the Provost’s Office and Libraries to help reduce textbook costs for students.
Through that initiative, Schweik received two $1,000 grants from the university in 2011 to develop open-source educational materials for two of his classes. Thanks to one of the grants, Schweik published his own scholarly work online, which allowed students to use the web-based version of the course pack for free, or purchase a printed copy for only $13. The university estimates that during the 2011-12 academic year, its $10,000 total investment in open-source educational material development saved 700 students upwards of $72,000.
Schweik doesn’t only use open-source materials in the classroom, though. He is associate director of the National Center for Digital Government, and his research both relies upon and focuses on shared technologies. In a project funded by the USDA Forest Service, Schweik is partnering with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to engage everyday people in governmental and scientific efforts to collect valuable data about invasive species: Through a free smartphone app, iPhone and Android users around the state are helping locate invasive plants and pests that could harm the area’s natural resources and economy. And earlier this year, MIT Press published Schweik’s first book, Internet Success: A Study of Open-Source Software Commons, which is the result of the first large-scale empirical study examining the social, technical and institutional aspects of open-source software.
The Center for Digital Education article acknowledges that “technology does not transform learning itself. It is an aid and a tool to effective, creative instruction that only can come from properly trained and innovative instructors.” Schweik was the only educator from Massachusetts featured in the piece.