LAMS is open source
Wilbert Kraan, CETIS staff
April 26, 2005

As promised by the roadmap that was presented last summer, the IMS Learning Design 'inspired' Learning Activity Management System (LAMS) is now available as open source software. In a ceremony at Macquarie University, a LAMS launch CD with the system, documentation and case studies was presented, and is now available as a free download.

But it's not just 'free as in beer', it's also 'free as in speech'. The GPL licence means that the full code is available for modification and customisation by any programmer, provided they hand back their improvements to the community in turn. Programmers with itchy hands and tools at the ready are advised to practice a little patience, though. The current release of LAMS is 1.0.1 - last of a line that is to be replaced by a completely refactored release in May. On the flip side, the 1.0.1 version is pretty stable.

For anyone else, the unrestricted availability of the system provides ample opportunity to explore e-learning in a new and quite unique way. Instead of focussing on presenting content to a single learner, the system is designed to let educators design collaborative learning activities for a whole group. Not unlike planning a conventional lesson, in fact. Further similarities there are the facility to wander around and see how students are getting on, whether they are physically in a classroom or not. An activity management screen shows how far each learner is in the sequence of activities that make up the whole unit, and means are available to find out how they're doing.

To explore the possibilities of the system, it is perfectly possible to install LAMS on your own desktop. The download comes with plenty of documentation and a Windows installer. UNIXes of various flavours (inc. Mac OS X) get a shell script, but some assembly is required (install your own MySQL, basically). A more traditional Mac installer is to follow with version 1.1 in May.

For those who decide that the system is what their institution requires, there are essentially two options. If there is the necessary expertise in house to maintain and customise the system, not much further is required. Any customisations and new tools to join the roster of polls, chatrooms, discussion fora and more that an institutions can contribute to the community would be gratefully accepted, of course.

If an institution does not have the capacity or inclination to figure out installation and maintenance on its own, or if they simply want the re-assurance of professional support, the commercial arm of the LAMS project aims to help out. The main means is by offering LAMS under commercial, paid-for licences in its beta partner programme, which give buyers access to a range of services. This is an increasingly widely used business model by software companies, and though it doesn't yield vast riches overnight, good companies such as Zope or MySQL have proven that solid businesses can be built on it.

Other than version 1.1, the other major future milestone on the LAMS roadmap is compliance with IMS Learning Design level A, which is scheduled for July. The LAMS makers have been involved in the effort to develop the IMS spec, but found that they couldn't implement it at the first iteration. They argue that some development of both the LAMS systems as well as the spec needs to take place to make full convergence happen. Conformance to the simpler Level A of the spec is meant as a step in that direction.

Resources

The LAMS launch CD is available from the LAMS foundation site. For those new to the system, the introductory Flash animation is highly recommended.

More information about LAMS services is available from the LAMS international site.