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Joshua Pearce on Open Hardware for Education

Gareth Halfacree

While we focus a lot on the benefits Arduino and other open hardware projects bring to the hobbyist, there's a market which can benefit even more from the ethos: education. Joshua Pearce, the lettered director of the Open Sustainability Technology Research Group at Michigan Tech University, has written over on our friends SparkFun's blog about how the Arduino project is benefiting school science labs operating under ever-smaller budgets. Aside from the obvious low cost and inherent educational flexibility of Arduino-based lab kits like our own ARDX Starter Kit for Arduino, Joshua argues - correctly, in our view - that the very nature of open-source software and open hardware gives them a leg-up over proprietary equivalents by allowing students to share their work and make real-world contributions of their own, rather than just by-the-book busywork that will disappear when the course is over. Combined with low-cost small-scale manufacturing hardware - Joshua specifically mentions the RepRap 3D printer, but the argument applies equally to hobbyist-level laser cutters, CNC mills and other devices - that's an educational experience second to none.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when you alter an open-­source design you are obligated to share your improvements with the rest of the community under the open-­source licenses. This can be built into the curricula so that by taking the extra step of sharing all of these designs, students can make a concrete contribution to help the acceleration of open-­source scientific hardware for everyone. This can be a powerful motivating factor for students.

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