The visuals used in this post are available here at the Free Software Foundation’s Resources section and are available in several languages, including Brazilian Portuguese.
The importance of Free Software in education
When our institute cancelled all on-campus activities in March 2020, I began looking for more free software options to keep in touch with my laboratory students and collaborate on documents and data. Although we regularly use e-mail, sometimes a quick text message is all that’s needed. On the other hand, longer, more detailed discussions take place using videoconferencing, sometimes sharing files or the screen.
The Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados Pessoais (LGPD or LGPDP), Lei nº 13.709/2018 (General Personal Data Protection Act, in English) has recently come into effect in Brazil. Publicly funded schools, institutes and universities, but also public hospitals, state and local authorities and so on, that have contracts with Google and Microsoft will have even more legal responsibility for the privacy and security of their clients’ data. In the meantime, these very data may be used in surveillance capitalism, which should be outlawed since this ‘business model’ exploits intimate personal information and experiences for profit, often without properly informed consent.
Public universities in Brazil have a good tradition of defending democracy, human rights and diversity. Big Tech or GAFAM+ (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, plus others) algorithms and proprietary software platforms threaten democracy, promote hate speech on race, gender and human diversity, facilitate attacks on those who defend the environment, spread fake news and misinformation, all for enormous profit. Public universities must continue to defend all forms of freedom by also defending the use of free software in education (see here for an example) and rejecting proprietary platforms.
Teaching remotely with free software
I am teaching remotely using free software, following advice on the FSF website here and here. For small, discussion based classes and tutorials (up to 15 participants), I am using a private instance of Jitsi Meet configured with an external instance of Etherpad for collaborative document editing. For larger classes, I am streaming with Open Broadcaster Studio (OBS), which is non-interactive, but afterwards small, interactive tutorial group meetings may be held with Jitsi Meet.
I use the Gnome Desktop extension Draw On Your Screen for annotating and highlighting documents, images and code execution. For a general, multiplatform, free software, screen annotation tool, I recommend OpenBoard.
Presentations can take place on Jitsi Meet with just the few essential participants and streaming via OBS to a larger audience on the Internet. There is plenty of free software for remote teaching, the main problems here in Brazil are student access to the Internet and the quality of the connection, which varies from place to place and from day to day.
Other free software that I use and recommend
Jami for secure communication, mostly instant messaging (IM)
Signal Private Messenger for secure IM, video, audio calls, file and link sharing
Syncthing for secure file synchronisation
Emacs for just about anything!