Thursday, September 30, 2010

School Daze

It is ironic that just the other day, I forwarded a "reminder" link to my boss, mentioning the success of another school district in adopting open source and Linux (and on further inspection, I actually sent info on the wrong district -- this was yet another that had adopted open source and Linux successfully).  Today, I ran across this blog post, and it has refreshed my confidence in all that is open source and that it is the right way to do things within a public institution.

In researching this post, I found that quite a lot of B.C. school districts are taking the step of adopting Linux and open source as their computing environment of choice.  So the question stuck in my mind (as it has been for over a decade now) is why does my school board make more use of Linux and open source; not just for savings, but for the expanded options it gives to the end users: the students.  Now, I know first hand there are a lot of users in a school board that need computers, but you have to remember, without the students, what the heck are they doing?

To me it just makes sense to build the whole ecosystem around acceptance.  Really, it's not unlike including French in the curriculum, or even the grudging acceptance of Macs, netbooks, iPods, iPads and other gadgets into our computing environment.  Linux adds diversity and provides options the vanilla Windows experience can't touch.  Using Linux can help students (and teachers, and administrators, and even us techs) see things in a different light.  I'm not saying it's a problem-free environment -- it still has a ways to go, just like any other operating environment -- but the problems are different and how you go about fixing them, coping with them or discovering different options to provide the same function are miles from any other environment.

We have run a pilot project to test out how well the Linux Terminal Server Project works (using the Ubuntu implementation, Edubuntu).  It has been running for 5 years on the same hardware, and just this year someone thought to buy a few new PCs and netbooks for the classroom of 15-20 students (on average).  Maintenance is generally the security updates run at the beginning and end of a semester and the "start-up" creation of user accounts.  All other computer service calls to this location are to support the Windows-based teacher laptops.

I'd say this project is a start, but it's been forgotten about.  It works out too well, so it doesn't get any attention.  When it became time to add the new equipment to the classroom, the suggestion was to just put our basic Windows image on the computers and leave it at that.  I just don't get why the acceptance of any alternative is that difficult, even when it's been working so well.

Can anyone enlighten me?

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