Well, I am excited. I have been reading/researching open source software for a long time and finally have a spare machine to install Linux on. Our school just got 4 used laptops from Johnson Space Center and I have the go ahead to do a trial. To this point we have played around with Open Office, GIMPshop, Firefox, and to some degree Scribus but have never installed an open source OS on any of our school computers.
My goal is to install Linux on a handful of school computers in the computer lab and load them with open source software that equates with the proprietary software our students and faculty are used to. I will make signs that will be posted next to each machine explaining how they are similar and different and provide a small "Smart Card" next for every two workstations that have graphic oriented tutorials for use.
This has perhaps been the most frustrating part of this experiment. There has been a lot of press about using Ubuntu in schools and it appears to be a very reliable OS. However, for some reason the kernel did not jive with these Dell Latitude D600s we got from the government. After a little digging I found that PCLinuxOS 2007 works well without a glitch. Installation was a cinch using this distro. Normally when we have to format and install a new Windows system it is an overnight ordeal. Once I figured out how everything was to be configured PCLinuxOS took no more than an hour.
When you startup PCLinuxOS under the logo is a slogan, "Radically simple." Radical indeed. So simple everything is intuitive but still good enough to have everything I need: Office Software, Image Software, Internet Access, Multimedia Editing Software, and a Reliable File System.
Why is this so exciting?
If my trial is successful and the students take well to this new OS and to the open source software we can run on it our school district stands to save thousands of dollars. We estimate that our little school district alone would have to pay Microsoft around $70k to renew our licenses for Windows and Office. What would you do with an extra $70k? Currently our school district has three computer labs and only one of which is truly up to date. Our teachers just received new laptops but our student use equipment is either out dated or there is not enough for teachers to plan any real tech integration. If we take this money, invest a large portion of it in infrastructure (network, hubs, servers, etc.) and take portion of the money to spend on shipping slightly outdated computers from government agencies and cooperate partners we can get very close to a computer student ratio worth talking about. I have blogged here before about how I am not sure our district is ready to implement a 1:1 laptop program yet and I still feel that way but this would be the next step in that direction. Besides, the jury is still out on the effectiveness and appropriateness of a 1:1 computing. I strongly suspect the research will point us in that direction but for now I propose, at least for our school, that a 5:1 or a 3:1 program is what is best right now.
If we can put 5-10 computers in each classroom it would drastically change the way our teachers teach and our students learn. SMARTboards and high performance teacher laptops are great but they lack the engagement that hands on computing can offer. Placing the tools where we want them to be used is a huge step in becoming a school that teaches 21st century skills well. I hear almost daily from teachers, "I would use this if I knew I could get my students in the lab." Why don't we put the lab in their classroom. The other positive aspect of a 3 or 4 to 1 program would be that it would force teachers to be creative with their instruction. It promotes collaboration and differentiated instruction.