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Graduation Day for Linux - page 4

The First Day of School

  • May 22, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

While the acceptance of Linux clients and servers has ultimately been positive in every school system they have helped, there have been some lessons learned along the way. The biggest challenge, acccording to Nelson, is getting the teachers on board, both with how to use the new software on a day-to-day level and also with how to teach with the lab machines.

"Computers should not be used as expensive workbooks teaching basic skills. Once we get beyond this we can deal with the questions about 'what educational software does Linux run?', Nelson explained. "Linux runs the educational software kids should be using. They should use computers just like literate adults do. They should write, use the Web for research, share email with friends and learning partners, they should evaluate information and present their conclusions with effective presentation tools. They should use computers to be creative with art and music tools. Most importantly of all, they should know that the computes will always be up and ready for use. You don't need 'Reader Rabbit' or 'Math Blaster' to do any of this."

Occasionally, the argument is raised that students are not getting the benefits of using the software that they supposedly will be using out in the real world.

"We do sometimes get the questions about having kids use the same software they will use in the marketplace. We tell them we are doing just that! We then have folks sit down and use OpenOffice and I've never failed to get a response like, 'I can use this. Is it really free? You can send this home with all your students for free?' Yes, yes, yes...," Nelson related.

Harrison fully agrees: "We need to teach concepts, not products." He added that as of now, OpenOffice.org is close enough to MS Office to teach the same skills needed for these types of applications. Besides, he added, most of their students start learning computers in the 4th grade. Who knows what products will be available when they graduate from high school?

There have been some technological hurdles as well, though they may seem rather minor to most network admins.

"We have learned a lot about how different schools use computers. Many of our workstations are out in the classrooms. The demand is more distributed in these circumstances," Nelson said. "In lab settings when 30 kids come in and all hit Enter at the same, well, the server starts working pretty hard. We've learned that you can never have enough memory. 2 or 3 gigs of RAM for a 30-user lab keeps things moving along just fine, though."

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