MyNotes - Schools Combine Netbooks, Open Source

What a great article championing the benefits of low-cost netbooks and free, open source software. Often, we see school districts deploying netbooks with expensive operating systems and software, far beyond what teachers/educators need to get the job done. That's not to say there isn't a place in school for proprietary systems, because there is when considering high end digital editing tools, but education should avoid spending money on the most expensive in technology when a free, open source tool will get the job done.

Boycott software vendors who won't design their product to work on GNU/Linux operating systems (e.g. UbuntuLinux)...they are here to provide service to schools, not the other way around!

Some of the key points out of Education Week's article that jumped out at me include the following:
  • “People freak out when they see new interfaces
  • Jim Klein, the director of information services and technology for the 11,000-student Saugus Union School District, learned how to execute a successful Linux-based netbook program. When he launched a 1,700-netbook program two years ago, his goal was to have seamless and efficient implementation that would not require additional support staffing.He designed a system that makes it possible for anyone—tech directors, principals, and teachers—to replicate his 1-to-1 program without having to start from scratch.
  • Klein’s mix provides more than 50 free educational applications and tools, including OpenOffice Word and Spreadsheet, Firefox and Google Chrome browsers, Gimp and TuxPaint graphics design, Tux Math and Multiplication Puzzle games, Virtual Microscope, KWordQuiz, Audacity audio editor, and RhythmBox Music.Because it is a lighter operating system than Windows or a Mac, students do not have to wait for it to preload automatic features
  • Windows requires a lot of tech support to keep it running,” Klein says. “It’s not terribly reliable.”
  • For 1-to-1 computing, Linux-based netbooks are attractive because tech directors can install them for a fraction of the cost of providing Windows-based laptops or desktops.
  • “Anytime you are introducing a change, you are introducing a cost"
  • Dan Maas, the chief information officer for the 15,500-student Littleton public school system in Colorado, started installing Ubuntu-based netbooks in his schools after the district identified student writing as an area it wanted to improve.
  • Maas says that like any technology, netbooks act as a force multiplier—not the force. “It is really good instruction that takes the netbook out of the box and makes it powerful
What will it take for YOUR school or district to blend low-cost netbooks and free software to transform how you approach teaching and learning? What's holding you back? Fear of the work of learning how to get it done because it's a radical departure from what you've done? That's just not good enough.

Source: Education Week's Digital Directions: Schools Combine Netbooks, Open Source:

Published Online: October 15, 2010

The 222-student school, now wireless, gave every student in grades 6-8 a netbook computer to use in language arts, history, science, and math classes.

Students will carry their netbooks from class to class, access materials from the Internet to supplement lessons from their textbooks, and create class blogs, videos, and Web pages.

The marriage of low-cost netbooks and open-source technologies to create 1-to-1 computing programs is a relatively new development. Open-source technologies, which evolve when individuals voluntarily contribute their creativity and knowledge to online networks of innovation, were once thought to be too free-wheeling and untested for schools. But that is now changing as schools look for more creative and cost-effective ways to use technology.

“[Open source has] finally gained enough notoriety that people are starting to take a look at it,” says Randy Orwin

Though Orwin is a strong advocate for open-source software and systems, he offers a cautionary tale about adopting them too quickly and broadly. When he was a technology director for the Bainbridge Island School District in Washington state, he installed Linux, an open-source operating-system alternative to Microsoft, on the district’s desktops to save licensing costs. The change created disruptions most educators were not ready to handle.

“People freak out when they see new interfaces,” Orwin says. “You end up fighting against people’s love for the previous product.”One of the pioneers of marrying netbooks and open-source tools is Jim Klein, the director of information services and technology for the 11,000-student Saugus Union School District in Santa Clarita Valley, Calif. Through extensive planning and documentation, Klein learned how to execute a successful Linux-based netbook program. When he launched a 1,700-netbook program two years ago, his goal was to have seamless and efficient implementation that would not require additional support staffing.He designed a system that makes it possible for anyone—tech directors, principals, and teachers—to replicate his 1-to-1 program without having to start from scratch. He developed a template of sorts that makes it possible for schools to set up netbooks for the classroom.

The Web tool he created and offers for free allows people to download a complete package of education-oriented applications and software programs onto a USB flash drive. The package is based on an open-source operating system called Ubuntu—a variation of Linux that is specifically designed for netbooks. While less than four gigabytes in size, Klein’s mix provides more than 50 free educational applications and tools, including OpenOffice Word and Spreadsheet, Firefox and Google Chrome browsers, Gimp and TuxPaint graphics design, Tux Math and Multiplication Puzzle games, Virtual Microscope, KWordQuiz, Audacity audio editor, and RhythmBox Music.Because it is a lighter operating system than Windows or a Mac, students do not have to wait for it to preload automatic features

“The boot time for Linux is so fast, students don’t have to think about whether they are going to use their computer,” Inman says. “They just use it like they would a cellphone.”Linux-based netbooks are also advantageous because they require less support time than other operating systems. “Windows requires a lot of tech support to keep it running,” Klein says. “It’s not terribly reliable.”For 1-to-1 computing, Linux-based netbooks are attractive because tech directors can install them for a fraction of the cost of providing Windows-based laptops or desktops.“Anytime you are introducing a change, you are introducing a cost,” he says, emphasizing that new tools take time to learn, implement, integrate, and support. one of the better reasons to choose open-source approaches is that they allow students, tech directors, and teachers to be part of a development process that is constantly improving.

“The value of open source is like the value of free speech. It’s about freedom of innovation, not free software.”Dan Maas, the chief information officer for the 15,500-student Littleton public school system in Colorado, started installing Ubuntu-based netbooks in his schools after the district identified student writing as an area it wanted to improve. While the district’s students had scored above average on state achievement tests, their writing performance was consistently weak. District leaders viewed the use of netbooks as a way to improve writing skills.Online-publishing tools like blogs motivated students to communicate with peers in New Zealand and Sierra Leone. “They are writing, and they don’t want to stop writing,” Maas says. “They have an audience that is authentic.”Maas says that like any technology, netbooks act as a force multiplier—not the force. “It is really good instruction that takes the netbook out of the box and makes it powerful,” he says.



Patricia Mohr is a freelance writer in Washington who specializes in covering education, technology, and globalization.


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