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Open Source In Public K-12 Schools? 323

Posted by kdawson
from the starting-'em-early dept.
MissMachine writes "I'm a computer science major who has been recently getting involved in local grassroots politics in my county and state. I've been discussing the idea with some of my state legislatures of submitting a couple of resolutions, opening up to the idea of switching to open source software in our state's K-12 schools. I'm looking for more information/literature about this topic, open source solutions in public K-12 education, pros and cons, studies that prove or disprove many of the assumptions of open source and linux in public schools. Any help in this field?"
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Open Source In Public K-12 Schools?

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  • Helpful Link (Score:5, Informative)

    by A. B3ttik (1344591) on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:39AM (#27013113)
    This looks helpful... [k12opensource.com]
    • Forget it (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:49AM (#27013275)

      Lets face it, Linux users are probably the most intelligent people around. I mean, anyone can learn to be a plumber or electrician, or learn law and become a lawyer, or pick up biology and become a doctor, but having no social skills is something that has to come from inside, and cannot be learnt. Trying to teach OSS ideals to the average student would be a waste of time, they just aren't bright enough to get it. Indeed, as others have said before me, its not that Linux isn't ready for the desktop, people just aren't ready for Linux, and quite frankly the vast majority of the human race never will be; they simply aren't as clever as the average Linux user.

      But I'm happy about being a Linux user, happy about being in the 1% of the population intelligent enough to think for themselves and not follow the hurd. The clever people will find Linux, forget the rest, they don't matter.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        happy about being in the 1% of the population intelligent enough to think for themselves and not follow the hurd.

        Damn straight! That GNU kernel has been in development for too long to have never made a release. Following the Hurd kernel would be madness!

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Lets face it, Linux users are probably the most intelligent people around.

        And you guys wonder why others perceive the lot of you as having a superiority complex. I stopped reading right there.
      • If only I had mod points today.

        Now excuse me while I wipe the coffee off of my monitor.

      • by Omega996 (106762)
        I thought that GNU/Linux users (let's use the politically correct idiom, since you mentioned OSS ideals) *did* follow the Hurd. That was the whole point, right? I mean, you (collectively) may not use the hurd kernel, but you (again, collectively) certainly use tools derived from or built for this totally free operating system... right? ;)
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I'm not comprehending why you were modded funny. Having just tried Linux myself, I didn't find it easy to use, simply because I didn't know how to use the CLI.

        But even if you don't use Linux, you can still use open source choices like OpenOffice, VLC Media Player, Audacity, and so on in order to reduce K-12 School costs. Just abandoning MS Office for OpenOffice will save ~$70,000 for a 1000-computer school district. You can embrace OSS while still sticking with the familiar windows or macintosh environme

        • Re:Forget it (Score:4, Informative)

          by GrigorPDX (513102) on Friday February 27, 2009 @02:51PM (#27015957)

          This is key. There's more to FOSS than Linux. Tools like OpenOffice, GIMP, Inkscape, Moodle, and Drupal can offer huge savings to schools without forcing users onto a whole new desktop environment.

          Oregon is doing quite a bit with open source solutions for K-12. The Oregon Virtual School District - http://orvsd.org/ [orvsd.org] - serves more than 200 public schools around the state. It's primarily Drupal and Moodle on servers funded by the state Dept. of Education.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by eleuthero (812560)
          Abandoning MS Office will not necessarily save your district 70,000 - MS has a great non-profit discount, and depending on whether you meet certain restrictions, I was involved in one purchase for a small private school where each disk was only 15 bucks (and before someone suggests I must have bought if from someone in a back alley, this was using MS's non-profit program).
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Okay so you save $15,000 in a 1000-seat school district by switching to OpenOffice. It's still a savings and still worth doing.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ElectricRook (264648)

          Having just tried Linux myself, I didn't find it easy to use, simply because I didn't know how to use the CLI.

          This paragraph is not what this thread is about, but I think it's relevant background. Not to start a holy war, and that's where this could easily go, I'll start out by saying I don't like MS windows. I am a total UNIX GEEK, and I really hate MS windows. Every time a MS computer does something UNIX would not, I say out loud (loudly) "Thank you Mr Gates, may I have ano

        • Having just tried Linux myself, I didn't find it easy to use, simply because I didn't know how to use the CLI.

          Depending on what Linux distro and how it is setup Linux can be just as easy as Windows. Years ago Linspire [linspire.com] offered a distro that resembled Windows but was easier to use. PlugNPlay worked right out of the box, literally. I bought a new PC with Linspire preinstalled. At home I unpacked and set it up. When I booted up it automatically detected my cable modem and external hard drives. I didn't ha

        • Re:Forget it (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Jurily (900488) <jurily@@@gmail...com> on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:44PM (#27018633)

          I'm not comprehending why you were modded funny. Having just tried Linux myself, I didn't find it easy to use, simply because I didn't know how to use the CLI.

          I call bullshit. There's no way that can be an issue if you got one of the user friendly distros.

          And if you started with LFS or something, you deserve it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by CodeBuster (516420)

        and not follow the hurd

        Aha! Your secret prejudice against GNU Hurd [wikipedia.org] is finally revealed for all to see!

    • by xzvf (924443) on Friday February 27, 2009 @12:21PM (#27013779)
      http://www.k12openminds.org/ [k12openminds.org] and http://community.k12opensource.com/ [k12opensource.com] Open Source in schools is a great cost saver, but you need to support it and not just throw it over the wall. Look at K12LTSP/K12Linux or virtualized desktops. There is a good chance that e-rate funding will cover 90% of the install costs. Watch out for Education ISV's, you are taking food out of their mouths. Don't forget Moodle.
  • One thing... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:47AM (#27013225)
    One thing you really need to make sure, is that the teachers know that OSS is better. Far too often I have seen people who look at Linux and think that the school could not afford MS products or Macs, not that Linux is better than MS products. Also, make sure that you aren't losing money by going to OSS. For example, if your school just bought brand new Vista machines and Office 2007 licenses for all of them, you might be out of luck. On the other hand if your school uses P4 or slower CPUs and XP or earlier, Linux might just be the thing it needs.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by madfgurtbn (321041)

      One thing you really need to make sure, is that the teachers know that OSS is better.

      The problem with that is that OSS overall is not better for the average teacher or student. Some apps are better, some tools are better, but it is not true generally that OSS is better.

      The OP isn't clear, but from teh use of the words "switching to OSS" it seems that the topic is about legislating a full or close to full migration to OSS. That's a Very Bad Idea.

      Besides being political folly, and educationally inappropriate

      • The problem with that is that OSS overall is not better for the average teacher or student. Some apps are better, some tools are better, but it is not true generally that OSS is better.

        What a strange thing to say. Does it make more sense when you say it like this:

        The problem with that is that proprietary software overall is not better for the average teacher or student. Some apps are better, some tools are better, but it is not true generally that proprietary software is better.

        Any given user will not be using more than 99% of OSS and will not be using more than 99% of proprietary software. Which is `generally better' doesn't matter, only which is better for the task at hand.

        • Which is `generally better' doesn't matter, only which is better for the task at hand.

          Which is exactly my point. The OP is, apparently, lobbying legislaors to mandate migration to FOSS. The post I was responding to said that the argument shoudl be that FOSS is better. I argue that it is not.

          Additionally, it is not possible for schools to switch en masse to FOSS because they need many proprietary apps and an OS which will run them.

  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:49AM (#27013259)
    IMHO, the biggest problems with any computer deployment in our K-12 classrooms are always support and training. If a school district adopts Linux and open source then who is going to be the admin in charge of updates, patches, server, network, and desktop maintenance, etc? Competent Linux admins are harder to find than people with at least basic knowledge of Mac and Windows and are likely to cost more too. So unless someone within the district, who will not be any worse off for saying no, wants to step up and take on the task of learning to be a Linux admin who is going to manage the whole affair? Also, how many teachers know how to use Linux or are willing to invest the time required to learn? After all, they cannot teach their students that which they themselves do not know. These are not insubstantial difficulties.
    • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday February 27, 2009 @12:06PM (#27013543) Homepage

      If a school district adopts Linux and open source then who is going to be the admin in charge of updates, patches, server, network, and desktop maintenance, etc?

      who does it now? That is your answer. If they cant, then tell them, learn or we need to replace you. Magically they learn.

      problem is most schools dont have an answer to the question. One charter school in Detroit used Best Buy! Their school was a mess, the cisco firewall was disconnected and a linksys put in place as the Geek squad moron told them it was better. all the servers were a mess, and the network was a disaster. They hired us to fix it, then told us the contract was too much and went back to "ala-carte" random computer dweeb company for its-on-fire repairs. I think at least 50 people in southfield knows the admin passwords to all their stuff.

      • by jank1887 (815982)

        "then told us the contract was too much"

        and there's the crux of the matter. Every school I know is under a budget crunch. It should be trivial to find out what the current IT cost is for the school. You have to beat that cost. Maybe you can work in cost savings on future upgrades or something to offset support, but you'd have to be careful how to work that. Many schools have one person (often the librarian) in charge of the school computers. That person needs to be convinced to let someone show them how

    • by Fujisawa Sensei (207127) on Friday February 27, 2009 @12:11PM (#27013639) Journal

      IMHO, the biggest problems with any computer deployment in our K-12 classrooms are always support and training. If a school district adopts Linux and open source then who is going to be the admin in charge of updates, patches, server, network, and desktop maintenance, etc? Competent Linux admins are harder to find than people with at least basic knowledge of Mac and Windows and are likely to cost more too. So unless someone within the district, who will not be any worse off for saying no, wants to step up and take on the task of learning to be a Linux admin who is going to manage the whole affair? Also, how many teachers know how to use Linux or are willing to invest the time required to learn? After all, they cannot teach their students that which they themselves do not know. These are not insubstantial difficulties.

      So let me get this right; you need a competent Linux admin; while Windows/Mac don't need an admin at all, just someone with a basic knowledge?

      Windows also has the need for patches, server, network and desktop maintenance that Linux does; in addition to having more expensive license requirements; software inventory requirements; anti-virus requirements?

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        So let me get this right; you need a competent Linux admin; while Windows/Mac don't need an admin at all, just someone with a basic knowledge?

        That's correct. Windows isn't perfect, but install everything with the default settings, click "ok" on any actual message from the OS on updating, and you'll be fine. If these are for classrooms, most of the time the "server" is the teacher's computer with a share and a printer hanging off the back, and so there isn't real server administration to be done. Most e
    • the biggest problems with any computer deployment in our K-12 classrooms are always support and training

      It's very sad that that's the biggest hurdle for OSS in k-12.

      When I was in HS, we had an intro to programming class (using VB) and an advanced programming class (C++). The problem was that the cost of entry for working on projects at home was high. If you're going to teach a subject, especially in public schools, you should either provide all of the tools for free to the students to use at home or use fre

      • by Duradin (1261418)

        I'd love to see how a public school could afford the milling machines, metal lathes and presses for all the metal shop students to use at home.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I am from rural southern america and there are plenty of competant linux admins around here. just none with certifications :(

      ktouch is way better than any touch type tutor my school had :)

      gcompris keeps kids sucked in learning better than my kindergarden teacher did...

      kbruch helped me through 5th grade :)
      and kalgebra through high school...

      opensource is vital to my learning, it can help others im sure...

    • by pla (258480)
      After all, they cannot teach their students that which they themselves do not know.

      Thus explaining why we never advanced beyond harvesting naturally-ignited fires from lightning strikes?

      Like it or not, today's kids already know far, far more about technology than their teachers (college-level engineering professors excepted, and sometimes even then). In particular, the research and collaborative aspects of technology that most apply to education, kids "get" in a way only the uber-geeks among their elde
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by colesw (951825)

        Like it or not, today's kids already know far, far more about technology than their teachers

        I use to think this too, but then I realized most kids know more about gadgets or how to use the latest tech "thing" but most kids have no idea why it works, or how to fix it if something is wrong.

    • by Grayputer (618389)

      IMHO, the biggest problems with any computer deployment in our K-12 classrooms are always support and training. If a school district adopts Linux and open source then who is going to be the admin in charge of updates, patches, server, network, and desktop maintenance, etc? Competent Linux admins are harder to find than people with at least basic knowledge of Mac and Windows and are likely to cost more too. So unless someone within the district, who will not be any worse off for saying no, wants to step up and take on the task of learning to be a Linux admin who is going to manage the whole affair? Also, how many teachers know how to use Linux or are willing to invest the time required to learn? After all, they cannot teach their students that which they themselves do not know. These are not insubstantial difficulties.

      So don't use Linux. What's wrong with Gimp/Open Office/... for Windows? Most major mainstream applications that are OSS have a Windows version.

      Pretty much ALL schools could use Open Office, GIMP, VLC, Firefox, Dia, Inkscape, Moodle, Apache if they require that type of software (all have Linux, and Windows version, most have OS/X). No one says OSS only runs on Linux.

      Schools that want to run Linux can run Linux, schools that want Windows can run windows versions. Applications can be introduced one at a ti

  • by jd142 (129673) on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:52AM (#27013317) Homepage

    Make sure you understand that you have a very, very, very wide range of users. I deal with non-tech graduate students all the time(the same age as the youngest teachers in the field) and they are not tech savvy. They can myspace and youtube, and maybe superpoke someone on facebook, but that's it. Don't expect the youngest teachers to be the most techy. You'll find good, older teachers near retirement that can give you a run for your money.

    Be aware that most k-12 schools have almost no budget. They can get money for hardware/software purchases, but a *good* tech to handle some of the idiosyncrasies of F/OSS is out of their budgets. A 50 computer lab on a 4 year rotation(many schools would kill for computers that new) only costs around $15,000 a year. They'll come with an os installed and maybe a cheap educational copy of office. To hire someone, say 40k-50k a year + benefits, to put a different os on the desktops is a huge expense.

    My suggestion would be to start small. Make the decision making process open and transparent. Ask schools to have a cost/benefit analysis of the software purchases. You'll see your biggest savings in server apps, not desktops.

    See if you can get schools to have a traveling tech, consolidate servers, etc. This can be difficult. A lot depends on what state you are in. A midwestern state, with lots of small schools with low enrollments(30-50 in a graduating class) may be better served by server consolidation. On the other hand, if you are in a big city where the graduating class is bigger than the entire k-12 school I graduated from, you'll have a bigger budget and a better chance of getting an onsite tech.

    Show them security. Student records are highly confidential. Show them how spending less on the server software can increase their security.

    It really comes down to knowing your audience and what they want and expect.

    • by spinkham (56603)

      The parent is definitely pointing you in the correct direction.
      Pushing for Linux on a statewide level is probably the wrong move, but trying to start a local pilot program where you can get the school to buy into it first rather then have it legislated on them is probably a better option. If you can make it work well, you've got somthing to point to when trying to push statewide. If you can't, you've learned a lot about both the tech and the politics involved.

      Pushin slowly and getting buy-in almost always

      • Pushing for Linux on a statewide level is probably the wrong move, but trying to start a local pilot program where you can get the school to buy into it first..

        What better place for getting funding than the state legislature?

        • by spinkham (56603)

          Yes, if you can get the state legislature to fund a pilot program that's great.
          First find the correct place to run it and get the school to buy in, and then if possible get outside funding.. I'm not saying the state legislature can't be helpful, just that a pilot should be run, and it should be somewhere that has the most chance of success. Buy-in matters most, if the school is hostile to your idea it will fail no matter how much money and laws the state throws at it...

    • by PitaBred (632671)
      Enlist the kids to help, too. I know we did that in my high school. The actual district techs were all but useless, so the one on-site tech teacher had a few of us in an independent study class that we fixed the issues we could around the school, basically telling teachers that the printer had to be on before it would print, fixing local computer issues and so on. It takes a lot of the load off of your suggested traveling tech so he can concentrate on the big problems.
  • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:53AM (#27013343)

    You have an entrenched base of Mac and Windows-teaching teachers in the K-12 system (and *nothing* says "entrenched" like a US Public School System teacher). Who's going to convince the union that they should switch their curriculum to an Open OS and Open Apps? You? Stallman? And since the majority of parents (and teachers) view K-12 computer class as akin to Home Economics or Auto Shop (i.e., teaching the kids something "practical, real-life, that they can use") where will that sudden groundswell of support for open software come from? The children, who are anxious to play all those linux-based games? Oh, wait...

    This is one change that, if it comes at all, will not arise up out of the schools, but downward from business. When the moms and dads get linux-friendly at work, and can see the value of their children learning the apps in "computer shop," you may see some change.

    • by rpillala (583965)

      The change that's come downward from business is all Microsoft all the time. Try again. Teacher unions don't set curriculum any more than than they plan the budget. Frankly, I try and use as much FLOSS in my classroom as I can, so that I can recommend the programs to my students. I can't recommend office or photoshop because of the price tag. Not that openoffice and GIMP are drop-in replacements by any means, but for what most of the students want to do (type up school assignments and screw around with

    • by greg_barton (5551) *

      Who's going to convince the union ...

      Way to weasel out by blaming a conservative boogyman.

      Step 1) identify problem
      Step 2) blame union
      Step 3) ...
      Step 4) throw up hands and give up

      Teacher's unions have absolutely zero input into curriculum. None.

  • by NotBornYesterday (1093817) * on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:54AM (#27013361) Journal
    Admittedly, I don't know many K-12 IT folks who are open-minded about FOSS & Linux. There is a guy a few towns away from me Chris Dawson who writes a blog on ZDnet that addresses his concerns and experiences. Here [zdnet.com] is a blog that talks about the subject. Browse around some of his back editions, you'll find more info.

    I don't know of any such research and studies specifically, but I'd suggest that asking educators and their IT folk about what problems they are trying to solve before offering a solution. Are they trying to run specific Windows-only software? Does that software have a Linux equivalent (browser/office apps)? Can it be run under WINE with no problems? Look at their infrastructure to see if a thin client/LTSP solution for classroom PCs might save them electricity and upgrade costs over the long run.

    Do a pilot program in a couple schools, and use them as the basis for further proposals to legislators and other school districts.
  • by eln (21727) on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:54AM (#27013363) Homepage

    You have a bit of a chicken and egg problem when it comes to open source in K-12. The argument (and it's a good one) for using Windows in schools is so kids will be familiar with it, which is critical in the workplace since 99% of workplaces uses Windows extensively. At the same time, workplaces aren't going to switch to Linux because 99% of their potential employees know only Windows.

    Of course, in theory more workplaces would eventually start to move to Open Source if more students came out of school knowing how to work in that sort of environment, but most schools don't want to take that gamble. If the schools did switch everyone to Linux, for example, but the vast majority of the workplace is still on Windows, you now have a bunch of people entering the workforce that are ill-equipped to work with the technology therein, and your school takes the hit for not properly preparing them. Likewise, if you're a business, you have a disincentive to switch to Linux because then you'd have to spend millions training people who grew up using Windows how to use it. That isn't even taking into account the old problem that all the software companies develop for Windows first and, usually, only.

    Saving money is an argument that usually works very well in the cash-starved education system, but when it runs up against the need to make kids into well-qualified workers, things get messy.

    • by nschubach (922175)

      That's why you train kids to use the computer in generic ideas instead of specific operations. One could argue that if you trained all the kids on XP/2K and Windows 7 was the OS they would be faced with in the workforce, there's just as much of a learning curve.

    • by MightyYar (622222)

      Of course, there's also no guarantee that Windows will forever be found in the workplace. When I was in school, we had Apple ][e computers. My high school had some Apples, but mostly some new-fangled 286 machines. By the time I graduated high school, there were a smattering of Windows machines. My college was exclusively Macintosh. My first co-op job used Windows 3.11. Windows 95 started to trickle in during my 2nd and 3rd co-op stints, and by graduation everyone was pretty much on Windows 95 and Apple had

    • The argument (and it's a good one) for using Windows in schools is so kids will be familiar with it, which is critical in the workplace since 99% of workplaces uses Windows extensively

      No, it's a terrible argument. K-12, as I understand it (it's a US term, and I'm not intimately familiar with the US educational system), ends at age 12. This is a minimum of 6 years before they are likely to start any kind of office job and more likely ten years if they go to university. When I was 11, I was taught MS Works and MS Word 2.0, because `that's what they use in real offices'. A decade later, StarOffice and Microsoft Office were both very different from the systems I was taught at school.

      Sti

  • by MISplice (19058) on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:55AM (#27013381)

    They are currently working on a similar process to get a unified platform created with Linux to lower the costs in schools. I know they have been working on it the last 2 years but do not know the status of the project currently.

  • by profaneone (316036) on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:55AM (#27013389)

    http://www.classroom20.com/profile/AlexInman

  • by Jonathan Blocksom (139314) on Friday February 27, 2009 @11:58AM (#27013425) Homepage

    I sell a closed source educational software product and I've seen the insides of a lot of schools. I know that any teacher or school IT coordinator is going to hate to see their known infrastructure replaced at the whim of the state legislature by something they had no say in.

    You need to be talking to the people in the schools first, not the people making the laws. Odds are you can find some problems that Open Source software can help with and a few IT coordinators who are on board with it. Then evangalize your local success, highlighting money saved and better student performance, and you'll start opening up a lot more people's minds to open source software.

    But top-down through the politicians is not the way to go (case in point). [laptop.org]

    If you really want to change the landscape, though, find a way to actually fund open source educational software development. It's a shame that we don't have something like a PBS for educational software. I'd much rather write software that everyone can have for free.

  • In my limited exposure to K-12 systems I have noted that in every district I've seen, there has been a software package in use for grade/attendance tracking, etc. that requires either Windows or Mac. Aside from the non-trivial issues of training, we really need an open-source alternative to the proprietary systems for this that are out there now. Of course, I'm no expert and there very well may be an open source project. If so, I'd be interested because the cost savings to my local school district would
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Duradin (1261418)
      <FOSS Rorschach> The teachers will cry out: Fix this bug! And I'll whisper: Code it yourself.</FOSS Rorschach>
    • How complex is tracking grades and attendance? The school where my mother taught did it using a trivial spreadsheet (my school did it with paper books). Are there really software packages for doing this? What value do they actually provide?
  • My $.02 (Score:2, Interesting)

    Hi,

    I was involved in one such project in Finland over ten years ago. At this time Linux was just starting to take off but was robust enough to be used even then. We had one server (NFS, bootp, email, web etc.) with over 100 PC hooked up to it (we also built the basic local area network there with students; 50 ohm coax at that time ;-). Students could connect the machine using dialup (and our outside internet connection was 64kb/s!). Most computers in individual class rooms were running windows but we had tw

  • Means to an end (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rinisari (521266) * on Friday February 27, 2009 @12:09PM (#27013619) Homepage Journal

    For a second, I thought I submitted this question. You sound a lot like me!

    I fancy myself knowledgeable, so I'll share.

    The spread of open source software must come as a means to an end, not simply as an edict from the state legislature or DoEd. Remember that legislators move slow and what they write is law. The DoEd moves even slower. Campaign locally--get some success stories at one or two districts, then work on the DoEd and beyond. If you really want to, get yourself elected or appointed to the school board and work from within. However, watch conflicts of interest, as those are a political downfall.

    Saving money on licenses for software should be a primary talking point for any advocacy of open source software, not just in education.

    It is probably best to work in phases. In the first phase, do top-down, easy replacements: Firefox, OpenOffice. In the second phase, identify other education domain-specific software which needs to be replaced and try to find replacements. In the third phase, try a small lab with Linux and all non-replaced software running with Wine.

    There will be software which simply doesn't work on Linux. A part of the planning is figuring out how to handle those cases. Photoshop cannot be replaced with GIMP, no matter how much anyone would have you believe this. GIMP suffices for many, many things, but Photoshop has a stranglehold which GIMP cannot ever break (if you don't know why, you've never worked in a printing or graphic design place).

    Do not push Linux as a part of the first phase. It's too much of a change at once and could put a bad taste in administrators', teachers', students', and parents' mouth.

    A smart move may be to convince some intrepid students to be the first to switch at home, thus proving that the students are capable of using open source software for educational tasks. Do the same with a few teachers.

    Interoperability is key. If student would need to work on something at school then take it home, the student must have access to the same software in both places.

    A point to hit for the state legislatures is the local developer factor. Buying Microsoft software benefits Redmond, Washington. Paying for open source software may benefit local developers, especially if there is a provider of Linux support nearby.

    In summary, the my heaviest point is this: means to an end, not a solution looking for a problem.

  • I wish you luck (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bogaboga (793279)

    With all the shortcomings in Open Source's ability to open Microsoft Office's documents, I wish you luck.

    In my experience, school officials are so biased against anything not Microsoft that convincing them is almost impossible. I wish you luck man.

    This KDE developer has something [blogspot.com]that would interest you.

    • With all the shortcomings in Microsoft's ability to open Microsoft Office's documents, I wish you luck.

      Its like no one remembers xp .doc's verses 95 .doc's, and don't get me started with .docx..

      There is no guarantee that MS will be compatable with itself, much less that any of its programs will use the same interface, so why bother teaching Word 95 by wrote to someone who will never see it again?

      Unless you believe that every school will get Window's 7 computers with the newests MS Office, then we shou
  • The site http://k12ltsp.org/ [k12ltsp.org] discusses the how and why of a charter school that switched to Open Source, running decent servers on the back end, and dumb/cheap clients on the front end. There is quite a bit of discussion on the site about the benefits, and challenges that you would face.

  • Not again... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jjeff1 (636051) on Friday February 27, 2009 @12:33PM (#27013963)
    This pops up on slashdot every couple of months. Let me outline the reasons this is difficult from the perspective of one school. It sounds like you're trying to push forward an unfunded mandate. You're going to get a lot of pushback once people realize what you're trying to do.

    - Apps. Educational software is often poorly written, and is written for mac and windows, not linux. One of the k-12 schools I work with has 350 applications, perhaps 330 which would have to be replaced under your plan. The K-5 students don't use openoffice, they use Reader Rabbit, there is no OSS substitute, and forget about making it work under wine. 6-12 use some generic office type apps, but also educational software. Keep in mind that entire curriculum and courses are sometimes tied to an app. You're not just replacing an app, you're asking teachers to re-write their curriculum. We're not just talking about typing software, we need software that keeps track of students performance and can run reports showing progress, comparing classes, etc...

    - Hardware. IT budgets in schools are often small. You can get E-Rate money for some servers and network gear, but printers, digital cams, etc... are often old. Will your hardware work with Linux? What about the hardware your teachers use without your knowledge. Can you afford to replace it? If you replace old printers, you'll end up throwing away all your stock of ink, plus the ink you didn't know the teachers were hoarding. Some hardware is directly tied to an app for a class, you'll have to throw it away, you run into the same curriculum issues as with the software.

    - Support. You'll need to support it. This means replacing or training your existing (unionized) staff. My experience is that schools typically employee underqualified staff. Clicking on things is rough, editing text files is really rough. If the staff can't handle the new tasks, can you replace them? This is a union and politics problem, and not an easy one.

    - Training. You need to retrain teachers and staff. You'll again run into union issues, teachers are only required to do x hours of professional development per year, they simply won't take training classes, no matter how easy you make it. Keep in mind that teachers are continually asked to do more work with the same or less time/money, and you'll be asking them to relearn to do things. You might not be making any friends here.


    Here how this does work, it'll take a few years...

    First, do your TCO studies, show how there are no licensing issues. Licensing is a huge headache, solving that issue will win you friends it makes rolling out apps faster. Make sure the administration is onboard and working toward your goal. Doing all this is pointless if the superintendent comes back from a conference and decrees that everyone should have application X, which only works under Windows.

    Modify your technology plan to require that any purchased software is web based and standards compliant. I've worked with "web based" apps that only work on IE, or require special plugins and etc... You'll end up losing a lot of functionality.

    Take existing apps for which there are no good web based substitutes and see if they work with wine.

    Roll out both of the above to one or two labs. Run them that way for at least a month. Make sure that your lab has an assigned lab aide, someone who takes ownership of the lab and is physically present when classes are using it. Keep on top of things, people probably won't report problems. When there are problems, solve them quickly.
    • by e2d2 (115622)

      This pops up on slashdot every couple of months

      Thank you.

      But either a. These people are too lazy to search Google for the answer or b. This is just another softball lobbed by slashdot to stir "conversation" on this dead horse.

      Ask slashdot seems to go in cycles like this:

      1. How can I get OSS used here?
      2. Are there any OSS tools that do X. Im too fucking dumb to search
      3. How can I get OSS used here?
      4. Are there any OSS tools that do X. Im too fucking dumb to search
      5. How can I get OSS used here?
      6. Are there a

  • When I was in high school, all of the computers were extremely locked down (couldn't do anything except internet + word processing). It sucked. I'm not sure that schools would be willing to adopt a platform unless they'd be able to lock it down similarly (for reasons they'd cite as security, cost, whatever). Presenting up front the ways that you can control the user experience might be a good way to sell open source.

    (to be really honest, my initial reaction was: no! open source software can't be locked d

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by GameMaster (148118)

      I think that really depends on the school district. When I went to school in NY state (between NYC and Albany) security was pretty lax in most of the computer labs. The only issue we had was with one of the crazier school board members trying to ban internet access from the schools because of the possibility for viewing improper stuff (he actually argued that a 1950's education was good enough to put people on the moon, to which we asked if he was suggesting we go back to using slide-rules). The irony wa

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pwizard2 (920421)

      When I was in high school, all of the computers were extremely locked down (couldn't do anything except internet + word processing). It sucked. I'm not sure that schools would be willing to adopt a platform unless they'd be able to lock it down similarly (for reasons they'd cite as security, cost, whatever). Presenting up front the ways that you can control the user experience might be a good way to sell open source.

      If user accounts are set up properly, there is no need to lock the system down. (the defau

  • I'm a Linux user who did computer support for a K-8 school for a number of years. Frankly, Windows is an incredible mess and virtually unsupportable. But Unix probably is not an answer -- at least for desktops. There are a number of issues.

    Many teachers -- especially in lower grades -- have a substantial investment from their not very generous classroom discretionary budgets in CDs of various Windows 3 era educational software. I have never tried to run any of it under WINE, but given that much of it ba

  • Why decide on what software to use based solely on a single criterion? Of course open source should be used in schools. And closed source should also be used in schools. And big programs, and little ones. And green ones and red ones.

    Use open source where it is appropriate. If the school wants to use Microsoft Office because that is a great program and it is available on Mac and Windows, and that is good enough: fine! It's not a security issue, so who cares? On the other hand, if Office is too expensi

  • One of the primary focuses of my business is to deploy Linux LTSP in schools. From my experience so far, it's been absolutely great for the students (and the district's budget). They were on the verge of having to upgrade all 7 schools' computer labs, classroom PCs etc. for Windows Vista (they were currently on Windows 2000 Pro). I got involved and about a year later, 7 schools were running LTSP on their existing infrastructure (minus server purchases). Now we're just making improvements (things like automa

  • This is one of those situations where a government mandate would go a long way. There should be state and federal laws requiring all government agencies to use OSS whenever possible. Unless a school is giving a class, specifically, in MS software then OSS systems should be used in the classroom. Personally, I do think high schools should maintain a MS Windows based lab (or dual boot) to teach basic workplace skills but that should constitute the only ~30 MS operating system licenses that school district

  • Hi there, I am currently employed by a k-12 school as an admin/all around support guy, and I have successfully introduced a linux lab this year...and they love it!

    I'm not sure the amount of time that you or the people who would be doing the deployment are willing to invest in the project, but I created a very simple distro, with the intention of using cloud computing tactics on it. The students are using google docs/gmail/gcal and the spreadsheet and presentation tools google also offers. Th
  • A good starting point is the OpenEducationDisc and here in the UK the guys at http://opensourceschools.org.uk/ [opensourceschools.org.uk] are thinking about exactly the same sort of thing. This topic and similar come up a lot on Slashdot, as yet I feel the OSS community lacks a coherent response.
  • I've worked in IT for a school district for four years. We use Linux on a couple of servers and for Telnet servers, but that is all we've been willing to use. We use open-source where we can, but we recently dropped OOo because of its deficiencies compared to MSO.

    The applications being used at universities and in the workplace are predominately NOT open-source. We're teaching Adobe CS and MSO. Those aren't available on Linux.

    I'd love to make Linux and open-source alternatives available to students and if th

  • I'VE BEEN THINKING ALOT ABOUT THIS FOR OUR TOWN
    some points
    kids rise to responsiblity; seniors in HS are quite capable, with the right teacher of maintaining most of this - and what great job training, both in th nuts and bolts of computers and in work ethic

    it may sound wacko, but i think the hs seniors could maintain the school email, web site, everything but hr and payroll, where there are legal issues

    cost - teachers are mostly not into computers, esp the older tenured senior ones with influence, and the p

  • Another link (Score:3, Interesting)

    by deathguppie (768263) on Friday February 27, 2009 @09:10PM (#27019713)

    I can't believe I read through so many posts and found so little actual information. So here's one.

    Schoolforge [schoolforge.net]/

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