Ask The Expert: K12 Linux Initiative


Paul Nelson
Teacher and Advocate


When he's not busy helping Oregon school districts save upwards of $1.5 million using Open Source Software, Paul likes to spend his time teaching, sharing the word on OSS, and lobbying other organizations to do likewise. Paul took a moment to breathe, and answer some of our questions.

Q:  So what's the deal with the k12 and Linux initiative?
 
A:  We use Linux because it works. It is reliable to the point that our teachers never have to ask, "Is the network down again?". Reliable access to technology changes the way we teach. In too many schools I see a lack of access to technology and stagnant teaching methods simply because what they have does not work. That Open Source software is free and we feel good about contributing in its development is great. But we use it because it works. Our goal is to share this good news with other schools around the world. The K12Linux.org, K12LTSP.org and K12OS.org web sites all have a basic focus of "this is how you do it..."
 
Q:  What spawned the idea?
 
A:  We replaced our old Novell server with a Red Hat box running SAMBA and saved $3,000 in license fees in just the first year. That worked so well we had to tell others. We launched the first K12Linux "Linux How-To for Schools" site in 1996.
 
Q:  Name the killer OSS apps for education that exist today? That lack?
 
A:  The real question is how should kids be using computers in schools? They should be gathering and analyzing information, using email to collaborate with learning partners around the world, using software to present their ideas for peer review and exploring the creative powers of computers in music and art. Isn't that just how we use software as adults? That's how kids need to use software. OSS has everything we need to do this and more right now.

Some educators will cite the lack of traditional educational packages for Linux that teach reading or math with funny rabbits that wink at you and say "Good job!" I just don't think we need to go there. Teachers don't need cute teaching applications. They just need computers that work and provide basic access to the software we all use everyday.

 
Q:  What's the biggest benefit in using Linux or OSS in schools? Freedom? Cash savings? Performance?
 
A:  There are 24 school districts in Oregon and Washington and many more in 35 other states audited by MS last year that will tell you it's not having to worry about what's in an EULA! ;-^)

Cost is a big issue but we would pay money for something else if it was better. Given the demonstrated performance of OSS and cost savings, I consider it the only ethical choice today for many solutions. I say that as someone spending tax payer's money. It works. It's free. Duh...

 
Q:  How/where does one interested in doing likewise get started?
 
A:  Right now we are still at the grass roots stage going into schools via LUGs and attending conferences. That having been said we've seen well over 15,000 downloads of K12LTSP to schools around the world since it was released in July of 2001. We are working on a CD with free, OSS applications that LUG users can give away to schools. That will be on the K12OS.org site in September in when schools open. It should serve as a good "foot in door" item for OSS. We also do install clinics every month at our school.
 
Q:  What is your goal for k12linux.org, and k12ltsp.org?
 
A:  Do you mean after world domination or before? ;-) I just installed a complete network of servers and 80 workstations in less than 3 hours. All were configured with printing and applications ready to go. I spent the rest of the week fighting with the remaining Windows computers we needed to keep around. If only schools could realize how easy this is. It works, it's free, Duh... That's my new mantra. That is my goal for K12*.org.
 
Q:  What ever happened to that Microsoft audit?
 
A:  Score: OSS 1 MS 0

MS sent a letter to all of the schools in Oregon that in effect, made the audit optional and without a time line. They completely backed off. I'm sure this was the first time they came face to face with Linux penetration in the K12 market. We've done a good job here in Oregon and Washington. Today every major school district in OR has at least one K12LTSP test lab. Portland Public Schools is rolling out 100 K12LTSP labs with an expected savings of up to $1.5 million.

The sad part of the news is that we were the LAST of 35 states audited by MS and OSS solutions did NOT surface in those other states that came before us. That's what makes me want to think bigger... See next question...

 
Q:  So what's NECC?
 
A:  NECC http://www.neccsite.org/ is the largest technology in education out there. See the following link for demographics:

http://ccenter.uoregon.edu/conferences/NECC2003/exhibitors/demographics/

My goal is to bring OSS users in K12 from all over the country to present OSS in schools talks. We'll have stands for end user OSS applications like OpenOffice, KDE Office, GIMP, etc... and stands for network infrastructure featuring things like SQIUDGUARD and K12LTSP. I'd also like to see Red Hat there to provide training workshops. You've all been to trade shows where vendors have booths with the projectors and mini-classrooms. We'll we need that to happen at NECC. You will be swamped with interest.

So far I've had good success in finding teachers ready to come and present. Now I'm working on funding to get them all to Seattle in June of 2003. We're working with affero.org and linuxfund.org.

At NECC 2002 I went up to the IBM booth and asked, "Where's your Linux expert?" "Uh... we don't have one in k12..." This has got to change. We need to move beyond grass roots and that means having vendor support. Establishing a visible presence at NECC will be well worth the effort.

 
Q:  So what's next?
 
A:  It's time to have some fun! I'm teaching an digital photography class this year using the GIMP and other OSS tools. We're putting it all together as a text book that will go out with the GIMP on CD-Rom with versions for Macs, Windows and Linux PCs. We think it will be a hit!
 
Q:  Given the existence of a lucid physical reality, based almost exclusively on interpretations of tangible stimuli: What proof is there, or is there to be obtained, of other dimensions? Of ethereal planes of being? Of an afterlife? You are free of course to cite evidence to the contrary.
 
A:  The Bible has a story about the walls of Jericho falling. "Then the walls of Jericho reeled violently outward and crashed down with a deafening roar. (Joshua 6:20.)" Archaeologists dug it up and sure enough, the walls fell outward. If this physical reality and tangible stimuli is true and readily revealed with a shovel, might not the rest of the "Good Book" be considered with a renewed interest in search your answers? Do some digging and see what you find! ;-)