Tips & Tricks
Featured Article: Getting started in Open Source and Education (Part I of IV)


Part 1 - Assessment:

Know your needs, know your current budget, know whence comes the money and when.

Ask yourself some questions:

Do you need general productivity apps? Do you need specific learning tools or content delivery mechanisms? Do you need a lab? Do you have existing machines, if so can you install on them? What Open Source tools are already out there to suit my needs? Where's momentum around other tools and applications? Do you need to start by advocating it's use? Can you begin an under the radar deployment?

Then ask some more:

What are all the things you need to teach about PC's and networking? What are all the existing tools at your disposal? Of those which are indispensable to your work? Who needs to be lobbied? Who is a "friendly"?

Then ask the others.

You should end up with a clear idea of where the low hanging fruit lies, what show stopping "killer apps" you truly rely on. Take that to mean very specific software , not a class of software. (ie "I need a web browser" v. "I need EZ-Reader 3.4" or "records management system" v. "PermanentRecord 2.6")

You'll find a wealth of tools at your disposal if you focus on the role, when you can, rather than specific apps and their functionality.

We'll get to how to deal with those later.

Get yourself informed as to what's available that would suit your needs, and what fellow teachers, admins, and volunteers have already gone through. The beauty of Open Source Software or Free Software is not the price alone, but the leveragability of others work, and the willingness of those others to share the fruits of that labor.

Anyone in education knows that most schools feel the same sorts of pain or take some details, so en masse a lot more can be accomplished than in other areas.

Here's a good start:

OpenSource:Now:
http://www.redhat.com/opensourcenow/intro.html

Is a good jump off point with info on OpenSource as well as technical help and tutorials to get you off and running.

Be sure to sign up for the OpenSource:Now: mailing list. There you can get involved in the discussion, or just read as others embark on this initiative.

The K-12 Linux Project
http://www.k12linux.org

The intro page is really an aggregation of resources and sites devoted to doing just what you're trying to do.

Clicking into the k12linux.org link takes you to a set of tutorials and guides for using Linux in your network as a server. The k12ltsp, will give you all you need to set up terminal servers on Linux for classroom/lab workstation use.

Check out the Riverdale High School migration study:
http://k12ltsp.org/rhs_casestudy.html

Stroll into the k12os.org site and you'll find forums devoted to keeping you abreast of the current happenings, as well as participating in support and discussion forums.

From the intro page you can also go to some of the other sites devoted to the cause, such as:

Schoolforge
http://www.schoolforge.net

Schoolforge is a repository for software, lesson plans and other projects.

From their purpose statement:

"Schoolforge members advocate the use of open source and free software, open texts and lessons, and open curricula for the advancement of education and the betterment of humankind."

They take the metaphor of building a school, and go from there. The plan is to provide everything but the bricks.

Open Source Schools
http://www.openssourceschools.org

Introductory and background material on OpenSourceSchools.org, our philosophy, and policies and contact information.

SEUL/edu
http://www.seul.org/edu/

SEUL/edu is the discussion group for those interested in using Linux for education. This covers all aspects of educational uses of Linux, by teachers, parents, and students.

There's a growing list of OSS in education case studies for you to peruse there among other things.

So, at the end of a weary weekend of clicking, reading and clicking some more, you should have a nice background to add to your list of wants and needs.

This together will form the base of your assessment. In your assessment, answer two things, "Where are we?" and "Where should we be?". Lofty aspirations are allowed.

Do a bit of digging and you'll be ready for next month's tip: Getting started with Open source in education - Part 2: Planning