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Blue Skies Thread, Open Source Schools' Miles Berry offers a radical response to the ICT funding cuts in General; ...
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    Open Source Schools' Miles Berry offers a radical response to the ICT funding cuts

    As Title.

    So far, things have not gone particularly well for ICT in schools under the new government. We've seen Becta's funding withdrawn, the Rose curriculum thrown away, £100 million removed from the "low priority" Harnessing Technology grants and now BSF "frozen". Mike Baker's article for the BBC provided a good summary of the story so far.

    The worst, I fear, is yet to come with 25 per cent cuts overall in public sector spending. The need to save money wherever possible suggests that open source may be the solution that has been waiting for this particular problem.

    I've remarked elsewhere on the fit between open source principles and coalition policy and rhetoric, but I suspect it's the massive cost savings which open source could offer that will perhaps lead many to start exploring open source even if it doesn't fit perfectly with their vision.

    Becta's 2005 survey of the total cost of ownership savings from open source is well worth another look, claiming savings of 24-44 per cent. But I think that, with a little imagination and perhaps a little more courage, significantly greater savings would be possible.

    I offer below a few thoughts on how to do this, in part inspired by Ray Fleming's list of ten money saving tips on his Microsoft UK Schools Blog, which include good, platform-independent ideas like using virtualisation, switching on power management, and stopping photocopying and printing, although I don't think Ray goes nearly far enough in terms of how much schools can save by doing things for free and for themselves! As with Ray's list, some of the following aren't specific to particular software solutions, but I think the freedom, community and empowerment that are at the heart of the open source movement characterise those suggestions which aren't directly about open source software. Here are my ten tips.

    1. Don't buy any software. No, seriously, just stop buying software licences. If you'd like to carry on using your Windows machines, check out the Open Education Disc, with a comprehensive suite of absolutely free applications providing tools for (almost) every area of learning within and beyond the curriculum, including OpenOffice.org, Inkscape and the GIMP, to replace Office, Illustrator and Photoshop for starters.

    Furthermore, you're allowed, indeed encouraged, to duplicate this so your pupils have access to the same software, legally and for free, at home too. Better still, put the temptation to buy more software firmly out of your grasp by switching to Linux desktops, such as the undeniably excellent Ubuntu. This comes as standard with a great suite of applications, with at the last count 30,046 packages (such as Tablix, a genetic algorithm based timetabler), that you can install (for free) over the net as and when you need them: think app store for a desktop, but all free and (generally) of very good quality.

    If you're worried that your pupils won't cope with an unfamiliar interface, don't be, they'll quickly adjust and will be far more discerning users of computers as a result; if you're worried that this won't prepare them for the world of Windows, don't be, just have a glance at Ofsted's comments about alternative operating systems.

    2. Make use of web-based applications. There is much to be said for making use of all the great, free Web 2.0 apps out there in the cloud, and I'd personally have Google Apps Education Edition high up my must-have list, even if it's not open source. That said, I think the single, best thing you could do for a school's ICT provision would be to set up your own webserver. Get a box. Get Linux. Get Apache. Get MySQL. Get PHP. Open up port 80 on your firewall (if you're not allowed to do that, consider becoming an academy, or at least threaten to!).

    From there, any number of things become possible for free – Moodle as a VLE, MediaWiki for your own collaborative knowledge base, Elgg for social networking, WordPress for blogging, Drupal for your school website, Mahara for an e-portfolio, Zimbra for e-mail, calendars and the like, Koha for your library catalogue, MRBS for booking meeting rooms, OTRS for managing support tickets, even SchoolTool for a management information system (although this works a bit differently from the others...). That's quite a list, and most of these are far, far easier to put in place and maintain than commercial service providers would have you believe.

    3. Don't bother replacing your computers. Don't feel obliged to keep upgrading your hardware to the latest spec. Almost any old machines will have a long, productive life ahead of them as thin clients running off a fast Ubuntu LTSP server. This is also a great way of cutting maintenance costs, and makes updating software or installing new packages a dream, as you only need to do this once on the server for the changes to apply automatically to all the clients. Have a look at the Open Source Schools case study from my old school.

    4. Allow the pupils to use their own devices. Many of your pupils might already have laptops of their own that they'd love to use at school. Many more will have smart phones or other devices that can access the web, particularly when their parents upgrade to the latest handset. With decent wifi, a transparent proxy server and all the above web-based, internally hosted services, wouldn't it make sense to let them use their own devices inside the school, educating them how to use these responsibly and effectively?

    5. Take control of your Internet connection. Compare the cost of your LA/RBC provided service and that of commercial providers, and check you really do need any additional benefits that you may be paying for. How often do you need access to the NEN? This seems to be what's hinted at in the DfE's description of the second Harnessing Technology grant cut, as giving schools time to plan to "reconfigure their broadband". I think it interesting that hardly any independent schools opt in to RBC services. Use Squid as a proxyserver to speed up multiple access to the same pages. Explore some of the filtering options for Squid, such as the kind-of-open-source DansGuardian, which is based on Squid. Think carefully about your filtering policy, bearing in mind that children have a right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice."

    6. Don't buy, or subscribe, to any digital resources. Again, the web is the place to go to get these for free, but best to look for resources which you can adapt to make your own, something rarely possible with commercially published materials. Just as software has its open source movement, so content has creative commons, open content and open educational resources. Wikipedia in all its flavours is great for use in schools because it teaches you to weigh its authors claims and to engage critically with what's said, as well as providing the tools for teachers and pupils to edit what's there already or add new content.

    While en.wikipedia.org is fairly demanding, simple.wikipedia.org is accessible for most from key stage 2 up, and the foreign language versions (including Latin) could have application in MFL (or classics) work. For Open Education Resources, check out wikibooks, curriki and the National Digital Resource Bank (OK, the latter does require a subscription, but this is pretty cheap). Best of all, return to the tradition of creating your own resources: shared, collaborative texts in a wiki, educational games in Scratch or support materials and interactive or social learning activities in Moodle.

    7. Don't pay for CPD. You and your colleagues will learn far more through sharing ideas, experiences and insights with one another than from trainers delivering ring-binders full of notes at training days. The web again makes this easier than ever, with many general and more specialist communities of practice using online tools to facilitate networking and the development of shared expertise, such as our own Open Source Schools community. These are much better than the communities set up for training programmes – for a start their members are there through choice, and are choosing to participate.

    Twitter is a great way of keeping up to date with the developments in your own field, through your own, bespoke Personal Learning Network. The TeachMeet unconference movement takes these principles of loose networks and peer-to-peer learning and moves these off-line back into real space. If you've not been to one, go. If you've not presented at one, do. For software support, the open source project communities are great at helping you solve problems for yourself. As play, experiment, discovery, discussion and creativity lie at the heart of learning for children, perhaps they should for grown-ups too?

    8. Empower your people. This one is probably the most important of all, and the way that you'll make the biggest cost savings for your school. When folk come and ask to do something, say yes. Better still, establish a culture in which they don't need to ask. Think how much more rewarding your network manager's job, or your e-learning director/computing HoD/ICT co-ordinator's job would be if they were empowered to innovate, to research solutions and to take charge of development in their areas of responsibility. Open source makes this easy, as not only is there no need for budgetary approval, you've also got access to the source code to adapt the software to fit your own context or solve your particular problem.

    9. Use volunteer support. So empowering your network manager is great if you've got a network manager, but what if not? Perhaps a skills audit of your pupils parents might be helpful? There's more to parental engagement than hearing readers, going on trips or running fete stalls: it's likely that in all but the smallest schools there will be parents who work in IT, many of whom may have skill levels in excess of those that schools could afford to employ and would be only to pleased to support the school in a way that improved its educational provision and used their own expertise. Parents helping with website content? Parents sorting out networking? E-learning governors? Why not?

    10. Share your expertise and creativity. No cost saving for your school here, but massive cost savings for the system if this works: don't keep things to yourself anymore: as the PM puts it, "We're all in this together". Wherever possible, join with others and work together, rather than having lots of independent projects all doing the same thing. If you find a great solution, share it with other people so they don't have to spend the time solving the same problem themselves.

    If your staff develop a great Moodle course, let others download it. If your class have developed a great wiki, open it up to those at another school. The peer-to-peer approach to CPD that point 7 is about is dependent on 'give' as well as facilitating 'take'. If you do find bugs in open source code, let the developers know, especially if you manage to fix these. If you do adapt open source code to suit you better, do this properly and contribute your patches and modules back to the project community.

    I'll acknowledge that the above perhaps involves taking on elements of risk that we've tended to prefer to outsource in schools, but so do long term commitments to managed services and vendor lock-in. Furthermore, taking responsibility for these things yourself gives you more control over your software, your data, your connectivity, the development of your team, and ultimately the educational provision of your school. As Mark Taylor of open source experts Sirius puts it in his rather Orwellian strap-line, it's "Control through freedom".
    Merlin John Online :: Platform

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    Butters's Avatar
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    Not keen on the article, seems to suggest taking everything in house and that all of it is easy and requires no upskilling/investment.

    'Get a box' etc - Oh thats simple, we'll buy a webserver and run everything off of it or 'allow students to use their own laptops' - good idea in theory, nightmare in practice.

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    He raises some good points, but actually implementing that in a school AND getting the teachers to go with it would be very difficult.

    Things such as making sure you are getting the best value for money from your Broadband connection and purchasing carefully make a lot of sense but I would think most people do that already.

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    11. Replace all staff with highly skilled IT professionals and developers so that most of the other points are actually possible, not to mention tripling the size of the IT support department in order to allow the time and training required.

    I'm for open source to a point, but many of the suggestions seem a little too drastic and knowledge-intensive for a small department. Particularly empowering your users and getting them to grab open source and develop their own tools.
    Last edited by jamesb; 20th July 2010 at 11:56 AM.

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    I think he tries but doesn't quite make a good point. A lot of things that are suggested dont need to be done using OS solutions, and lots of it will require an education for the staff to use new technologies(he highlights students will pick it up)and some of us who have tried to introduce OS software have found a reluctance.

    But the main point I really didn't like was 9 - Introduce parents into IT support for the school. Now for many of us who are on this forum it might not be so bad, but how many people do you know "know about computers" and it would be these people who would volunteer themselves to help out? And suggesting all this could be done without someone on site is a little unrealistic I feel. And why should parents & governers help with website and e-learning content? Surely that should come from the teachers and staff at the school?

    Edit: I'm sure that for those schools who have a good IT team which are listened to, alot of the points raised will have already been considered.
    Last edited by penfold; 20th July 2010 at 11:57 AM.

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    The general idea behind the proposal is very sound but I'd question an awful lot of the individual points raised.

    It's very much a bandwagon response to cost cutting in educational IT and doesn't provide any measure of costs in manpower and training to support the ideas. If it had used base examples of costing and proposed costs in man hours then it would hold more credibility. Without these it offers little less than, dump everything your doing in favour of open source because it's free, forgetting the associated costs of the open source model.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Butters View Post
    The general idea behind the proposal is very sound but I'd question an awful lot of the individual points raised.

    It's very much a bandwagon response to cost cutting in educational IT and doesn't provide any measure of costs in manpower and training to support the ideas. If it had used base examples of costing and proposed costs in man hours then it would hold more credibility. Without these it offers little less than, dump everything your doing in favour of open source because it's free, forgetting the associated costs of the open source model.
    Unfortunately this seems to be how most news items are done? Most people would like to be able to consider the advantages and disadvantages of moving from one system to another, but it doesn't generally have the same impact then!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by penfold View Post
    Unfortunately this seems to be how most news items are done? Most people would like to be able to consider the advantages and disadvantages of moving from one system to another, but it doesn't generally have the same impact then!!
    Then the article becomes null and void in arguing it's case. It should be presented as a white paper rather than a 'radical response' that will likely be jumped upon by by SMT/teaching staff and forced upon poor techies.

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    4 not a hope in hell i cant see anybosy who ahs control of a network wanting random devices quite possibly full of spyware/viruses etc (not to mention on secondarys quite possibly offensive material/porn/god knows what)

    linux is fine but its the right tool for the right job sometimes thats windows even if its just to keep staff quiet i for one wouldnt want to go all linux i think id be taken outside and shot. Another issue with linux here i cant actually so anything other than a standard install in leeds schools lln filtering borks the install up if i ty to download packages/updates making it non feasable (though granted changing isp would help and lln are way too expensive for what is imo a poor service esp for primarys the learning platform they provide just isnt appropriate imo (there is also the issue that data sent to/from council can only be sent from 1 ip address in school and atm that has to be via a lln line)

    I have no problm with open source software and regually install paint.net/open office/italc among others without thinking as its free and serves a purpose but to remove the option of using ms office would be a pain (though some teachers may prefer it to office 07 )as if nothing else sime wont work and i really sonr see capita doing sims for ubuntu. If i have to sue windows for say sims it does make sense to keep things consistent across a site though again using old pcs as dumb terminals to a terminal server does make sense but an old unrelaible windows box will still probably make an old unrelaible linux dumb terminal (and some of my experiences with thin clients arnt ood a 3rd party installed some at the school im at now (contracted via the company i work for admittedly) but they went in changed all my logon scripts the way printers are assigned and diddnt document it )and they fail more often than real pcs a while back every single real thin client (rather than reused old kit) refused to connect to their server and it took a month or so to sort and we had to send a unit back for them to find the problem)

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    Bear in mind that Miles is a senior-management-type, and he's writing here to other head teachers and similar - the above is more intended to get accross to school management teams that there's an alternative to Microsoft Windows / Office on everything.

    Thin client performance is actually suprisingly good. Unfortuantly, the latest version of Ubuntu / Edubuntu (10.04) seems to have issues with LTSP, or maybe a combination of LTSP and Likewise-Open (used to authenticate against Avtive Directory) - we could only get 14 clients to work before the server hung. We're switching to Slax loading up via PXE and connecting to a Windows Termional Services machine to do MS Office. Web browsing with Firefox, including Flash and PDF plugins, can be done locally on each workstation, taking some (90%?) processing load off of the server. I think the client-side OS battle is largly irrelevant, anyway - we're just waiting for a nice, easy-to-deploy browser-only OS to arrive and for everything to be browser-based. Give it five years and we won't even remember we used to run Windows client-side.

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    Last edited by dhicks; 20th July 2010 at 12:30 PM.

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    9. Use volunteer support. So empowering your network manager is great if you've got a network manager, but what if not? Perhaps a skills audit of your pupils parents might be helpful? There's more to parental engagement than hearing readers, going on trips or running fete stalls: it's likely that in all but the smallest schools there will be parents who work in IT, many of whom may have skill levels in excess of those that schools could afford to employ and would be only to pleased to support the school in a way that improved its educational provision and used their own expertise. Parents helping with website content? Parents sorting out networking? E-learning governors? Why not?
    I agree with earlier comments. I'm about to volunteer my services at my childrens school. I know all of the software they use and how they tie in with LancsNGFL and CLEO. Would I trust me if I didn't? Proberbly not. I talk to many people, some who work helpdesk with major IT support companies and often their lack of knowlege is shocking, yet are more than willing to roll up their sleeves and make things not work in short order. As anyone who has moved from one school to another will testify, you can't just jump straight in. It takes about a month simply observing before you feel confident about any changes you would want to make, and even then small hidden peculararities can bite you on the bum.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sted View Post
    4 not a hope in hell i cant see anybosy who ahs control of a network wanting random devices quite possibly full of spyware/viruses etc (not to mention on secondarys quite possibly offensive material/porn/god knows what)
    Setup a seperate wireless SSID, VLAN'd and firewalled away from the rest of your precious network. If you use a decent wifi solution you can even get it to isolate your clients from each other. Allow this wireless hotspot only access to the internet, if they want to access school resources then then can come back in through web gateways as if they where at home.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonyd View Post
    Setup a seperate wireless SSID, VLAN'd and firewalled away from the rest of your precious network. If you use a decent wifi solution you can even get it to isolate your clients from each other. Allow this wireless hotspot only access to the internet, if they want to access school resources then then can come back in through web gateways as if they where at home.
    but if youre not carefull you spend anything you save then on your wifi and theres always some kid who wil just shove a cable in

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    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks View Post
    Bear in mind that Miles is a senior-management-type, and he's writing here to other head teachers and similar - the above is more intended to get accross to school management teams that there's an alternative to Microsoft Windows / Office on everything.
    Unfortunately it's based more around hype than educational benefit, which is the service schools are offering.

    There is a distinct lack of people with common sense in educational IT, open source solutions can provide incredible benefit but not in a full form solution. Choosing GIMP over Photoshop due to the pricey licences is indeed a sensible solution. However items like completely ditching any proprietary software in favour of Open source isn't a sensible option due to training/skills requirements and man hours involved.

    It really is a case of picking what's best for the job, not going completely Open Source because it seems to be a buzz word that falls in line with cost cutting.

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    There is a link to a case study where I believe dhicks works here?. I am also assuming from the article that you had people with an experience of OS at the initial stage and IT literate teachers who contribute to the development of the use of IT in the school? I also believe that given this scenario many of us would have been able to do something similar, but in my experience most of the problems aren't technical. The problems seem to come from people who are reluctant to change the resources they are using and moving from MS Office 2000>2007 (an example) is easier than moving to MS Office 2k>Open Office2.

    And I agree with dhicks about an irrelevant OS battle, pupils shouls be learning skills not software(the arguement has been on here many a time). But I think the article doesn't address the issue less competent teaching staff will have using different software and where support will come from in learning new skills. As others have said, it's about what is the best solution it doesn't matter if the software is free if it doesn't hit all the objectives.

    However, I would say the article is top ten tips, not all have to be taken up. I just think it should be a little clearer on the changes and support required.

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