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Educational Software Thread, Open Source Schools: Getting technical staff on board in Technical; Hello All, I've just got back from today's Open Source Schools "Curriculum Support Workshop" meeting held in London. There were ...
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    dhicks's Avatar
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    Open Source Schools: Getting technical staff on board

    Hello All,

    I've just got back from today's Open Source Schools "Curriculum Support Workshop" meeting held in London. There were a dozen or so people there representing a pretty wide range of interests and roles in both schools and open source software, with me, I guess, representing the "network manager" role. The discussion lasted four hours, and was all recorded with FlashMeeting so footage should soon be available.

    So, from the network manager's point of view: during the discussion, there were the usual grumbles about how the systems at various schools were "locked down" so that staff and pupils couldn't install software on computers. I tried to get accross that this is because computer networks need to be secure and teachers and pupils will cheerfully install pirated software if given half a chance. These people aren't, generally, technical experts, they are teachers, so this is something that maybe doesn't occur to them.

    We then discussed software installers. Peter Kemp, who works for TeachFirst and runs the OpenEducationDisc Project, was there, and we discussed how to actually get various bits of open source software installed on school networks. What people maybe haven't realised is that we, as network managers, want easily-deployable solutions - basically, we want an MSI file and an easily-customisable set of install parameters that will allow a piece of software to be install easily over a (Windows) network. The WinLibre project was mentioned, which sounds like it might be worth some further investigation.

    The OpenEducationDisc provides a facility to let us dish out CDs to pupils so they can use software at home, but isn't really an option for most of our networks - we can't install from CD on to a couple of hundred workstations. If we could finish off the missing bit - get all this great software easily installed school-wide, set up properly and ready to be used - then the advantages of open source would really start to show, i.e. pupils can use the exact same software at home as at school, it's all free and the network manager doesn't have to fret about licensing.

    We also discussed producing training materials for teachers, easy-to-understand stuff that teaches teachers how to teach some subject matter with a particular piece of open source software. I thought people might have been over-estimating some teacher's definition of "easy-to-understand" - I'm sure we can all think of plenty of teachers who, say, don't know what a URL is, so giving them the address of a resource will just confuse the heck out of them. My idea was to produce some training materials to teach teachers how to teach curriculum material, but with the intention that these materials be supported by a member of technical staff - someone to ease the user along when it comes to the computery bits.

    If anyone has any suggestions or points to add to the above, please say. I think in-school technical staff are a really important group to reach if we want to get schools using open source software properly, more so than possibly most other people realise - heck, I am in-school technical staff, and I know the problems we face in getting stuff installed and keeping our systems secure, so your ideas, solutions and experiences would all be very much appreciated.

    --
    David Hicks
    Last edited by dhicks; 17th February 2009 at 10:14 PM. Reason: Named OpenEducationDisc properly.

  2. 12 Thanks to dhicks:

    alan-d (18th February 2009), AndyD (18th February 2009), bossman (18th February 2009), conehead (20th February 2009), dalsoth (17th February 2009), GrumbleDook (17th February 2009), Hecate (18th February 2009), nephilim (18th February 2009), Ric_ (18th February 2009), User3204 (22nd February 2009), webman (17th February 2009), wesleyw (20th February 2009)

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    dalsoth's Avatar
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    Love open source and to be honest most of the software on my windows computer is open source. I also dual boot Ubuntu. To use open source operating systems in education though is very difficult without plenty of knowledge to back it up.

    I would dare to say we have quite a few linux experts on these forums but most will be used to windows. Like you pointed out, the hard part is getting the damn stuff to the stage where you can just deploy it all without problems.

    I know there are various projects out there that try to make open source in schools more viable to the majority but we are not there yet. I do let students use things such as open office but that is about it really.

    I would love all of the linux experts to concentrate on a few focused linux projects aimed at reaching critical mass rather than shooting off in thousands of different directions never really getting to where we all hope they should be. I guess it would be nice to go to a site that has produced a solution for schools that has detailed documentation (not linux speak and millions of lines of sudo judo) for server installation and initial set up, details to configure and deploy clients remotely and locally, deploy packages across the network and troubleshoot the types of issues we currently face on our windows systems.

    We would also need some sort of training manuals ala the MS Press certification books on how to manage and configure these systems

    I guess it would have to be massive. Perhaps this is one for Edugeek and the Linux Geekers out there to work on as a project ?

    Now that would really change education as we know it.

    Until those things happen i think i will stick with my windows boxes at work and my dual setup at home

    Will check out the flashmeeting if it becomes available as it sounds interesting.

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    localzuk's Avatar
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    The ideas are good, but on the training point, what technical staff? Many schools have 1 person doing it all, so training people doesn't come up high on their list of things to do. They simply don't have time (I know I certainly don't!)

    To be able to do an open source roll-out, the training needs to be done by teachers, not technical staff. This way, the trainers know how to communicate in the right way for those people who, as you say, don't know what a URL is.

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    dhicks (19th February 2009)

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    mberry's Avatar
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    Thanks for posting the above, David.
    There's an unedited, four hour long, recording of this afternoon's meeting at FlashMeeting Memo , thanks to David's rather impressive management of the webcam.
    Whilst much of the focus of the discussion was about helping teachers in using open source to support, enhance, extend the curriculum, the Open Source Schools community is a good mix of teachers, technical staff and LA/policy types. We're quite keen that it remain that way - reflecting, I hope, the way that open source projects have room for folk doing core development, modules, bug-fixes, feature requests (usually, quite a few people in this group) and documentation. Be great to have lots more folk from here over there.

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    dhicks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dalsoth View Post
    Love open source and to be honest most of the software on my windows computer is open source.
    It's mainly Windows I'm thinking about here - installing software on Linux isn't a problem, you simply write a script to go do an apt-get or two and you're done.

    To use open source operating systems in education though is very difficult without plenty of knowledge to back it up.
    I don't find that problem - Ubuntu pretty much installs itself, either as a stand-alone client or as a thin-client server, and server-side you always need to go through and figure stuff out whether you're on Windows or Linux. The issue, perhaps, is with the application software - there aren't the curriculum support materials available (this is what we were discussing at the meeting today) and getting application software, of any kind, to install on a Windows network can be a right palavar. We, the community on this site, needn't fret about the curriculum material, that's for someone else to deal with, but I'm suggesting that we might be able to solve that last issue - after all, we must all be putting lots of effort into getting certain applications installed, maybe if we could all pool our efforts it'd actually be way less work.

    I've just had a look at the WinLibre project website. It seems to be something similar to the Google Updater, installing (and, I assume, updating) applications over an Internet connection. What do people think: would that be a better approach than trying to create a stack of MSI files? Would it be better to aim for a WinLibre/Google Updater style all-in-one installer application, but designed to install educational software (probably skipping the chat, client-side email and network analysis software) and designed to run over a LAN (so each install didn't use Internet bandwidth)? Or would a collection of MSIs be better, hopefully ones that could be properly modified via an MST transform to set various install-time options?

    I know there are various projects out there that try to make open source in schools more viable to the majority
    Well, yes, that'd be Open Source Schools, for one :-)

    We would also need some sort of training manuals ala the MS Press certification books on how to manage and configure these systems
    Absolutely - network managers and suchlike need information too. Getting a bunch of teachers enthusiastic and then having them go back to their schools and dump the job of getting new software researched, installed and configured properly is going to annoy people (lots of us on this site, for a start).

    --
    David Hicks

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    DrPerceptron's Avatar
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    Training doesn't have to be classroom based, I read it and I immediately thought great, training books, resources either as videos or whatever so I have one less thing to worry about...

    I can install this fancy dancy software and not worrying about having to know just enough about it fake knowing what I'm on about.

    I totally agree with dalsoth though, I have no problems with Linux, I have problems with the bazillion flavours it comes in and the general lack of OoB administrative tools, yeah, the CLI is great and all powerful, it is in HP switches too... that doesn't stop me being a lazy ass though and using the GUI wherever possible.

    Edit: @ dhicks, my personal preference is, if I want to install software to a room a PC's, I'd rather do it at at least 100mb LAN, 1gb if it's there, it also leaves the net open for other people to use for other purposes and it means that it's one less point of failure to sort - IE: if the internet goes down, I can't install this software, if the network's down, I can't install it anyway... but if it's MSI based or whatever, then it's easy enough to fire around when it's convenient.. MSI's also repair themselves too
    Last edited by DrPerceptron; 17th February 2009 at 10:35 PM.

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    localzuk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrPerceptron View Post
    Training doesn't have to be classroom based, I read it and I immediately thought great, training books, resources either as videos or whatever so I have one less thing to worry about...
    Videos and training books would simply not do. I've produced various documents, send out a newsletter termly, and put status updates on our intranet - all of which is promptly ignored by most staff - and is usually followed by phonecalls and post-its complaining that they hadn't been told or shown how to do things.

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    dhicks (19th February 2009)

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    dhicks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by localzuk
    To be able to do an open source roll-out, the training needs to be done by teachers, not technical staff. This way, the trainers know how to communicate in the right way for those people who, as you say, don't know what a URL is.
    Good points - so we need to aim for clear, easy-to-deliver material that can be delivered by slight-more-technical teachers to less-technical teachers?

    Quote Originally Posted by DrPerceptron View Post
    Training doesn't have to be classroom based
    The training I'm talking about here is the day-long CPD type stuff, aimed at non-technical teaching staff, teaching them how to go about using free and open source software in their lessons. We're talking about producing training resources that can be used as exercises on teacher training days. Half, if not more, of the problem is that teaching staff aren't like us - they don't automatically search Google for answers (or "page fault on knowledge", as Joel Spolsky put it), they don't read error messages, they panic when the computer doesn't do exactly as expected.

    I have no problems with Linux
    Forget Linux for the moment, we're concentrating on open source application software on Windows at the moment (and, thinking about it, Macs - anyone out there have to manage a network of Macs?).

    but if it's MSI based or whatever, then it's easy enough to fire around when it's convenient.. MSI's also repair themselves too
    Ah - if they're properly constructed, of course. My issue, like yours, with Google Updater is the fact that it downloads data from the Internet - what we as network managers need is maybe a similar system but one that works by caching application installers locally and getting them to client machines via the LAN. This might mean having some server-based application to cache installers, or it might mean getting installers via HTTP so they wind up cached by your web cache. Either way, this means someone writing a Windows client application to install a bunch of open source applications.

    The other option is to go for a library of MSI files, ready to deploy. The issue is with creating those MSI files - that can be quite a task. We do have the advantage that we're talking about open source software here, so we could potentially actually build an MSI installer properly from the source rather than cobble something together out of the various kludged solutions out there.

    --
    David Hicks

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    shutdownplease's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks View Post
    Good points - so we need to aim for clear, easy-to-deliver material that can be delivered by slight-more-technical teachers to less-technical teachers?
    on the training side (as im a teacher - not a tech)

    cd's with copies of all open source software must be made available. this should hopefully encourage teachers to try it at home and get themselves interested in the product (and reduce incompatibility issues between open source at school and retail software at home)

    single day CPD training sessions obviously work well in some schools rather than others but im personally not fond of them unless they are being used to kick off a period of regular training sessions (observations etc)

    from what i follow on the technical side yes it may be relatively easy to get open source rolled out across the network but its the 'culture' within the school which will take far longer to change. teacher's and pupils (without consciously thinking about it) are going to be 'used' to how retail versions of software work. changing small applications like putting audacity on instead of a retail audio editor may go unnoticed but changing a big one like your office suite or even the whole operating system is going to have a huge impact.

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    I've mentioned Softgrid before and how it can make it easy to deploy apps (including Open Source). This post goes into more details and I think it's a really good way of getting stuff onto the desktop quickly and cleanly.

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    dhicks (18th February 2009)

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    SimpleSi's Avatar
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    You say forget about Linux - but if its so easy to deploy apps in Linux why not have computers dual booting with Windows/Linux and use all the open apps in Linux?

    All you need to do is lock down Linux sufficiently so that the more advanced students can't access things they shouldn't.

    Once this scheme works, Windows could get demoted to running in a VM in Linux and world domination is complete

    regards

    Simon

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    Ric_'s Avatar
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    As others have mentioned... open source is great for us... whack it on every machine and no worries about the licensing. Most of the stuff is cross platform too so both PCs and Macs can have it. I've also found the Windows Installer Wrapper Wizard a great way to make rough-and-ready MSIs for quite a few pieces of software.

    The problem is, as has been said already, getting the teachers to teach with it. They need a real incentive to use $obscureSoftware rather than the usual paid-for stuff.

    I'm going to be a little controversial here... teachers are inherently lazy. There's nothing wrong with that... I'm lazy... I don't like manually installing software on 300 computers or even walking to the other side of the site unless I really have to. However, this laziness coule work in favour of open source software. If a community were to produce guides on using software (videos, etc.) and also produce example lesson plans that included open source software for a variety of subjects, teachers would then be inclined to try it out.

    I know lots of teachers that 'borrow' lesson ideas from others so why not use it to benefit the good cause that is open source software? These lessons could even be pre-packaged for easy import into Moodle or other learning platforms (since they should all be SCORM compliant).

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    SimpleSi's Avatar
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    Or produce a Linux VM with all the goodies pre-installed and ready to run- may as well make use of the these new fangled dual-core processors and give the other CPU something to do

    regards

    Simon

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    I'd prefer a centralised repo for security patches and packages that I can mirror inhouse - clients automatically updating via the Internet in an unmanagable way isn't desirable or likely to work correctly due to proxy restrictions or users interrupting the update.

    My dream is puppet or apt-get and apt-proxy for windows, or a WSUS-alike for OSS.

    We put a fair bit of OSS on our images, but I'm not comfortable pushing things that need regular-ish security patching (like Firefox) out without a means of ensuring they're maintaining acceptable patch levels (that isn't a disproportionate drain on my time).

    Re Macs: We've found the http://www.finkproject.org to be pretty handy.

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    SYNACK's Avatar
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    Another vote for MSI here, if there is one thing that I truely hate it is software that demands you use its own proprietary deployment method, or no method at all. Virus checkers are some of the worst for this insisting you use their special console to install to all your pcs while they are all on and not in use (when is that ever the case). MSIs FTW, minor updates with MSPs for even more winning glory.

    I totally agree with Ric_'s assesment, provide example lesson plans of good enough quality and the teaching comunity will follow the path of least resistance right to the software in question. Maybe an opensource EDU portal with lesson plans and resources like the ones avalible for IWB content would be a feasible idea.

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