Open Source Schools: Getting technical staff on board
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.