Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Posts Tagged / education

  • Jul 23 / 2014
  • 0
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Freeing Education Via GNU/Linux

When I was teaching in small remote schools in Canada’s north, I had the same sorts of problems schools in the south have.“I found that our technology was not up to scratch to meet the needs of our students. We only had a few desktop PCs located in each elementary and middle school classroom, and only a few in our high school computer labs. We definitely needed more machines so students would get more time to work on class projects and do research.” There weren’t enough PCs and the cost of maintenance was prohibitive. Along came GNU/Linux and a lot of problems were solved. We could spend money on hardware (productivity booster) instead of software licences (dead weight). Malware became a distant memory as installed operating systems just kept humming for years. Package management over the network saved tons of work, too.

I went with thin client technology to maximize the benefit of new hardware. Today, schools have the choice of letting Google spend money on hardware so a new kind of thin client, the Chromebook, works for them. It’s all good. They both use GNU/Linux. More money spent on IT goes for the education of students and less on making the rich richer.

See Bridgeport Public Schools Choose Chromebooks.

  • Jul 22 / 2014
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France, Spain And Greece Loosen Their Shackles

You have to admire the bold moves many European governments have made towards using FLOSS to do their IT. More organizations should follow their examples.

France A parliamentary report recommends securing the Internet from attacks by various players and using more FLOSS.
Valencia, Spain Valencia has saved $millions over the years and it’s not about to stop using FLOSS.
Greece Universities have organized a summer course for civil servants and others who need to learn more about FLOSS and how to use it.

The French report pulls no punches:(translation from French)
On FLOSS, among many other advantages, It helps reduce the dependence, strategic and economic, of France vis-a-vis foreign suppliers: “In these lean times we would find many advantages to using open programs like LibreOffice, OpenOffice or FireFox instead of paying a fortune to Microsoft” emphasized Mr. Francesco Ragazzi

My favourite recommendation?
“promote a progressive migration of their IT infrastructure to FLOSS. This can happen, in particular, by a preference for open source software in tendering procedures for public procurement and the imposition of open standards.”

I couldn’t have written it any better than that.

See also, France parliamentary committee: ‘encourage European open source software market’

  • Jul 21 / 2014
  • 9
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Schools In Geneva Switching To GNU/Linux

“All primary and secondary public schools in the Swiss Canton of Geneva are switching to using Ubuntu GNU/Linux for the PCs used by teachers and students. The switch has been completed by all of the 170 primary public schools, and the migration of the canton’s 20 secondary schools is planned for the next school year. Ubuntu GNU/Linux offers powerful services to the teachers, is easier to maintain, faster, safer and more stable than the decade-old proprietary operating system it is replacing, the canton’s school IT department concludes, based on several four-year long pilots.” These guys took four years studying the matter and it will only take two years to switch their schools to GNU/Linux. It shows the Munich decade was some sort of aberration in terms of time taken to switch. The difference is the number of applications locked in to that other OS. Munich had hundreds. Geneva has only one or two. LibreOffice takes care of one…

Anyway, I think the migration in Geneva is remarkable because the Swiss are thorough. If they could be convinced in just four years, most of the rest of us should be convinced in a matter of hours. Get on with it folks. Take a look at Debian GNU/Linux and see what you’ve been missing: the freedom to use the hardware you own to its maximum capability, freedom from malware and freedom from paying about twice what IT should really cost you. In schools where I used GNU/Linux we easily had twice as much IT for the same cost and the cost of maintaining the larger system was less than the cost of maintaining the smaller system running that other OS. Freedom from the EULA of M$ which enslaves you rather than enabling you is the killer however. With FLOSS and GNU/Linux you can run, examine, modify and distribute the software to your heart’s content. Go with it. Seize the opportunity.

SeeGeneva class-rooms switching to free software | Joinup.

  • Jul 15 / 2014
  • 5
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

FLOSS Is The Right Way

“a lot of children had never had any examples of programming. They’d used a computer, but in fact the computer had used them. They knew how a mouse worked, they knew how to save a spreadsheet, they knew how to load an XBOX game, but they didn’t necessarily know anything else about computing”I’ve seen this repeatedly, a classroom full of students who “knew how to use PCs” but had no idea how fast they were or of what PCs are capable. I demonstrated a few simple programmes in PASCAL to show them how fast the maths was. Even on decade old machines, hundreds of millions of FLOPS happen. These are computers that are sluggish under the bloat of M$’s software. Put on lean software like GNU/Linux and they fly.

I let them read the GPL and the EULA.txt and jaws dropped. They had no idea that their use of PCs was handicapped by non-Free software. I showed them the power they had with a bit of knowledge of FLOSS, and a screwdriver. They were liberated from needing to depend on the Wintel treadmill and Wintel itself for all aspects of their IT. A decade ago, it seemed every way forward for FLOSS was uphill because of the lock-in. Now young people can buy a small cheap computer with Android/Linux and “root” it and presto! they are free of the Wintel treadmill forever. A billion people have seen the light and it’s possible another billion or more will go to FLOSS this year alone. The world is just beginning this explosive migration away from non-Free software.

See Friends record their call to arms for open source!.

  • Jul 14 / 2014
  • 11

Ho Hum. Yet Another Organization Saves With FLOSS

For years the sycophants of M$ and “partners” have told the world, at least anyone that would listen, that FLOSS costs more in the long run…“Open source gives the university more features, more flexibility and lower costs. Next year the costs will already be 30 per cent lower and after five or six years, the difference with the proprietary system will be 70 to 75 per cent.

We are being approached by many public administrations from large central government institutions and municipalities. They do the math and they see the enormous financial gains that are possible.”
Meanwhile, in the real world, folks can do the maths and save a huge chunk of the cost of IT, not just licences, but maintenance, flexibility, performance, … Everything is better with FLOSS. In my own experience with desktop and server systems, schools where I worked broke even on costs of migration almost instantly as the licensing was a huge fraction of the capital cost and we used that saving to get almost twice as much IT for the same money. Maintenance dropped by a huge factor because the distributions managed most of our updating/upgrading for hardly any cost besides deciding to upgrade.

Use FLOSS and GNU/Linux. That’s the right way to do IT.

See Coimbra University to save plenty with open source ERP.

  • Jul 12 / 2014
  • 2

Trend-Setting Countries For GNU/Linux On The Desktop

I have written about many countries making positive moves to adopt GNU/Linux on the desktop. Here is a graph showing some. With the exception of Cuba, handicapped by US embargo…, the trends are all positive. Those who give GNU/Linux a try benefit from that and expand their usage. Further, this continues to happen even with the decline in shipments of new legacy PCs because of the move to smaller and cheaper computers of all kinds. The world would be a better place sooner if the slope was higher but we lack salesmen and space on retail shelves so we get what we get.

This sample, while chosen with high-adopters in mind, is quite representative of the world having countries from rich and poor, east and west, north and south. Taken together, this is proof that GNU/Linux can work for any kind of people from anywhere. Besides absence from some retail shelves, all it will take to get other countries to adopt GNU/Linux more widely is some local talent and initiative, perhaps inflamed by the current USA/NSA scandal compounded by USA spying on its allies. To be secure in this world, I think one has to avoid M$’s OS simply because M$ is beholden to USA for not putting M$ out of business despite illegal practices, scandalous insecurity and plagues of bugs. If USA put as much pressure on M$ as they did automakers, M$ would be a very diffferent operation today and GNU/Linux would have had a fair shake on those retail shelves. Whatever. The world is becoming a better place both despite USA and it’s favourite software-maker and because of USA and it’s favourite software-maker. It’s all good in the long term.

  • Jun 20 / 2014
  • 6
Teaching, technology

Google Doing Good

Google has long promised to “do no evil”. They’ve done better than that.“Google announced a $50 million initiative to teach young girls how to code, Google has promised to do all it can to recruit more women into Silicon Valley. Along with Chelsea Clinton, Girls Inc., Girl Scouts of the USA, Mindy Kaling, MIT Media Lab, National Center for Women & Information Technology, SevenTeen, TechCrunch and more, Google is launching Made with Code, an initiative to inspire girls to code” They are doing good by promoting computer programming for young women, really young women, actually girls. They have to because girls have been getting tracked away from computer science earlier than ever. That could be part of the success of IT in the world, bringing more information to everyone everywhere. Google found it had to get the message across earlier if it wanted to have more women in its own workforce. Good for Google.

See Google investing $50 million to get girls to code.

  • Jun 19 / 2014
  • 25
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

John C. Dvorak, Educational Luddite

The Luddites were folks who tried to destroy new technology threatening their old ways of doing things.“When tech enters the classroom, the usual result is money squandered. This was obviously the case with PLATO and it is quite apparent today with daffy educators suckered into going all-in with PCs and tablets.” John C Dvorak is an educational Luddite. He decries the use of IT in the classroom. He associates IT with distracting from the activities of teaching and learning.

That is so far wrong I am amazed. Education is about training brains to absorb information and to modify information and to present information. What IT does is to make that information faster and easier to find, modify, create and distribute. IT is a great lever to increase the efficiency of education. Nothing moves information around and manipulates it faster than IT. What books, paper and pens did for education hundreds of years ago, IT, particularly with small cheap computers, is accelerated many times over.

For example, consider a school’s library. I have been in modern and effective schools which had thousands of dead-tree books on shelves mostly sitting there being dead. Using the library meant students had to travel individually or in groups to the library possibly wasting 10 minutes. A card-index slowed students down more minutes. A few quick reads might find a suitable book in 30 minutes or so. A quantum of time in the educational system being 45 minutes meant a whole quantum was wasted before any useful work was done except learning how to do things inefficiently. Now compare that with schools having a server with ~100K books/articles/images or good access to the same on the WWW. Teach the student how to search once and they have a lifetime of information available as fast as they can read. By the time the dead-tree-worshiping school has a book in the hands of a student, the new student may already have made progress to acquiring important information. Google has gone around the world digitising books. Should schools ignore that body of knowledge they could not possibly acquire any other way? There are about 20 students for each teacher. How many of those few teachers are experts in any field in which a student needs/wants to learn? Books, digital or not, are the best teachers and just getting the students to the books makes them winners.

Still not convinced? Consider teaching students to write cogently. How many books on a particular topic should a student read to form some sound thoughts on the matter? One, ten, twenty,…? How many books can a single school at some location afford to own? A school is a far better place for learning by having 10 or 20 times as many ebooks as dead-tree books. Remember the class sets, the ones bought for more than $1K that get used for a few days or weeks and then go back into storage? Think how inefficient that is to hold back every student to the pace of the slowest reader and to have expensive resources sitting unused. With one PC per child, everyone can be reading/learning at their rate all day. That’s optimal for every student who can read. Johnny can’t read? The PCs give the teacher more time to teach him. It’s parallel processing. It works. Schools should use it.

What is wasteful in educational IT is use of Wintel everywhere. The big old desktops were just too large for classrooms designed in the days of dead trees. The small cheap computers running FLOSS on ARM and wirelessly networked are custom-made for education.

One last example. Education is a building process. Each individual adds to his knolwedge one brick at a time. That’s a rate-limited process and can be improved. Suppose the work of all students was preserved/published/distributed so that each student not only benefits from the knowledge and experience of his teachers but also from other students in the building and students and teachers previously in the building or in the educational system. With networking, databases and search-engines, every school can be an inspiring space, not a box. Students who are motivated and challenged by their peers are vastly superior learners and that motivation can be magnified by IT. In communities where I worked, I put wikis on the servers so students could find stuff related to their families/communities rather than just “the world” out there. How many dead tree books are relevant to students, written by someone in a faraway place with a different dialect and vocabulary and published on some stranger’s dead trees? Try teaching reading and writing in English to aboriginal students who live in their local dialect. Try teaching them to read and to write about the people and places they know. See the difference? No one wants to learn stuff that is irrelevant. IT brings relevance to every school and student and a connection to the rest of the world in a way that dead tree books don’t. Economics, space, freight all make that impossible.

Education with IT bridges the digital divide giving every student everywhere an equal opportunity to learn. IT, in itself, does not replace teachers and is not about education, but IT is a far better tool than what most schools have used for centuries. Folks who decry IT in schools are Luddites, trying to hold back a tide of knowledge, knowledge of people, places and things but also new ways of solving problems and indeed examples of real problems that inspire students to learn. Most of my education was accomplished in the early years with dead trees and it worked but you know what I remember best? Examples my teachers brought in of new and interesting stuff, nothing from all those dead trees. Where teachers can manage to bring in dozens of memorable things, IT can bring in millions. Present them all. Let the students sort them out.

See Classrooms Need to Ditch PCs, Tablets.

  • Jun 10 / 2014
  • 15

Disagreeing With Linus Again

There’s another take on an interview with Linus Torvalds focusing on programming computers.“I actually don’t believe that everybody should necessarily try to learn to code. I think it’s reasonably specialized, and nobody really expects most people to have to do it. It’s not like knowing how to read and write and do basic math.” Where I disagree with him is that programming is like maths. Everyone who works at a desk/business/technical job should know how to use spreadsheets and databases for instance. That’s a way to programme mathematical operations. That’s a way to solve problems.

The heart and soul of science is collecting data and finding patterns in it. The heart and soul of mathematics is manipulating symbols for the purposes of analyzing data and solving problems. The revised curricula in K-12 education in mathematics, science, and technology education all emphasize the ability to solve problems using IT, including some hardware and programming. See for example, Manitoba’s Grade 9 Mathematics Curriculum. Programming is like being able to read and to write and to do basic maths. I was overjoyed when the curriculum was revised in the late 1990s. Students who used to drop out of highschool over an inability to do “traditional” maths could finally excel at solving problems because they could edit and revise spreadsheets in seconds and get the spreadsheet itself to verify solutions. There was no longer an easy way to get the wrong answer. There was an easy way to get the right answer, like brute force/trying every reasonable value until the right one was found… Even weak students could understand the concept and some of them were better at that kind of maths than the “smart” kids.

Programming and IT are tools that everyone in a modern society should know something about. It’s a good thing Linus is only managing the Linux project and not all of edcuation. ;-)

See Linus Torvalds Q&A.

  • Jun 09 / 2014
  • 0
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Education Done My Way, With Small Cheap Computers

A theme of my educational career has been that the right way to do IT in schools is to do as much as possible with IT.“The Gauteng Department of Education is planning to turn every school in the province into a textbook-free zone.” Obviously there are some things IT can’t do but there’s no faster/cheaper way to create, find, modify and distribute information. That’s about half the task of educations. The rest is actual thinking and problem-solving as well as physical activity: hand-eye coordination to basketball…

In my years as a student and as a teacher I was constantly annoyed by the need to shuffle paper or to shuffle students to where the paper was, like the dead-trees library or carrying around textbooks. Some schools have done the maths. In South Africa where families are strapped to buy textbooks, schools have discovered that students can buy PCs for less money and publishers can supply e-books for less money so the whole thing can be done for less money. That’s the right way to do education and IT.

Helping the rush to small cheap computers is FLOSS on */Linux. The world can and does make great software and share it making everyone’s cost of software less and lifting barriers to use of IT even in impoverished communities. We’re not quite there yet, but we are close to the point where IT will be in every classroom playing a major role.

See Gauteng schools to go textbook free.

“There will be no iPads at the event. The basic requirements are a seven or ten inch tablet running Google’s Android operating system with at least a Gorilla glass screen, and beyond that there’s free choice.”

See also Inside South Africa’s first textbook free government school.

  • May 24 / 2014
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OMG! GNU/Linux Overtakes “7″ As Top Desktop OS in Ethiopia

I just love statistics, even when they stretch credulity. Friends of M$ have been stretching them for years telling us that GNU/Linux was an OS for the 1% of us who be geeks… No longer. StatCounter reports that in the last few weeks, GNU/Linux overtook “7″ and XP as top desktop OS in Ethiopia. I love it! Chuckle. This is the year of GNU/Linux on the desktop in Ethiopia.

Realistically, this probably represents a significant rollout of GNU/Linux in Ethiopian schools but it bodes well for the future of GNU/Linux in that country of 94million people. If and when they modernize and adopt IT everywhere, the youngsters will be ready.

Top 7 Desktop OSs in Ethiopia from 1 Apr to 23 May 2014.