Building Computer Labs for Free

I found an article about a teacher building a computer lab on $0. That’s mostly what I did for years refurbishing whatever PCs were in storage or not being used in schools where I taught. GNU/Linux is very flexible and installs on a wide variety of machines without concerns about drivers for the particular machine since most drivers needed to boot are part of the Linux kernel.

“With the help of his local LUG, he got Linux up and running on his 18 donated machines. Suddenly, they were fast. They were clean. They worked well in the classroom. Robert was invigorated, as were his students.”

Of course there are challenges particularly for a newbie to GNU/Linux not knowing how to do much at first but it’s all been done before and Google is your friend. Apparently this guy set up thick clients which is OK but there’s nothing better than LTSP for schools if at least one decent/modern/resourceful machine is available. It’s found in several distros. e.g. Debian GNU/Linux.

It’s not difficult to get old/donated PCs in many places thanks to Wintel’s built-in obsolescence. The hard part is getting things like monitors, keyboards and mice which survive a step on the Wintel treadmill. Sometimes you just have to have a bit of money. I once equipped a whole school with fine HP USB keyboards with a hub and optical wheel mice for $10 a set. Some recyclers will donate equipment rather than having to dispose of its materials. That is a liability for a school in many places but it’s still cheaper than buying new.

Thanks to the flexibility of GNU/Linux and its licensing, schools have no excuse for not having one or more computer labs and some PCs in every classroom.

see How One Teacher Built a Computer Lab for Free | iFixit.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
This entry was posted in Linux in Education, Teaching, technology. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Building Computer Labs for Free

  1. oiaohm says:

    Chris Weig locking a windows machines down to prevent outside applications is basically impossible.

    Linux has very few exploit by inserted media flaws. That is the big difference you know.

    Like one school was having problem with kids playing a game drug wars. Parents of the school did not want it played. I had added it to anti-virus and everything else. Fastest way to stop it dead was change over to Linux running only signed approved binaries. trowsers mode by the way. This puts a major road block to running third party scripts. Its not 100 percent bullet proof but goes a long way. Trowsers can even apply to windows applications running in wine.

    Windows does lack a key tool for brat control. There is a reason why TPM under the administrators control is good.

    Setting inserted media and user write able locations on Linux no execute goes along way to also blocking extras.

    Students still were getting there class work done. Now students who wanted todo there work were not needing to complain to teacher to throw kid off playing games.

  2. Chris Weig says:

    I did, but the workload was too much for part-time IT and full-time was too expensive.

    But fortunately someone not knowledgeable enough was available — you.

    GNU/Linux works in schools. Set it up and it runs and runs like the Ever-ready Bunny.

    So does Windows. I administered our school’s Windows XP network during my last two years there while studying for my A-Levels. It wasn’t even a part-time job, because it just worked.

    Your stories about how you just couldn’t Windows get to work are really getting tiresome. All these other people who are perfectly able to must possess some really uncanny ability which you lack. What could it be?

  3. ch says:

    “I did”

    Sorry, but it’s evident that you didn’t.

  4. ch wrote, “why didn’t you then learn how to administrate Windows?”

    I did, but the workload was too much for part-time IT and full-time was too expensive. GNU/Linux works in schools. Set it up and it runs and runs like the Ever-ready Bunny.

  5. ch says:

    “There was not price tag”

    So the limiting factor was the budget, not the technology.

    “I was often hired for my computer expertise”

    And why didn’t you then learn how to administrate Windows?

    (BTW: Due to budget constraints – they were too cheap to use the Company Network – I once set up a small LAN for one department to better share their Printers way back in ’94. The server was a discarded PC – early 386 with 768k soldered onto the Mainboard – and I installed the “Workgroup connection for DOS” on it. Not that I really recommend DOS for Servers, but in this instance it actually worked. Since the Clients already had WfW, only the NICs and cables had to be purchased. So yes, with a bit of knowledge and a willingness to improvise a lot can be done on a shoestring budget.)

  6. ch says:

    “M$ wants ignorant users, plain and simple.”

    Any supporting evidence? The “Mojave stunt” and the quote from Matt Crowley both sound rather like MS would love their users to be better informed so they wouldn’t parrot the IT press’ favorite line at the time “Vista is crap” when it wasn’t, or completely ignore the basics regarding Internet security.

  7. ch says:

    “Who would you hire?”

    As a garbage man? Probably none of the above.

    As a secretary? Someone who “can just create Office documents”, knows Outlook really well and has other relevant qualifications.

    As an IT administrator? Preferably not someone who talks about “WAN/LAN website” 😉

    BTW, I just set up an Intranet website which includes a wiki. Using Sharepoint, that’s almost trivially easy. OTOH, creating a properly formatted Office document is not as trivial as you probably think.

    “create a CRM database”

    Developing our own CRM system in-house will in all likelihood cost more than just buying an existing solution.

    “technical unencumbered documents”

    What do you mean by that?

  8. dougman wrote, of IT in schools, “M$ seemed to be far too entrenched in that arena, besides doing side work with small business’s pays more.”

    Yes. I as an individual had little or no success with large schools and school divisions. Smaller schools are smaller problems but of course, have almost no IT budgets. Even in the North I would have had to schmooze with high government mucky-mucks in order to change the way they fund Wintel. Canonical, Dell, RedHat and IBM are better aligned/equipped to do that. Fortunately there are signs that most governments are at least becoming aware of FLOSS and GNU/Linux. I am hopeful but it takes time.

  9. dougman says:

    M$ wants ignorant users, plain and simple.

    “Many people who use IE are not the most tech-savvy people. If you ask them about what security they have in place, they think you’re talking about your house. It’s more ignorance than anything else.” – Matt Crowley, Microsoft program manager for IE

    Students know WAY more then what teachers currently do. Here is a perfect example of how misinformed they can be:

    Never got into the school realm, M$ seemed to be far too entrenched in that arena, besides doing side work with small business’s pays more.

  10. Dougman wrote, “Who would you hire?”

    I can tell you as one of the “most hired” teachers in Canada that I was often hired for my computer expertise. At the height of my career, I applied to five job postings and had three interviews. Before I was a computer teacher it was not unusual for I and other teachers to apply to dozens of ads before getting in interview. Typically small schools here have no IT person except some teacher on staff reluctantly taking on the role. Where I last worked that guy retired and XP was grinding to a halt within two years. People were boxing PCs to ship out for “repair” for $hundreds because they did not know anything about maintaining software. There were two servers on a shelf not even plugged in. They routinely unplugged everything for summer cleaning and no one knew enough to hook them up. There was not even a router/firewall. In a year, I took them from 50% availability of 40 units to 100% availability of 80 units and a shift to GNU/Linux. They had several servers running when I left. They could hire an IT person for about half the cost of a teacher but they have no money for that. Governments instead support IT organizations which help minimally and at arms’ length. Where I last worked the most help I could get from them was an Internet connection and two 100mbits/s switches. They did supply equipment that was not compatible with our machines like SATA hard drives which I took on speculation that I could eventually buy SATA cables… My students knew more about dealing with IT than the whole professional staff put together. You bet I was in demand.

    Sadly, my teaching career ended as I aged and had less fun doing it and a wave of “professionalism” required a B.Ed. degree instead of my 8 years of University plus one year in the faculty of education. Of course I welcome retirement to do what I want but the little woman keeps putting me to tasks for which I am ill-equipped like re-attaching the mouldings on the old homestead. Fortunately, that project is nearing completion and I look forward to catching up with the weeds, harvesting my garden and hunting as a retired gentleman. I did get a day off yesterday to make 6L of pickled beets… Life will be good soon.

  11. Chris Weig wrote, “Tell me how that is related to the OS”.

    With GNU/Linux, I, as a teacher, did not have to wait for a budget to come through a year or two after a concept and I did not have to limit PCs to being clients. They could be servers just as well. There was not price tag and no EULA limiting what I imagined PCs could do. So, yes, the OS does affect the potential of people to be creative and productive in their use of IT.

    I have worked in many schools where there was no server simply because the concept was too remote and too expensive for ordinary users of that other OS. I taught in a different school almost every year and it was almost always the same that servers, if they existed, were underutilized and the connection to the Internet was a tight bottleneck. Putting any old server on the LAN was revolutionary. Thousands of teachers before me being ordinary users of that other OS could not come up with that trivial (for a GNU/Linux user) innovation. Further, I lit a fire by enabling students to run servers on their computers at home. Several times I organized competitions for time to set up a minimal server. The record was 3 minutes by a girl who could type faster… It probably would be less than 1 minute with a local repository in the school, something that is not even possible with that other OS and “partners” fighting for licensing fees.

  12. Chris Weig says:

    Who would you hire? Someone that can just create Office documents, or someone that can build a wiki from scratch, create your WAN/LAN website, create a CRM database and create technical unencumbered documents?

    Tell me how that is related to the OS. Wait… don’t tell me, it’ll just be hot air.

    Who would you hire? A real computer professional or a snake oil salesman who wants you to pay for anti-virus and anti-malware and “second opinion” software?

  13. dougman says:

    I read that article before you posted it, decent story to say the least. Kids get to learn something, instead of just how to use M$ software; these days you better bring value to the table in this down economy.

    Ken Starks from Austin, TX does the very exact same thing with his organization. M$ zealots hate him for it, LOL.

    Who would you hire? Someone that can just create Office documents, or someone that can build a wiki from scratch, create your WAN/LAN website, create a CRM database and create technical unencumbered documents?

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