How to use open source in the classroom

Lobbying for open source and Linux in schools

school supplies for back to school
Image by : 

Opensource.com

About eight years ago, I started lobbying to bring more Linux and open source software to high schools and higher IT vocational institutions in the Netherlands and Belgium. Here's how I did it and what you can learn from it to do the same where you live.

First, Linux and open source in education can be categorized into three topics:

  1. The infrastructure of schools
  2. The desktop students and teachers work with
  3. The curriculum for IT education

The first topic, the infrastructure at schools consists of a bunch of different software, which is used for administration. Examples are applications like student management systems, document management systems, and operating systems. Basically, this software isn’t that different from what is used in other industries. This applies not only to vocational education, but to all schools at any level.

The second topic, the desktops used at schools are predominantly running on Microsoft Windows, and thanks to a push to get iPads into schools, we know they can also educate with the aid of other devices. So, why not a Linux desktop?

Finally, from the list of topics, I focused most of my attention, time and energy, on the curriculum for IT education at intermediate and higher vocational education in the Netherlands.


View the complete collection of articles for Open Education Week

Up until five years ago, I was like a voice in the desert when I advocated for Linux and open source in curricula. I was often laughed at when predicting Linux would be the most frequently used operating system for servers. Today, no one denies that Linux is a serious competitor in the server world. Just recently, I was part of a commission to bring a new curriculum to a higher vocational school for sysadmins. More than half the people present were convinced Linux and open source are indispensable for the datacenter. And, the hosting admins emphasized Linux and open source are essential for graduates to get a job at their company. For this target group it is very important that software is scalable up and down, both technically and financially. They state that this is only flexible enough with open source software. If they are not flexible and their competitors are they can not survive.

A latest development which will take down a lot of barriers for schools who want to teach Linux, is the availability of free Linux material through the Cisco Academy. Since this schoolyear ten million students worldwide have free access to Linux entry level teaching materials though this method. This concerns teaching material based on the worldwide set of learning goals by LPI Linux Essentials.

This is the next step in the right direction, but we are not there yet. At the moment, there are many teachers in IT, who do not have knowledge or experience with Linux and open source software. So, providing IT teachers proper training and accompanying certification is how we can help further.

Is your school teaching Linux and open source software?

The train has left the station, and it’s not going to stop. It’s up to schools and teachers to make sure they jump aboard. Will you?


Originally published in the Dutch Linux Magazine, Issue 15, July/August 2014.

More resources: What is open education? and Youth using open source (a free eBook).

7 Comments

Luis Ibanez

Emiel,

Thanks for the great article.

You made very good points on why schools should adopt Linux.

I would like to mention the additional advantage that by adopting Linux, educators and students have the opportunity to learn (if they wish) how software works under the covers; and they also have the ability to modify it if needed.

The right to study and modify the software, has been one of educational driving forces of the Free and Open Source Software movement, since its earliest days.

I'm all for teachers adopting Linux, and I think that for that to happen, many of us with some level of Linux experience must volunteer at local schools to provide guidance and mentorship.

Vote up!
6
Vote down!
0
fweng322

Great job!

Here is our experiences promoting open source software in Taiwan's school:

https://dot.kde.org/2013/10/02/ezgo-free-and-open-source-software-taiwan...

Just that we mainly focused on elementary and high schools, instead of IT education.

Vote up!
2
Vote down!
0
EmielBrok

@Luis Thanks for your comment, I often use the metaphor of a car mechanic. How can you be a good car mechanic if you cannot look under the hood?

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
EmielBrok

@Franklin, thanks for your addition as well. I will post the website you mentioned on the Dutch Open Source Education Group. Maybe we can learn from your project. Thanks for sharing!

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
fweng322

I hope that we can meet, talk and share our experiences with each other, no matter on IRC, or in conferences. You know, it is more difficult to promote open source in Asia due to culture differences and many other reasons. I'd also like to know how you do and how you think.

Vote up!
2
Vote down!
0
EmielBrok

Today this press release is out about the 'free' training material. This will undermine a lot of arguments for public IT-schools and -teachers for NOT teaching Linux and open source to IT-students. This way Linux knowledge will be a commodity for all IT-students! Check: https://www.lpi.org/news/cisco-networking-academy-adopts-course-aligned-...

Vote up!
2
Vote down!
0
Don Watkins

Schools tend to be driven by trends and the current trend has been iPads and now Chromebooks. I advocated for Linux desktops and we even used Linux Terminal Server desktops in a couple of computer labs and a number of classrooms and library terminals. I even offered to teach an introductory Linux course at a local vocational center.

The ground has shifted some in the past few years with an increasing demand for IT professionals with Linux system administration skills. I believe that Linux and open source advocates can gain the most traction by showing schools and policy makers that Linux is inside many of the devices they are using. For example show them that a student with Linux skills has a better chance of employment fixing iOS, MacOSX, Chromebooks, Android devices when they have a background in a file system that is essentially identical.

I was at one time an adjunct Cisco instructor at a community college and I'm familiar with the high quality of Cisco's courseware. I'm glad to see that they have moved in this direction. Great article and thanks for sharing.

Vote up!
3
Vote down!
0