FOSS/OSS in Public Schools

Blog Question: Would you support implementing FOSS/OSS in your work environment?

At my small secondary school, we already support FOSS/OSS use.  Our server is run with Apache software and is hosting Moodle for some of our classes.

On another note, the Vancouver Board of Education has now installed OSS software such as Open Office and Gimp onto board-issued computers.  I know there are some teachers, including myself, that aren’t too keen on the Open Office at this point because most of our computer files are MS Word-based.  Even though Word files can be opened with Open Office, often, some of the formatting is lost.  I think it will definitely take some time before people get used to it and start transferring files over to using these OSS software programs.  It sort of reminds me of way back in the day when there was the battle of web browsers…Netscape vs. IE.  I can’t remember how many times (lots!) that I switched between the two browsers as my default.  One would come up with new features and I would then switch to that one.  This went on for years until, of course, IE won out.  Now, I’m using Firefox. =)

In general, I would support FOSS/OSS in public schools; however, only if we were given more tech-support from our school board.  Last thing I want is to become the tech-support guy every time one of my colleagues has a problem with the OSS.  If that’s the model (i.e. teachers becoming their own tech-support) that the school boards are going to then I would not support it.


1 Liz Hood { 10.24.09 at 4:22 pm }

You make a great point Ernest. We know that technology has the “early adopters” and in an FOSS/OSS adoption in any large arena (such as a school district) the tendency is for those early adopters to be leaned upon as the “tech gurus” . I know our official tech support person is spread thin at our school, I am number 2 for most teachers; which I do not mind except I cannot always help because I have my instructional responsibilities (which come first). There have been several mentions that with FOSS/OSS there is no official “tech support” number to call. Someone needs to be savvy enough/have time enough to troubleshoot.

2 Cathy Jung { 10.24.09 at 5:22 pm }

Ernest, I do not work in the school system (rather corporate, with access to an IT department of approximately 55 people) and wondered how is the Tech Support structured at within the school system? Is it by school, district? Just wondering how accessible the current structure for support is currently. Cathy

3 Barrie Carter { 10.25.09 at 10:02 am }

Hello Ernest and Cathy:

Ernest — I am a Safari fan because I am a sucker for ‘design’. The browser is fast and the interface is elegant. However, I have Firefox as my secondary web browser.

Also, I am too sure if tech support would want to maintain F/OSS because of their rapid ongoing versions. And, I can only imagine how frustrating it would be for tech support if a particular F/OSS is removed. Here, tech support may not know much about source codes.

Cathy — In the public school system, IT support is district-based. In my school district, for example, we have three technicians for nine schools, distributed learning (DL), and the board office.


4 Eveline Yu { 10.25.09 at 2:34 pm }

Hi Ernie,

I remember those battles between Netscape and IE – I didn’t like either of them very much, which was why I also continued to switch between them. I now use Firefox – not because it is OSS – I didn’t even know that until this module – but because it is easy to use… and simple (to me).

As for tech support at my school, we have 1 tech guy – but because of language barriers (he speaks in Mandarin – and I do not know how to convey my tech problems using Chinese jargon), I am usually at a loss and getting the message across is just as frustrating as getting the problem fixed itself.

I try to minimize my tech dependence and stick with what I know for now until I improve in my use of Chinese computer jargon (it’s lucky now that we have English on our computers and I can actually read “open/close/ignore/and VIRUS found!”). =)

5 Michel Lacoursiere { 10.25.09 at 3:06 pm }

Hi Ernie,

As an TOC for Vancouver School Board I have noticed the OSS installed on district computers and Stephen Lamb (District IT Guru) talked about his choices to go open source. I think as a cost cutting measure it makes sense, there can be thousands of computers in a given district and the cost of traditional software can add up. As you say teachers must be supported in their use, and not just by the resident “techie” (that happens to be me).

I will gladly help teachers learn new things about programs and computers or integrate technology and the Web into their classroom. With that said, as a teacher I should not be expected to troubleshoot minor computer problems, I am a teacher not tech support.

6 Michel Lacoursiere { 10.25.09 at 3:10 pm }

Oh, I should also mention Ernie that if saving in Open document formats makes you worry you can change the save preference by going Tools -> Preferences -> Load/Save and change “Always save as” to Word format (.doc) or Rich text format (.rtf).

This way you can always switch back and preserve some of that formatting.

7 Ernest Pao { 10.25.09 at 3:51 pm }

Hi everyone,

Thanks for the comments. Like some of you, I too, didn’t know Firefox was OSS. My brother (a tech guy) told me it was more stable so I tried it one time and sure enough it was pretty good. I’ve been using it ever since. My wife, on the other hand, refuses to switch from IE.

As for tech-support in the school system, I believe it is district-based. Each school has an IT guy or two that they share. If you have any computer issues, you need to send in a message to the “help desk” or “footprint” system and then they send out a tech-guy to work on your problem. It could take days or maybe weeks before somebody comes to look at your issue. I haven’t used that system in years. Most schools that I know have a “tech-club” or something that consists of a bunch of tech-savvy kids that go around and troubleshoot your computer problems. Way faster, way easier, and most of the time, the kids are way friendlier too! In fact, I got my tech kid to setup our entire server with Moodle, WordPress etc and if I have any problems, he fixes it within minutes (assuming he’s not in class). Only problem is, I’m not sure what I’m going to do when he graduates! Fortunately, I’ve got him for another few years.

Thanks for the tip on Open Office, Michel. I’ll keep it in mind if I ever decide to switch away from MS Office!

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