Improving the Ratio

First off, thank you Module 7 for this presentation, it’s got me thinking in some new directions.

I was thinking through some of the issues with moving towards a 1:1 ratio, many of which are being discussed in the forums and comments, and looking for inexpensive ways of deploying more computers for students to use. I have better than a 1:1 ratio in my class, but my school at large is nowhere near. Here are two technologies that I’ve found, and I’m hoping that together we can find more.

Linux Terminal Server Project (

Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) is designed to connect multiple low-cost terminals to a powerful server which does all of the processing and storage for all users. The terminals can be old computers or newer thin clients, as long as they have a basic processor, video card, network card, and keyboard and mouse support. They don’t need any drives, as storage is handled by the server. Input by users is sent over the network, the server does the processing, and the results are resent over the network for the terminal to display. Practically, it’s like having your own machine.

The advantage to this is in costs and maintenance. The server is the only machine that needs to be setup and maintained. All of the terminals are interchangeable, and with the drives removed, the most common failures are gone as well. A single quad-core machine acting as a server (about $700) should run about 30 clients at reasonable speed. If the terminals are powerful enough, some processing can be done on them to reduce the load on the server too. Just about any old computer can be a terminal, so the clients can be old inventory or donated machines. Ubuntu includes a LTSP configuration in the install disk, so setting up a basic lab can be done in just a few hours.

The issue with this setup is that it uses Linux. While the OS and applications are free, it may be difficult getting IT to manage the system. If the IT already supports Linux, it should be an easy implementation.

Userful (

From what I can tell, Userful behaves similarly to an LTSP environment, but instead of dummy boxes connected by network to the server, a keyboard, mouse, and monitor is connected directly  to the server. It also uses Linux as the OS, so the same implications with software as the LTSP apply.

There are some performance advantages to this setup. Since each monitor/desktop has direct access to a video card, video performance is improved. Also, since a server is limited to about 10 user desktops, each user could have a larger slice of the processing power.  The company claims that it costs about $70 per user in hardware costs in addition to the server. Here’s my own cost estimate for a brand new lab of 30 machines. You would need 30 modules ($2100), 3 servers ($2100), 15 video cards ($900), 30 keyboards, mice, and monitors ($6000), which comes to $11100. I imagine that many schools would be able to scrounge the keyboards, mice and monitors, and that would reduce the cost significantly, to just over $5000.

If you know of other options, I’d love to see more solutions for schools looking to expand their computer offerings.

October 30, 2009   6 Comments

Learning OSS vs PS Software in Schools

After taking a quick look at open it seems to me that there are many similarities with Microsoft office.  Now, I believe in students learning how to use computer technologies in schools.  Most businesses require employees to use their software for communication and development of presentations.  If I owned a business I would not be interested in training workers on how to use a simple word processor.  I would expect that they would have been exposed to that during their education, especially in these times which we are relying more and more on technology in the working world.  

Having said that why is it that students need to use Microsoft Word?  After quickly looking at open office it seems to me that the interface is very similar to Word.  Why is it necessary to have students or schools pay for expensive proprietary products when they can just use the free OSS offered on the internet?  Open Office also states that their program is fully compatible with most other types of software so there shouldn’t be a problem transferring documents to Open Office from other programs.   There are most likely subtle differences between Open Office and Microsoft Word as well and between other applications from Open Office and the Microsoft suite.  In my opinion it is probably not going to be so great that it would cause a new hire to undergo intense training in Word in order to be able to use its basic functions. 

Besides this brings to mind a couple of years ago when I was working as a teacher and the entire school upgraded to the new Microsoft Office 2007 product.  The differences between the older version and the newer version were huge.  Myself as well as many co-workers were very distraught with the fact that our work production was slowed because we had to learn how to use a new program.  Things as simple as finding the line spacing format tab and the print preview button became frustrating examples of changes to the program that slowed us down as workers.  Not to mention there were problems with viewing older works from other word processors that made reading some students work impossible, I’m not even going to get into the frustrations with Power Point!  So even with new versions of PS coming out every few years workers are going to have to undergo some changes to what they are used to using anyway.  If employees are going to have to make changes anyway why not just encourage schools to use the free software for their students so they can cut down on their costs?  Better yet why don’t we have businesses using OSS technology and saving themselves money?

October 25, 2009   4 Comments

Some comments on the history of OSS

I have been reading the comments on the dipity timeline from our presentation and wanted to address a few points. Thanks to everyone who left comments on the timeline. It would have been great to link the comments directly to the blog, but here are my responses (read: these are my thoughts, not the whole group’s).

First there were several comments that OSS does not protect the intellectual property rights of the creators. I  agree that there is a real need to protect intellectual property rights with regard to software creation. However, in proprietary settings the code writers never get credit and it is the corporation or business that benefits financially from their work the most and holds all the rights. Microsoft pays it’s programmers well, but they are not doing nearly as well as Bill Gates. At least in OSS, if the software is licenced under GPL or Creative Commons, the actual programmers get to keep the IP rights to their work. If they want to develop a business around providing services to users of the product they are free to do so. If someone creates a derivative work on the shoulders of what I have done, then the IP rights to the new work should lie with them, but I would want to be credited as having made the original source.

Second, several people commented that they were surprised that ‘open-source’ style software predates PS. I truly believe that hardware and software development would have been seriously hindered if in the early days of computers there had not been a free and easy exchange of information and software between researchers and programmers. Science moves forward through the sharing of ideas, not just competition (although competition is a significant factor). One of the aims of the F/OSS community is to foster the development of new ideas and collaboration.

Lastly, I think we have to consider that OSS actually combats software piracy by giving people a viable alternative to buying shady copies of Microsoft Vista on the street corner. It also means that students can learn to use a wider aray of applications and programs than a school could provide if they had to pay high prices for software. Also students can take OSS home and extend their learning, as Eveline mentioned in one of her comments.

As we move towards things like Software as a Service, will the software we actually install on our machines continue to be something we want to pay for? Or will we be more willing to pay for services and support for software that is distributed at low cost?

October 25, 2009   2 Comments

OSS in Schools

It has been wonderful hearing all the feedback about how people are using OSS in their schools and personal lives.

Through these conversations, I am curious to know if people are using or exploring open source out of their own initiative or if people are encouraged to use open source by their school or workplace.

Many people have mentioned that their schools are making OSS (such as available as it is more cost efficient, and many of you have mentioned that you are using several programs (such as GoogleDocs, Scratch and Prezi) in the classrooms.  This made me wonder: how supportive are schools in using open source and how much support is given to the teachers who are using them?

Some of us also mentioned that although we like to help, we do not want to be the “tech guy”.  I wonder if the “tech guys” are as fluent in working with OSS as we want them to be – and should we hold them responsible for learning OSS as part of their “tech support”?  With so much open source out there – and maybe with my lack of tech savvy skills – I do not want to be one of them. =)

So – my question is – is there enough support out there or all we doing this because we’re amazing METers?  I know I have strayed from our OSS vs PS conversation – but I think support is a factor that also determines the choice of choosing one over the other.

October 25, 2009   2 Comments

OSS can be good prep for MS in the office

“Opponents of OSS in schools feel that using applications like to teach students office productivity applications would put them at a disadvantage in the workplace. Do you feel that the skills students would learn on OSS applications can transfer to proprietary applications? ”

I think students can be just as prepared for MS Office in the office environment if they are taught the basic desktop publishing concepts with and several other such applications in the class. The idea is to teach them the basic concepts and procedures of planning, laying out and editing content giving them experience in problem solving by exploring the interfaces, menus and help manuals of several applications.

What inevitably happens for students taught with open or proprietary software is that they get to the office and the new version of MS software has a radically altered interface. Just compare MS Office 2003 with MS Office 2007, or compare Word Perfect with MS Word. As for other software, Macromedia Flash changed significantly each time it came out, and then was added to Adobe Creative Suite.

I admit that students would probably prefer the proprietary professional workplace software to in some cases create better product easier. Fortunately, there are trial versions to practice with before going to the workplace.

October 24, 2009   7 Comments

Students Learning OSS vs PS

Module 6 Blog Question: There is an argument that students should use proprietary software (like Microsoft Office) in schools as they will most likley have to use it in the work environment. Opponents of OSS in schools feel that using applications like to teach students office productivity applications would put them at a disadvantage in the workplace. Do you feel that the skills students would learn on OSS applications can transfer to proprietary applications? Take a look at, or other applications that could be used in schoools, and then post your ideas to the course blog.

 I’m not sure that it would put them at a disadvantage. Skills learned using OSS applications such as OpenOffice can be transferable should the student get a job in an organization using Microsoft Office. For example, in OpenOffice Writer, there is a toolbar with similar functions to MS Word and drop down menus. What I think is more critical is that in school the student learn to write effectively (grammar, sentence structure, expression of an opinion/thought, analytical writing). The application used to write with would be a secondary concern, with the thought that if you can use OpenOffice Writer than you possess computer skills and that the individual would likely be able to make the transition/leap to MS Word with a bit of assistance from the Help Function or tutorial.

October 24, 2009   4 Comments

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.

October 24, 2009   7 Comments

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

Absolutely! Here’s why:

As I mentioned as a comment on this week’s presentation website, I rarely, purchase proprietary software. My software needs are usually taken care of by OSS, so there is no need for me to go out and spend money. I find OSS cheap, easy to use, and very efficient. My instructional designs make use of OSS as well mostly due to the conditions under which I teach.  There is generally no extra funds for software in my school division, unless it is determined that a program is required as a learning adaption.

Having said this, there exists an on-going debate whether to choose PS over OSS as we plan for the future regarding the use of technology in my school division. There are those who appreciate the affordability of OSS and those who feel that the cost of PS is justified due to the support and quality of the software. This was an argument outlined in this week’s module, so I’m going to assume that it is quite common. Another important discussion is occurring in regards to the old “PC vc Mac” debate. Interestingly, those in favour of going with Macs are also strong supporters and advocates for OSS whereas PC lovers praise PS.


October 23, 2009   3 Comments

OSS in Schools

I would be all for adding OSS to my work environment. Working in a high school the possibilities of many of these free software programs are endless.  Take a program like Odijoo which allows you to create publish and store online courses.  Teachers could augment the courses they teach with online modules….. something like a webquest?  It would cost the school nothing and would develop a whole new world for students to learn in.  Students could log on from any computer connected to the internet at any time.  It would be a great way to fit in that unit that there just isn’t time for.  It could  be an interactive independent study opportunity, all for no cost.

October 23, 2009   6 Comments

Thoughts on creating M6 with OSS.

I thought that I would share some of my experiences using open source software (OSS) to create this presentation. I’m not an OSS guru, although I’ve been using it much more since last term when I created a project about the implications of using it in education. This presentation was a chance to look a little deeper at some of the other aspects.

There are many free solutions for hosting a website. Ning, for instance, helped the previous two groups create great presentations, complete with comments, RSS feeds, e-mail notifications, and common logins. Google Sites is another option. It also includes the ability for all group members to contribute. We settled on Joomla because I knew it was open source, I had used it once before, and I have access to a Web server and necessary databases to install it on. Another option for us, would have been to use WordPress like the blog used in this course.

I won’t lie, there were a lot of frustrations with using Joomla. I can let my group members speak for themselves, but even up to Sunday night, there were lots of little things going wrong. For instance, if you embed a YouTube video, then edit the page after, the video is gone. I’ve since learned that using a different editor would have avoided that problem. Nevertheless, there were a lot of little issues, and under a deadline is not the best time to find them. Several people have already commented about this, and having a little more time to experiment before diving in would’ve been nice.

There were a lot of things that went well. First of all, it seemed really fitting to present this module on an open-source platform.  When we had decided upon the basic layout of the presentation, it was easy to add, remove, edit, and hide pages as needed. It was relatively easy to implement additional functions like the comments and forums, and there were a multitude of options for each choice. There were close to 10 comment systems to choose from. As it turns out, Joomla is designed to be able to handle huge and complex websites with multitudes of authors, including both backend administrative authors and front-end users. It has a lot of features in common with WordPress, likely because of their open source heritage.

I also used OpenOfficeSeaMonkey, and Gimp to create/edit content. All three of these applications work perfectly for me. There was no experimentation, I found no glitches, and they worked exactly as advertised. I would’ve been satisfied paying customer. All three of these should be beacons in the OSS community.

The big question, was it worth it? I think it was. Although Joomla is designed for more that we used, and I would like to try other content management systems too, it did the job well, giving us a clean layout, easy organization, and the ability for everyone to contribute. Like I said before, there are lots of free solutions, but I don’t regret giving OSS a chance.

October 22, 2009   12 Comments