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Re: [school-discuss]

Troy Banther wrote:
Let me say I believe this list is fantastic. Seriously, I like the free 
exchange that goes on. I believe it is extremely healthy. 
For the last five years I have had the opportunity to see just how the process 
of students, instructors, staff, and administrators interact with computer 
technology and its software. 
The Center for Student Success, a New Mexico state-funded Adult Basic 
Education program, housed within Clovis Community College in Clovis works 
with early academic, leveling, developmental, English as a Second Language, 
tutoring services, and TABE testing. 
The technology is distributed in one main lab (30 CPUs), an online writing 
center (5 CPUs) in a mixed traditional classroom with a little technology 
mixed in, a TABE testing area (6 CPUs), and three 'smart' classrooms (68 
CPUs). Three servers: two Windows 2k3 and one Slackware Linux. 
PLATO Pathways (server-based) edition is the primary educational platform. 
There is also Rosetta Stone, Side-by-Side, Reading Horizons, and several 
other canned-software in the mix distributed across the main lab and 
There appears to be three categories of students. Self learners without an 
instructor (mostly academic and some tutoring). Learners with an instructor 
(ESL, GED, ABE, TABE, and Developmental). Learners who only need tutoring 
services with no technology. 
From my observation, it appears that students who have one-on-one tutoring or 
instruction rate the highest. Given the low number of qualified tutors per 
subject matter, the number of tutors per hour in a day, the physical teaching 
spaces, and fiscal limitations due to funding restraints - this 'ideal' is 
not always possible. 
People who use just technology rate the lowest, except for academic 
self-learners, as measured by PLATOs crude internal reporting of student 
The learners who use both traditional and technology method are near the first 
category of tutor-based learning. There are some both developmental and 
academic who are diverse learners and progress at their own speed. We also 
have deaf students who like the computer-based technology as well.

Staff and administrators appear only to have the technology available and 
operational when they need to teach their students and subjects. Their 
students are are diverse and come from a highly diverse demographic. 
The primary demographics, the ones plugged into and reported by both PLATO and 
AccuTrack software, indicate women of Hispanic and Caucasian backgrounds 
outnumber the males by three times that of males. While it does cycle each 
semester this statistic has remained constant. Women, it appears, are more 
comfortable using computer technology in this type of mixed avenue learning 
Our campus, until quite recently, has been a strongly Microsoft-based campus. 
With the advent of a new campus-wide data collection and management program 
planned for the near future - this has changed. There is a frustration with 
the constant updates and patching cycle that I've noticed. My systems are 
locked down in a more 'clean-and-pristine' state with the program called Deep 
Freeze. This comes in extremely handy with the online CPUs.
Linux came into play in the CSS due to the need of a server for the TABE-PC 
testing software. For the first several years it was a nightmare to manage 
and maintain eight separate copies of a very difficult 'copy control' 
software on 486s and early Pentium CPUs. 
Around two years ago, very quietly but with the approval of the CSS director, 
we placed into production a Slackware v.10 server. I was able to centralize a 
single copy of the TABE-PC program onto this server. Then via SMB and an 
older but smaller 16-port hub I was able share the program over the dedicated 
network to six newer PIII CPUs. There was also an older HP Laser Jet 
connected locally to the server and shared.

A "testing" version of the Windows-based PLATO onto the same Linux server. It 
is still there and it runs without fail when tested. Proper SMB and client 
configuration is the key on a Linux-based production server. 
As a technician, I look at stability of the production system, the long 
periods of operational uptime without maintenace, and its ease of data backup 
and recoverability. I am only one individual technician maintaining four 
networks, the equipment in all my areas. This is not the focus of the CSS 
It has, to the delight of the CSS director, been a low-cost deployment. She 
has also been able to capture and report two accurate fiscal years of student 
data. This is extremely important for state-level reporting and funding 
agencies. Personal technical opinions are not important when funding is based 
upon national reporting standards.  
My personal opinion of PLATO Pathways, AccuTrack, TABE-PC aside, or any canned 
software for-that-matter, is not high. It as software could always be more 
and do more its high cost. It could be more flexible to the needs of each 
school or educational organization. Such things are the realm of coders and 
I am not a coder. I would love to see someone develop a Linux-based PLATO 
"like" (used loosely) free alternative for schools. This could also apply to 
an AccuTrack and TABE-PC testing program. Ones that could be crafted around 
institutional needs but cover all the essentials (like PLATO) for adult 
I would love to hear what others have done with Linux and educational 
software. Photos would be great too. :)


Troy it is interesting that PLATO is still being used in any school!  It must have been massively improved, both in terms of underlying concepts and practice.  While I was evaluation director for the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, we contracted to evaluate experimentally both Plato and CCC in the classrooms.  These studies lasted for a full year, and included full randomization of students receiving and not receiving each CAI component.  Using typical Analysis of Variance tests, we found that those students who used the PLATO math module lost 6 months of math attainment over what they would have achieved with only a teacher.  Similar results for reading.  CCC, on the other hand, came out doing really great, because it was strictly a drill and practice method.  This was the period where PLATO was started by Control Data Corporation, the mainframe company.  Results were quashed by the State, who feared loss of jobs through CDC failure.  CDC quickly sold off PLATO thereafter.  Three years ago I did an informal review of the literature on the effectivenesss of Plato, and found similar poor results in other studies.  It just goes to show you, it is marketing and sales, not quality product.
fn:Michael Dean