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Re: [school-discuss] Interviews with Maddog Hall and John Selmys; Coming Up--Doc Searls and Richard Stallman

Hi Steve,

On 9/28/06, Steve Hargadon <steve.hargadon@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:


This week I've spoken to Jon "maddog" Hall and John Selmys about Free
and Open Source Software in schools. Their recorded interviews are
linked above. Tonight at 5pm PDT I interview Doc Searls (see
EdTechLive.com to participate or listen real-time), and on Saturday,
October 7, I'll be interviewing Richard Stallman at 7:30 am PDT.

Thanks for doing these interviews.
Maddog (and he told me only his mom calls him Jon) is the Executive
Director of Linux International, and even though I was struggling with
a flu bug, he did a great job of succinctly communicating the value of
Free and Open Source Software in education.

Maddog is quite a character.  He really knows how to work a room too.

John Selmys is the organizer of the Seneca College Free and Open
Source Software Symposium being held in Toronto this coming October 26
- 28.

That sounds like a good thing.

While Maddog gave a great overview of the theoretical value of FOSS in
schools, John S. gave a somewhat discouraging practical report on the
lack of progress for FOSS in Toronto schools. In many ways, the
combination of these two interviews is reflective of the reality of
the situation with Free and Open Source Software.

I haven't listened to either of the interviews yet.  I do know the alot of the barriers to FOSS at the ground level.  And am struggling to find ways around and through them.  The most important thing from my perspective is that FOSS makes life EASIER for the teachers to do their job.  It seems in the US at the moment that the job of teacher has become excruciatingly difficult mostly for political and financial reasons.  From my perspective, the real losers in this situation are the children and ultimately our whole future society at least in the US.  I'm working on several levels to get the knowledge about FOSS needed into the hands of those that need it.  I find that my time and computer resources are extremely limited and this tends to frustrate me and cause me not to get as much done as I would like.  For instance...there's a PTA meeting tonight at my daughter's school where I *might* have the opportunity to guide them toward FOSS answers to some of their issues.  However due to scheduling issues and the fact that I'm currently without a working vehicle...I won't be there.  It's unlikely anyone else knows about this stuff.  On the political arena they are merging two schools which is going to be a major challenge.

I'm attempting to secure the proper hardware to do edubuntu demonstrations for each of my children's schools as well as the certain people at the Community College I current work at part time.  This is taking more time than I would like.

Now, I know I must sound like I'm beating the same drum over and over
again the last few weeks, but as Maddog was talking about the
grassroots kind of assimilation that the FOSS world hopes for into the
classroom, and John S. was talking about the top-level decision-making
that is precluding FOSS from getting to the classroom, I couldn't help
but continue to reflect on Larry Cuban's remarks from a couple of
weeks ago. The lessons seem to be:

   1. Decision-making about technology in most schools is not made by
the teachers themselves, but by higher-level policy-makers.

And this
is a political game, with lots of money at stake.

Yep.  And it's a VERY small part of the the rest of the political game...Buildings, Bussing, Curricula and other stuff.
   2. Teachers are extremely busy (it was a little heart-wrenching to
hear John S. talk about the restructuring in his area that has made it
even harder for teachers).

Tons of forces are coming to bear on our teachers.

We cannot place the burden on them to learn
about and integrate technology into what they do, as most simply don't
have the time and are measured on other factors.

We can present it to them and let them see the potentials.  And give them the opportunity to get as excited about this stuff as we are.  Finding the resources, including time, hardware, and good presenters is the crux of that particular angle.

   3. There are early-adopter teachers who are utilizing technology
actively in their classroom, but their adoption pattern is not the
same as the average teacher, and so attempts to roll out technology
initiatives on their experience historically haven't proven effective.

Yeah,  what has proven effective in my experience is that the teacher's get their needs met.  These needs vary from course to course and from teacher to teacher.  For instance foreign language teachers need to be able to have text read outloud in native language, the need to be able to have their students hear a phrase and then repeat the phrase such that the teacher can then listen to the students recording and leave voice feedback for that phrasing...all of this, if possible, through a web browser...there is propretaries program called CAN8 that does this to some extent now.  I'm working on making it's functionality be easily done with FOSS software.  Again this needs resources, such as time, decently fast multimedia computers for development and money to compensate me for the time I spend on it so I can feed my family.  I have several other examples I could share...Mostly the important thing is that the teachers can RELY on the system.  They have been burned so badly by other software and they DON'T have time to play around with new stuff.

   4. Even though billions of dollars have been spent on educational
technology, the computer has not really penetrated or transformed the
average classroom experience.

This is really not much of suprise given the ways we've attempted to shoe horn it in.  There are things that the computer does extremely well such as complex computations and with the advent of the internet non-physical presence communication.  Certainly there are many other things it can do well and there are many complex applications out there that can be very helpful when one takes the time to learn how to use them...The difficulty becomes three fold 1) learning takes time and we are already "behind" 2) the computers are extremely unreliable and we can not expect them to be available when we need them (unlike say a football or some other "low-tech" commodity object that is easy to manipulate and use) 3) the really useful programs are EXPENSIVE and we have no budget....(obviously WE know better in this forum....however)

  I'm seeing the computer in the classroom's and (more likely) in the school library mostly being used as adjunct research tools and not as an every day tool for learning beyond what can be read from an internet page.  The other use is more like a TV...plunk the kid in front of the machine and use it as a "babysitter" for a while.

I'm hoping to help change that trend.

   5. For technology to be truly integrated into the classroom, it
will have to be so reliable and easy to use so that average teacher
can participate in a grass-roots movement to bring it into the
classroom, since it will likely buck the trend of decision-making at
higher levels.

Indeed.  How many of those upper level decision makers can we reach, with advocacy and presentations?  If we can convinve more school administrations (and with major budget cuts almost everywhere it seems at least plausible) how many more pilot programs can we get moving and take their experience and fold it back into edubuntu and other projects?  This will snowball, what what point do we hit critical mass?

Now, I am sure that this is an oversimplification, but to me this last
point really helps to explain why FOSS has not made more inroads in
the classroom. It's not going to come from the top, since even though
the cost savings and the openness of FOSS would have value to the
school or district, the existing proprietary vendors have a financial
interest in keeping their programs in use.

Yet some of them are at least starting to take steps TOWARD FOSS.  How do we help encourage them to come join us on this grand adventure?

And it can't come from the
bottom, because to the average teacher, Linux and FOSS are no easier
to use than their existing computer tools and the cost savings and
openness are not as important to them.

This we CAN and I hope DO, fix...We have a lot of really excellent programmers in this forum and on various projects that cater to this niche.  Let's come together and make OUR software EASIER, more RELIABLE, with extended features and with better pricing to use then their current propreitary stuff.  When teachers find they can actually use a system to augment their teaching in a positive way they WILL adopt it.

Linux, in particular, is
significantly less difficult to maintain from an administrative level
(where the decision-making won't necessarily be about that), but at
the classroom level can even be harder to use for a teacher because it
is unfamiliar.

Where are the trainers?  Who is training these teachers to use this stuff?  I'm doing it to some extent and I'm sure there are others, yet we need to be more visible and more effective and this training.  I hear that teachers have to get extra training every year to "keep current" at least at the college level.  How do we offer them classes that fulfill those requirements AND get the word about FOSS and FOSS applications to them in a way they can use?

So far I've focused on the classroom, but the computer lab (or
technology training program) is another story that I'd still like to
figure out. Maddog makes some great points about the use of Free
Software (which is his preferred term) for training.

   1. Free software can be given to the students, and so there is no
economic barrier to learning or to continued use outside of or after

Hardware still has an economic barrier to it...yet it is definately true that getting donated hardware is a bit easier than donated software.  And of course why bother with proprietary software when there is FOSS.

   2. Much of the technologies that drive the Internet and the Web are
based on Free Software, and so teaching these programs would be much
more advantageous to students.

And yet the proprietary tools are the one's being taught the most still.

   3. Free software teaches you three times: once when you use the
code, once when you investigate what it does and how it does it, and
once when you improve it to make it better (particularly for the older

At least.

   4. Free software introduces students into the world of
collaborative programming.


   5. Free software allows students to create their own computer labs
(a la LTSP).

Interesting Idea....I can see facilitating and helping a group of students set up their own lab....I'll have to play with that concept a bit and see if I can fit it in.

   6. Free software allows students to investigate everything from
embedded systems to supercomputers.


I'm particularly fascinated by the potential for computer and
programming classes to provide students with the opportunity to work
on collaborative programs that would benefit their community.

Have you explored freegeek any...It's not specific to students however it's definately a useful concept...The original is in Portland...freegeek.org.  I too am fascinated by Community Technology Centers and would really enjoy deploying ltsp in school libraries and various computer labs that are already sitting there with all that potential.

If you
are seeing this done, would you please let me know so that I might
focus some attention on it?

I'm attempting to do it in several ways.  There is much ground work to get through in order to create these situations.

Again Steve, thanks for doing the interviews.

Jeff Waddell