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

Jeff Waddell wrote:
I do know the alot of the barriers to FOSS at the ground level. And am struggling to find ways around and through them.
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,
(clip) 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.

From our experience, we discovered the following:
1. You cannot convince high level IT decision makers for all the reasons quoted in the full email referenced above unless they're already on the path to FOSS. No number of presentations (believe me I tried). They're just too stuck in current thinking and have too many vendors whispering in their ears.
2. You can convince the ground level (teachers, principals, parents) by showing them. Do a lab, classroom, grade level, Media center, whatever it takes, assuring them you can undo it if they decide it doesn't give them what they want (all the old PCs can always reboot off of their hard drive instead of the network). Classroom server model and hard code IP addresses to MAC addresses to make it squeaky clean.
3. Show them how to use it and they will. You don't have to show the kids...
4. Once you get the ground level buzz going, and have the principal firmly on your side, then attack political and other powers that be above the level of IT leadership, who are more interested in improving academic performance and getting more votes or bonuses than sticking with a particular technology. In the US, the No Child Left Behind laws include the formation of school councils, often including business leaders who are likely plugged in at higher levels (i.e., mayor, school superintendent, etc.) and the school board must listen to the school council recommendations. Include a teacher whose room/lab you did to come to the council meeting and tell them how wonderful it's been.

We were lucky in that we had a brave principal, stubborn parents, enough PTA funding to develop demos and initial deployments, buy-in from second echelon district IT leadership, and political leadership connections in the city. I'm convinced the latter was the most critical to finally cracking the barrier open. But by then we had a story and improved test scores, something very hard to ignore for many.

I wish schools had to have a technical advisory board formed of parents, community business leaders, etc. like many high tech companies. It's where they find out what the rest of the world is doing and get out of the box. Members would have to work for either non profits, or if for-profit, have no connection to any current products/vendors used by the schools, of course...


Daniel Howard
President and CEO
Georgia Open Source Education Foundation