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



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.

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.

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

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.

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

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. 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. 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.

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

Steve Hargadon
916-899-1400 direct

www.SteveHargadon.com - (Blog on Educational Technology)
www.K12Computers.com - (Refurbished Dell Optiplexes for Schools)
www.TechnologyRescue.com - (Linux Thin Client Solutions)
www.LiveKiosk.com - (Web Access and Content Delivery Solutions)
www.PublicWebStations.com - (Disaster & Shelter WebStation Software)
www.K12OpenSource.com (Public Wiki)
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