Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Software Education Linux

Building a Linux Computer Lab for Schools? 464

joseamuniz asks: "After giving Linux classes to Secondary School Teachers, I got in touch with a non-profit organization called UNETE. This association has donated 1,523 computer labs to public schools in Mexico. I told them about Linux, and they are interested in equipping a beta computer lab with this Operating System, with Intel PIII, 256 MB RAM PCs. The more they like this lab, the higher chances to include Linux in the new labs donated by this institution." What hardware configurations and software packages would you install on such a machine to show off the real power of Linux in an educational environment?
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Building a Linux Computer Lab for Schools?

Comments Filter:
  • by YankeeInExile ( 577704 ) * on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:14PM (#11769027) Homepage Journal

    ... I walk in the door from going to the Gigante to buy some food, and find this story. To think my change might help make a (much needed) dent in the Microsoft mindset here in Mexico makes me smile

    • by niiler ( 716140 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:22PM (#11769140) Journal
      I have used some old Pentium II 200MHz computers with 2GB harddrives and VectorLinux 4.3 to build a Spanish Language Lab at my wife's school. We have kverbos and Festival text to speech software installed, and other than that, we rely on the free online language services offered by the BBC, by the textbook manufacturer, and other sources. The computers were all donated.

      The major cost was time in getting it set up since all the computers have a different configuration.

      BTW, VectorLinux hardware detection on these old machines is awesome. Let's just say that after setting up nearly 50 of them, I've only had to edit the XF86Config-4 file two or three times. Also, no problems with strange cards. Also, VL, being Slackware based, is extremely FAST on old machines and boots into IceWM nearly as quickly as it takes my new 1.8 GHz Athlon to load KDE. (Please no flames about how KDE is bloatware, we've all been there.)

      Point of the matter is that if you have the time and you have old hardware, setting up one of these labs is a snap.

      • Point of the matter is that if you have the time and you have old hardware, setting up one of these labs is a snap.

        Also, if you have the time and some infected computer, cleaning viruses off Windoze is a snap.
      • Why not set up a Linux lab using *new* hardware? There is nothing more painful than using old hardware. Certainly, it doesn't bump up the Linux image if painfully-creeping-slow obsolete hardware is associated with it. Slack is nice and allows for useful recycling of old hardware... but I don't think a computer lab is the place. Recently the question of a Linux lab arose in the IT department at my school. I hope to work on that project, but the configuration I'll be going with will most certainly involve new
    • Skolelinux (Score:5, Informative)

      by heavy snowfall ( 847023 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:55PM (#11769550) Journal
      Check out Skolelinux [skolelinux.org] (Distrowatch page [distrowatch.com]) (Linux for schools, Norwegian name). Made to work perfectly with LTSP, and based on debian stable. On the install cd you can choose to install the Skolelinux server or thin clients, or a standalone install. Plenty of educational software availible. The thin client install runs fine on older hardware. Give it a try.
  • Great, but... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Radres ( 776901 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:15PM (#11769039)
    What educational software packages are available for Linux? Something tells me they haven't ported Oregon Trail to Linux yet.
    • by zackrentwood ( 828124 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:19PM (#11769089)
      I suspect that a Mexican computer lab wouldn't be all that interested in Oregon Trail anyway. Call me crazy, but I suspect it wouldn't fit into their history program very neatly.
    • I was wondering something similar yesterday. I don't have kids yet, but when I do, I want them to have a wide variety of educational software to chose from. The educational software has to be fun and have some value.

      The key between Free and Pay software, is that you can't stockpile a ton of pay software into a bundle to give out to everyone. With a nice standardized bundle, you have a great deal of educational and entertainment value to reap. Many of us play MAME or use abandonware, but that's not leg
      • Re:Great, but... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Glonoinha ( 587375 )
        you can't stockpile a ton of pay software into a bundle to give out to everyone.

        Sure you can.
        It's called WAREZ.

        How do you think India became a pseudo-power over the past 10 years, on retail copies with legit licenses? NOT!

        Like the folks at AutoCAD or Microsoft could give a damn about a bunch of twelve year old impoverished school kids in the middle of Mexico using their software.
    • Re:Great, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Acius ( 828840 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:37PM (#11769334) Homepage
      Educational doesn't have to mean that it be visually spectacular. My first exposure to computers was in a computer lab in South Africa in the 80's, where they were teaching elementary school students how to move the turtle around in Logo [umich.edu].

      I'd suggest having some simple programming languages, like Logo or BASIC, and some games that run under those languages. Text games that require simple arithmetic or planning ahead to win are great. If the students manage to figure out how to use the languages to start modifying the games, or making their own, then that's a bonus.
    • It apparently runs if buggily according to this report [linuxcompatible.org].
    • Re:Great, but... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Coryoth ( 254751 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @04:07PM (#11769690) Homepage Journal
      What educational software packages are available for Linux?

      I'm not sure what you're looking for exactly, but off the top of my head (and a little freshmeat help):

      Primary school level: Gcompris [gcompris.free.fr] is great, has a large bundle of games targetting everything from spelling to geography to math, and is easily extensible.

      Astronomy: Both Celestia [shatters.net] and Stellarium [stellarium.free.fr] provide great tools for teaching kids of all levels about our universe.

      Mathematics: You can use basic spreadsheets if you like, but there's also Octave [octave.org] for vector and matrix mathematics and Maxima [sourceforge.net] (and several others that I can't recall right now) for symbolic algebra.

      Chemistry: There's stuff like Ghemical [www.uku.fi] and Gperiodic [welho.com] which aren't half bad for exploring various chemistry concepts. Then there's stuff like GenChemLab [www.uku.fi] which is pretty neat.

      Physics: There's physics simulation software like Physics3D [freshmeat.net] , and there are others around if you care to look.

      Computing: Well, you've got all the programming tools you want, but also things like DrPython [sourceforge.net] to make it easier/fun for students (even at lower school levels).

      General knowledge: Wikipedia is accessible from anywhere.

      Okay, there's a science bias there, but it's not a bad start for what I can think of, or find in 2 minutes of freshmeat.

  • by doodlelogic ( 773522 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:15PM (#11769042)
    Windows and Word on a second partition.
  • Security? Control? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Since many students will be playing with the machine, what about a semi-secure desktop that can be administrated easily?
  • Morphix-lightgui (Score:4, Informative)

    by Raleel ( 30913 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:16PM (#11769047)
    Only 256 megs of ram, so I'd stay away from the heavy guis. I'd probably use the litght weight knoppix (runs with xfce) and limit the number of applications on it. The only thing I'd add is OpenOffice. then I'd install it to the drive.

    Either that or I'd run K-12 Linux terminal server project. which is a fine network absed distribution.
    • Re:Morphix-lightgui (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      we run KDE 3.3 on 256 MB ram p2 boxes it does just fine.
      if you stay consistant with OO on all boxes then you don't really need to consider having second partition with windows/word

    • I disagree. First, these are PIII computers--they won't be expecting the latest and greatest performance anyway. It would be better to put a real well-integrated user-oriented distro like JDS on them, than put together a hacked up custom job. The people reviewing these systems don't care about how nifty Emacs is--they will want to see OpenOffice.org, Firefox, and how pretty GNOME can be.

      Even though my current computer has 512MB of RAM, it is about the speed of a 400MHz PIII, and OpenOffice and Firefox g
  • by nanodude ( 826755 ) <velocity5957 AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:16PM (#11769052)
  • by DrEldarion ( 114072 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [0791uhcsm]> on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:17PM (#11769060)
    Make absolutely sure that any software these schools really want to run either has a native Linux version, a practically-idential Linux version, or will run flawlessly under WINE. If the schools can't use the software they want to, it'll leave quite a bad taste in their mouths about Linux.
    • If the schools can't use the software they want to, it'll leave quite a bad taste in their mouths about Linux.

      Perhaps they would also have a bad taste in their mouths for software companies that only provide software for $BIG_MONOPOLY. Linux is cool for its own reasons, part of which is the open source model, that users are not treated as idiots, and in general you own your computer (if you have root access) and no one else can touch it. It also has much value to educate future programmers, network admin
    • by LDoggg_ ( 659725 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @05:11PM (#11770481) Homepage
      Just set them up with a K12LTSP [k12ltsp.org] Lab

      Then send the students home with one of these [sourceforge.net] disks.

      Under no circumstances should it ever be a requirement to teach kids brand loyalty.
      Learning computers in school should be about concepts. Not the latest features of some proprietary Office suite.
  • by JaxWeb ( 715417 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:17PM (#11769068) Homepage Journal
    It doesn't show off the power, but remember the KDE [kde.org] has a set of "Edutainment" [kde.org] programs of varying quality.

    I've personally used some of these for school, and they are quite good. For example, "Logo" is replaced with KTurtle, and there are a few maths programs (KPlot for graphs and Kig for geometry, among others). There are quite a few language tools too. There is an impressive chemistry program which lists the periodic table and information about each element, too.

    So KDE includes a great base. More schools should use it (especially when combined with KOffice)
  • Pick a well-known distribution, such as Red Hat or SuSE/Novell, and make all of its bundled packages available. Be sure the students can edit and rebuild the kernel; that is a great draw for future open source coders.
    John Sauter (J_Sauter@Empire.Net)
    • by Reene ( 808293 )
      I agree with the SuSE sentiment. SuSE + KDE is absoloutely perfect and looks enough like Windows not to scare away students/teachers used to Windows-looking GUIs. It has issues with package management (HATE HATE HATE YaST -cough-) and compiling is a pain in anything but Pro but these shouldn't be issues at all in most school environments. Also, AFAIK, SuSE still comes with a complete WINE software suite that _should_ allow them to set up whatever Windows programs they might need.

      Speaking from experience
    • This is a joke right? Giving students kernel access? Maybe in a small lab or on a special "development" lan or something, but in general this is a bad idea. Students (hell anyone new to this) have a tendency to jack things up without realizing what they've done. If that isn't recoverable, you've doomed at least one computer in the lab, possibly more. Yes it can be fixed with a backup, but why go to the effort for a standard computer lab used for word processing, email, and internet "research"?

      Let's no
  • K-12 Linux Project (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kidder1974 ( 580729 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:18PM (#11769073)
    Have you looked at the K-12 Linux Project [k12linux.org] yet? Seems like that would be a good place to start.
  • Distro (Score:5, Informative)

    by gers0667 ( 459800 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:18PM (#11769077) Homepage
    Just to preach the common trend, I would suggest Ubuntu for the distro. The base desktop install is exactly what you would need. You get Firefox, Evolution, Gaim and OpenOffice.org. It's a no hassle install, it's Debian and you can get support for it if you want. I wouldn't suggest holding off on Ubuntu until their next release, because it's pretty slick and comes out in about 2 months.

    Also, you can get free CD's from them. Just request 100 or so and have them shipped to where ever that organization is. Technically you only need one, but you can give them out to the students if they like it. It comes with a livecd, so they don't have to destroy their home PC.
    • Re:Distro (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Daravon ( 848487 )
      Granted they said they'd sent out free cds, but isn't asking them to send 100 cds to Mexico a little much? Why not just download Ubuntu, spend $20 on a spool of cds and print off some labels for the copies of the main cd.
  • Well you need it to work in the real world so you need something fun interface (Ubuntu or similar). Make sure you have OpenOffice on there as well as well as Evolution. Basically I know people don't like it but you are playing catch up to MS so you have to make it compatible to some degree otherwise what use does it have in the current business world?

  • easy (Score:2, Informative)

    by tloh ( 451585 )
    the open cd

    http://theopencd.org/ [theopencd.org]

    and GNUWin II

    http://gnuwin.epfl.ch/en/index.html [gnuwin.epfl.ch]

    Though the included software is all relatively recent, developement on maintaining GNUWin has halted as of Nov of last year. They are currently looking for contributors who are motivated enough to help lead and continue the project.
  • by Zapman ( 2662 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:19PM (#11769098)
    Like it or not, these machines will be rooted or get seriously fouled up at some point. This is actually one area where Linux really shines. You can set up a net boot environment (or live cd) that brings the box to a known good state. Don't keep any real data on these boxes. You don't even HAVE to keep a desktop image. You can NFS mount / if you really wanted too (though it's probably better to have an OS image local that can be over written easily).

    This means you'll probably need a more beefey (at least in hard drive space) server that this lab will live off of, but I assume you already knew that.

    • If the BIOS on these machines support network booting, they could even all be set up diskless. With 100Mb/s Ethernet, the speed difference between the local disk and the network isn't so great that the management savings can be worth it. If they can get their hands on a good server, the PIII systems could even just be X-terminals into the server--giving just one point of management.

  • distro (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kebes ( 861706 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:19PM (#11769101) Journal
    I'm a total newbie to linux, so I'm not qualified to give detailed advice. What I will say, however, is that after playing with lots and lots of different distros, I find Mandrakelinux to be the simplest and most user-friendly introduction to linux. So I would recommend installing Mandrake to give the teachers and students a good flavour for linux with an easy transition. It comes with just about everything you need to get up and working fast.
  • I will be quick. What OS are they deploying now? I guess it's the one from M$. Connectiva would be OK since it's from neighboring Brazil and has strong foundations in Spanish. If multimedia with the ability of sanely playing streamed radio from the internet is ever considered, do not forget Streamtuner http://www.nongnu.org/streamtuner/ [nongnu.org]. There is no sane way of playing these kinds of streams.
  • Freeduc (Score:2, Interesting)

    by davezirk ( 675803 )
    Freeduc is just excellent. I set up a temporary summer lab with recycled machines stateside and set the default language to Spanish. At the end of the summer the students were able to take the machines home. The families of these immigrant students were thrilled. I was thrilled with the cost, plus the fact that I don't have endless calls for help from virii, spyware, etc.
  • by gargoleblaster ( 648977 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:21PM (#11769128)
    Im afraid most of the educational software taught at the school level is built for windows and wont support other OS's very well. So the primary thing is find out which software is needed by them and get those working on Linux. Not many school children are going to start out running command line programs, or coding in perl and C++. Most likely, they will browse, use rich text editors/spreadsheets, chat apart form educational software. Unless of course, we are talking higer grades, even then, not all of them are going to be computer professionals. -imho
  • K12LTSP (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:22PM (#11769144)
    Don't go any farther than http://www.k12ltsp.org/ [k12ltsp.org]. They have the best all around linux solution for k-12 schools. Period.
    • Re:K12LTSP (Score:2, Informative)

      by mntgomery ( 620581 )
      Yes, I worked for an educational non-profit a few years ago and one of the teachers that taught in our program started working with K12LTSP and had already sold his principal on a second lab within a few weeks of getting the first one up an running.

      Hard drives on the donated machines don't matter (because they don't require a drive). Most video cards will work and pretty much any network card will work, as long as you can find the DOS drivers.

      He did spend a good bit on getting a server that could han
  • Maple (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Vliam ( 579739 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:24PM (#11769184)
    I can speak from some experience on this. At my university, they had very few Linux machines. The labs that did have them were for our calulus classes. The ran Maple under RedHat. The systems at the time were probably very close to the systems which you describe. They were a pleasure to use. I think Maple would serve to show the power of such a system.
  • Check out the Linux Terminal Server Project [ltsp.org], there are a few education LTSP projects linked in there (example) [k12.or.us], I think it would make management of the computer lab much more simplier and keep the overall hardware costs down.
  • by astebbin ( 836820 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:26PM (#11769198)
    Thomas Jefferson High School for Sci./Tech.- this school has an entire computer systems lab with running on Debian, complete with Cray SV1 and cluster of 386's. The lab is run largely by student system administrators who know and learn much about the Linux operating system during their stay at TJ, which helps to prepare them for entry into the business world and tech industry where UNIX based operating systems are the common standard. TJ is a public school located in Fairfax County, Virginia. It also has a Wikipedia entry that goes into more detail than my post here (Sorry for lack of link, but Wikipedia seems to be running slowly for me as of late and I couldn't get the page).
  • by Goeland86 ( 741690 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `68dnaleog'> on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:29PM (#11769240) Homepage
    Ok, so, Gould Academy [gouldacademy.org] is where I went, and they use linux for everyday use, in the labs, classrooms and even faculty offices. Mostly what students learned to use was IceWM, Konqueror as a file manager, OpenOffice, Mozilla (although Firefox might be a better choice), gAIM (not in class!), the Gimp and xpdf.
    They didn't have a big budget for the computers, so they used the old 386 (true, I've used them!) and a bunch of old machines, bought a dual Xeon 733 MHz server, and ran LTSP on the whole thing. They had a special file server with a quota of about 1 Gig for students in their home directory, which was plenty, and a separate mail server.
    I think that if you install those PIII with LTSP you'll be missing out on responsiveness, so instead maybe install the same distro on all of them, and use a NIS domain for login (with gdm, or even better, Entrance, which is prettier than gdm to look at!) and getting one machine with several drives to use as NFS server for the /home directories would be good.
    Then if you want to start a multimedia class, it turns out a lot of people are actually thrilled when using Blender [blender3d.org]. A whole bunch of people active on Blender forums right now are not much older than 13. I've basically taught my Linux professor at Gould to use blender, and the Advanced Linux class at the same time.
    I think that's plenty of things to show eye-candy and the real horse-power you can get in the managing of such a lab with linux.
    Also, most of these programs have spanish localizations, iirc.
  • R, Octave, gnumeric, gnuplot, gcc, f95, TeX.
  • This is a vocational school (Business, mechanics, computers, and a couple other areas) where kids from other HS' spend half their day there. The computer teacher instructs them on how to program (C++, web) then going to network infrastructures, computer maintenance. He also has them setup different OS' in an "enterprise" fashion (including Linux, Windows, Unix). He then gives them a chance to do their own project. Teachers have a lot of latitude at times and can come up with some pretty cool things - ev
  • by Anonymous Coward

    We've been sucessfully using Linux in our computer lab for over 3 years now, and while it was a "gamble" when we first decided to go with Linux, I'm proud to say that in looking back we made the right decision.

    Our lab and our staff computers run on Mandrake Linux (currently 9.1), though I am entertaining the thought of upgrading to Gentoo in the future (mainly due to the ease of updating our software via emerge).

    We saved a bundle of money not only in the initial install of the new computers, but also
  • that they teach the students the wonders of imagining beowulf clusters of those...
  • The best thing for them to do is install a K12LTSP system. Only needs one high end PC (and a bunch of PI's), and it just works out of the box. Also has a teriffic support community.
  • If the hardware is going to be donated, you may have a problem here.
    IDK how good Linux hardware support is (especially for Pentium 3-class hardware and contemporary PCI cards). Can you expect to find Linux drivers for whatever 1999-vintage hardware you're being donated?
    • The list of unsupported hardware for Linux is small, and getting smaller every day. Support for "vintage" hardware is just as good if not better than for cutting edge hardware.

      Just for fun about a year ago I installed Linux on an old 486 SX my in-laws were throwing out. There is something surreal about combining software with up to the minute security and bug fixes with a ~10 year old computer and a ~6 year old network and sound card, and then turning around and using pretty much the same software to in

  • The local graduate school had an old lab with Pentiums and K6's running Win95 and IE3 for email/web browsing/instant messengers/word processing. Over the year's end, they decided to move on to some Linux distro with IceWM and Mozilla.

    The computers are unusable.

    There are three different classes of users here. Some of them just can't figure out what to do when Mozilla presents them with a "Choose User Profile" dialog, and leave in frustration. The second class can sort that dialog out, but Mozilla takes so
    • I'd have to agree with you there. Even using IceWM or xfce, the software is still going to take a long time to load. People fear and resist change. Introducing them to an alternative, in this case Linux, is not going to go well if the computers can't handle it. This guy mentioned P3s with 256 mb of ram. That would barely run KDE in my opinion. Now some might claim that opinion is wrong. But I have standards that it shouldn't take a web browser 30 seconds to load.
      • You know what's funny?

        My own machine is a K6 with 256 megs of RAM. It's running three Firefox windows with 10-15 tabs in each, Matlab, three pdf's open, MSN Messenger, two big Excel spreasheets, Gvim, etc. And it's smooth. As I type this, there isn't the delay between pressing keys and seeing them onscreen as there is on the very same machine running Fluxbox+Firefox.

        And it's been running for five days. The reason why I have all those apps open is that I never bother to close them. The computer remains jus
    • That web browser seemed to work well for me. I don't know much about Linux either.
    • Re:Don't (Score:2, Insightful)

      Anyone who thinks that Linux can somehow get around the physical limitations of older hardware is deluded.

      However, Linux is indeed a great solution for breathing life into outdated equipment, provided the equipment is up to the task.

      As an example, at school I had to use an old P166 for my programming class. It was running some version of Windows (2000, I think), but it was frustratingly slow. Windows 2000 was probably designed to run on computers manufactured somewhere around the year 2000, and not 1995.
      • Basically what I'm saying is PUT WIN95 ON THE DAMN MACHINE, and you'll have something that's more useful than what you have now.

        Fact: Windows extracts more functionality out of old hardware.
  • My 2 cents. (Score:3, Informative)

    by UnixRevolution ( 597440 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:38PM (#11769339) Homepage Journal
    Okay, here we go.

    Libranet Linux, stripped down from install.
    Install KDE and Gnome. Run the system with one of the 2, your choice.
    Then, install:
    KDE's educational packages
    Gnome's educational packages
    Abiword, Openoffice, Gnucash, Gnumeric.
    Kstars also works.
    Also include some games, like:
    Tuxracer (if their 3d will support it)
    Tetris/Tetris clone?
    whatever else seems appropriate.

    Also find out from the school what kind of educational software they use and find some decent clones of what they have. Then make 1 machine, image it, and push the images to the other ones.

  • School Linux distro (Score:3, Informative)

    by CptCnute ( 592259 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:42PM (#11769378)
    There is in fact a debian-based linux distro being developed which is targeted directly at schools.

    Take a look at the Skolelinux project at http://www.skolelinux.org/portal/index_html [skolelinux.org]
  • This is not news. This is a posting for a Linux help forum. There is so much going on in the technology world that I can not believe that this is the best story you could find. Intel is killing Tukwila http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/02/24/intel_nick s_tukwila/ [theregister.co.uk] and we are reading about what software we think they should load on a Linux box for an educational computer lab. The odd thing is that the people involved are not even reading this!
  • by lakeland ( 218447 ) <lakeland@acm.org> on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:50PM (#11769483) Homepage
    Forget about distro arguments, forget about how cool kdeedu is, forget about how amazing (whatever, I don't use gnome, but I'm sure there is something).

    Concentrate on the fact that you have slow machines running undocumented software that are being demonstrated by people who do not know the software. Every one of those issues needs to be resolved, and if you want the lab to be a real success then aim for the goal of making everything run smoothly every time.

    The machines will feel slow, so you will have to work around this somehow or choose a light wm and cope with the added complexity it brings. The software is mimimally documented, and what documentation exists will need to be rewritten for your target level and language. Think howtos with step by step screenshots -- the reason cheesy computer courses use those is because they work... And the teachers need more than just a training course if you expect things to go well, they need a depth of experience.

    So to start with the hardware. Linspire does not run well on a typical 500MHz machine because it needs more ram. Decide for each major choice (distro, window manager) how slow it is, and if it will feel better if you choose the fast but hard option or the slow but easy option. Generally, people who haven't used 3GHz computers cope with slowness more, so decide based on their experience rather than yours. If the machines have high ram I would go with KDE, low ram and I'd go with enlightenment or similar.

    Next, concentrate on making sure every single thing these people want to do will work flawlessly first time. Make the documentation perfect. In many ways, the docs will be more important than the software.

    Now you have the computer side working, concentrate on teaching the teachers to the point that they feel 100% comfortable. It is important at this point that no changes happen to the software. If the teachers just know how to do their lesson but don't feel comfortable then that discomfort will show strongly.

    I hate to say it, but this sort of project is a lot of work even with awesome software running on blazingly fast machines. You're not targetting geeks who will overlook details such as user interface or docs because a program is cool. Of course, if you drop your standards and just deliver something that will appeal to geeks, well that's pretty easy with linux.

    If you do manage to get the software, training materials and educators all working smoothly, then don't change a thing. Say openoffice 2.0 comes out and would fix a number of issues, ignore it! You can only retrain geeks fast, not people. You'd break your howto with items shifting menus or even just icons being tweaked. You'd upset your educators who don't have the depth of experience in software to cope.

    Oh, and please publush everything at this point -- collaborative development doesn't just apply to software.

    Good luck.
  • by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:52PM (#11769502)
    Software for a school lab installation's pretty similar to what you'd want in a normal business.

    I used to help admin a high school windows lab, and let me say this:

    1) Most edutainment software, while entertaining, is really kind of a silly use for the systems. The only place it really helps is to get little kids used to using a mouse.

    2) You almost never find specialty software useful after elementary school.

    A good high school workstation needs:

    1) A web browser - Firefox or Konqueror
    2) An office suite - OpenOffice.org
    3) A graphics editor - The Gimp
    4) A code editor - Take your pick. I'd say something a bit easier to use for a beginning coder/HTML writer, though

    Moreover, there should be a few systems in the school with
    1) A dv movie editor - no idea on linux
    2) An audio editor - ditto
    3) Science tools for conducting lab experiments

    If someone else wants to fill in those gaps, go ahead.

    These obviously go where you'd need that specialization.

    That's about it. What's *more* important for a lab is a system to deal with the fact that KIDS LIKE TO MESS WITH COMPUTERS.

    They will change the desktop, delete important files, install crap, put keyloggers on just to play around, etc, etc.

    There are a few ways to fix this:
    1) Use restricted users or special software to keep them from doing any of it.
    2) Have a script to re-image the machine every night.

    I strongly recommend a combination of the two, leaning toward the second one. It works a lot better, and doesn't constantly annoy the students either.

    I'll leave it to the linux gurus to suggest how you actually do this in linux, but I know that it can be done reasonably, and that these are the most important aspects of a high school computer lab. I think that any install recommended for this purpose doesn't need to show any flashy about linux, or how the students can compile their own kernels (although that is fun), but how it can set up an easy to use and maintainable lab much cheaper and simpler than doing the same thing in windows.

    Especially push the "no MS Audits" thing. We used to waste *SO* much time worrying about those. According to my teacher, if we got caught with one unlicensed copy of anything on a system, they were legally allowed to confiscate the entire lab (although I was never entirely clear on who "they" were). Not having to keep track of MS serials sounds like plenty of reason for a switch to me, especially since you never use any of the special capabilities of Word or excel in high school that make OpenOffice migration difficult in the business world.
  • Keep in mind that the most valuable source of information about what your users want is the users themselves.

    Advice from ./ could provide a good starting point, but an iterative feedback and update process is essential to developing a great product.

    If the developer has a good eye, sometimes he can provide feedback to himself on his own work. But often we become to familiar with our own work to see it as would the average user. Furthermore, your own background may be too dissimilar from that Mexican teac
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak.yahoo@com> on Thursday February 24, 2005 @04:02PM (#11769612) Homepage Journal
    First, if the software they want to use ONLY comes in a Windows format, then have ONE box that runs Windows and then use Linux' version of Terminal Services to log into that box for that software. It's a cheat, but so long as nobody can tell the difference, it doesn't matter.

    Second, the best distro would likely be Fedora Core or SuSE, as these are "friendly" and geared towards the non-technical folk. Maintenance is relatively easy, stability is generally good and security seems to be fairly well taken care of.

    Third, you absolutely, definitely, without question need software that can interact with Windows software and systems. That means you want Samba installed (probably as server as well as client), Open Office, Terminal Services, Evolution and readers for the various Microsoft codecs. If you want a lot of web-based activity, you'll want to make sure browsers support PDF, Flash, Shockwave and preferaby JScript.

    Depending on the age-range of the student, and the activities they'll be wanting to use the computer for, you will likely want to install software developed by a variety of Universities, research laboratories and scientific institutions. What you ideally want to do is ensure the students come away with the feeling that Real Stuff can be done on any home computer, even if it is slower than NASA's latest supercomputer.

    (This is vital. The biggest single turn-off in education is to come across as irrelevent factoid-pumping or useless trivia. It doesn't matter if the students end up using the programs in class or afterwards, what matters is that they don't feel they're wasting their time learning about - or with - computers.)

    If you get the chance, I'd suggest installing either grid software or clustering software, plus a demo that wanders from screen to screen. That is likely to hold the attention of brighter students, who will likely want to learn how that's done so that they can do better. Again, it's all to do with interest levels.

    The key with students is that you need to make a subject or a technology a drug of choice. They must want to get hooked on it and must want more so badly they can taste it. That is how you get them engaged and that is how you get them to do more than sit around like stuffed dummies.

    Of course, you COULD treat them like stuffed dummies. At that point, you could save yourself time and effort by installing empty boxes rather than computers. They won't notice the difference, in that state.

The relative importance of files depends on their cost in terms of the human effort needed to regenerate them. -- T.A. Dolotta