August 2010

There was a day-long education mini-summit on Monday at this year’s Linuxcon conference in Boston. There were several sessions which I hope to cover in a series of posts. [[A very good summary here. Maybe I’ll skip the other posts because Mairin did such an excellent job and you can get more details from her blog post.]]

David Trask, a long-time educator in Maine, was faced with a server crash in 2000. He asked his principal to consider options with him and when they compared the long list of negatives for rebuilding the server and its proprietary software against the long list of positives for going for the open source alternative, the two of them agreed to jump at the open alternative.

Since then Maine has instituted a 1to1 computing initiative starting with giving middle school student a laptop, one that they carried around school each day and took home every evening. When the initiative was expanded to high school students, it was provided with a less advantageous financial support from the state. David initiated a plan to overcome that. He proposed that high school students get a netbook preloaded with a customized Linux solution. The site is an outgrowth of that effort. He and his team have devised a USB thumb drive image which can be easily installed to a netbook, laptop or other computer. The regularly updated Ubuntu-based image is generally taken from the site by a school’s IT staff and put onto approximately 20 thumb drives which the techs take around the school and install to the computers. It takes less than 6 minutes for a complete install and only requires a couple of initial keypresses.

Bug fix releases are put onto the site during the school year, and some schools jump to get them while others wait for the next school year if the bug is not a core problem.

Network install options are in development, and you can keep abreast of the progress at the Web site. []

The Free & Open Source Software in Education Conference FOSSED [] is another effort of David and his team. It is held annually at Gould Academy in Bethel, Maine. The $495 price includes everything; sessions, room and board. I’m planning to attend the next one in 2011.

How to: XXXXX”

This is the daily work of a teacher. That’s so obvious that we who do/have done it almost forget we’re doing it. Teachers generally also do the How to: job in small pieces. We want our students to practice a few steps at a time so they can internalize a skill before taking on the next bits. We teachers even write worksheets, sometimes with illustrations, to make the learning easier after the students have gone home.

I just spent four days at Linuxcon10 in Boston, mixing it up with very smart software developers. Linuxcon is the conference sponsored by the Linux Foundation. Most of the talks are technical. I was out of my depth; I admit it. But I was there partly to volunteer at the showcase table for the KDE Community. Telling people about how I use KDE tools was in my comfort zone. It was a bit like teaching. It was fun.

Earlier this year, I completed an online training for the KDE Userbase. The instructor, Anne Wilson, took a small group of us through the steps of adding to the Userbase. We learned the basics of editing a Userbase wiki page, dealing with each other in a Userbase forum, and completed the open-ended process by selecting a topic and adding it to the wiki. [Link to the description of the course I took] You don’t even need to know how to use a wiki. The course covers that, too.

So what does that mean to readers of this blog?

Well, honestly, I’m assuming most of you are either educators or people interested in using a computer with students and doing that with open source software. If that is who you actually are, you are in a great position to add value to the open source universe.

Open source draws lots of coders, people who want to build a great software tool. Their passion for coding doesn’t always translate into writing end-user documentation. They might feel comfortable writing program specifications and details of how to interface with the program at a technical level. They are serving the end user but their focus is getting the tool out the door.

If you teach, you probably write a little. If you use KDE, and you teach and write a little, you are a prime candidate for adding something to the Userbase Wiki. Set up an account. Get involved with a training session. Write some user documentation. There’s never enough of it.

What if you are not a teacher? You can still write KDE Userbase documentation. It is short stuff. If you’ve used a tool that’s not mentioned, write up a how-to. Add it to the Userbase.

Another nice thing about the KDE Community is that it is “upstream” and you can make a contribution no matter what distribution you use: Fedora, Kubuntu, openSUSE, Arch, it doesn’t matter. KDE stuff works on Gnome distributions, too, you know. Don’t let “fanboy” arguments keep you away.

If you decide to make a Userbase contribution, start here:

Aaron Siego is one of those people who code, and write, and he is a KDE contributor. He recently wrote about his Userbase experience.

What if you are not a KDE user? There are MANY other community projects out there. Look around. Find one which focuses on the software you use every day. Add to their documentation pages.


Check out this video of Firefox Beta2 demonstrating HTML 5 features.

I watched on Firefox 3.6.8 Your results may vary.

Link on YouTube: