Monday, August 28, 2006

A Conversation with Robert Arkiletian on K12LTSP in Schools

A conversation with Robert Arkiletian who, in addition to teaching physics and computer programming at a secondary school in Vancouver, has created fl_TeacherTool, a program for K12LTSP installations which allows the teacher to view, control, broadcast to, and communicate with individual student desktops.

We discuss the barriers in schools to implementation of Linux thin client and how he overcame them. Robert also describes in detail the features of fl_TeacherTool. Will only really be of interest to those working with LTSP or K12LTSP, or thinking of it.

One of the most interesting things to me about the interview was Robert's description of how he was effective in getting approval for his Linux thin-client lab--and why many such labs have required an "inside" champion. He describes:
  1. How helpful it was to show that if the lab didn't work out, the server he was going to purchase could be used for some other purpose;
  2. How he set up his workstations as dual-boot machines, so that Windows could be used if there was dissatisfaction with Linux;
  3. How helpful the K12OSN email list has been for technical support.
These are options that only an "insider" can really effectively provide. But even as an "insider" at a school, and showing the tremendous cost savings, it can still be difficult to get approval for a Linux thin-client lab. I think, in large part, this is because Linux is unfamiliar, and it is unrealistic to think that schools will be willing to take the risk of trying a technology that is not well known. As more publicized installations of Linux take place in schools (Indiana, for example), and as Linux is seen as a viable desktop alternative, then the tremendous cost savings will then have an opportunity to become a compelling factor.

It has been interesting to watch, however, how some schools have been able to overcome the barriers to implementation of Linux. I would argue that these are typically schools that just don't have the money for traditional computing resources, and have to look outside of the box through sheer desperation. At that point, I think they are somewhat shocked, and then pleasantly surprised, to find out how inexpensively they can provide basic productivity computing.

I continue to be interested in the compelling story that is beginning to emerge more publicly related to computer use in schools:
  1. Schools have spent a lot of money on computers, and had to cut other programs because of funding issues--now their computers are getting old and they're being asked to spend comparable amounts again;
  2. Schools haven't seen academic improvement because of computers, and most students get limited time on computers each week;
  3. Schools that have installed less glamorous, inexpensive computer solutions are able to give the students and teachers a more significant opportunity to integrate the computer into their curriculum;
  4. Where the computer is able to be actively integrated into the curriculum, there is student and teacher enthusiasm, and there are reports of significant academic improvement.
It should be interesting to see how this plays out.
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