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.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Exploring Wikis in Education with Vicki Davis and Adam Frey

Thursday night Vicki Davis from Westwood Schools and Adam Frey of Wikispaces and I explored the uses of wikis in education. I came away, again, with the conviction that while blogs are more immediately popular because they are easier to use, that wikis also have a tremendous place in transformative educational experiences.

Adam does a great job in explaining wikis in simple terms, and Vicki continues to amaze me with her ability to be both prolific and insightful. She is also an extraordinary organizer, as evidenced by her ability to understand, categorize, and then teach new technologies to her students. Vicki divided the use of wikis in education into two broad categories: organizational and educational. From the organization standpoint, she sees wikis as a high-tech "toolbelt" that lets you organize and present other material or media. As an educational tool itself, the wiki has five uses in her classroom:
  • Lessons summaries
  • Collaboration of notes
  • Concept introduction and exploratory projects
  • Dissemination of important classroom learning beyond the classroom
  • Individual assessment projects
As you listen to the interview, she discusses each of these areas.

For my part, I'm continually interested in my own response to wikis, which seem to fit my own work style so well. I joke that I have IIADD--Internet Induced Attention Deficit Disorder. I feel pulled in so many directions for so many years by email, instant messaging, and just the general availability of news and knowledge that I have to really work hard to block out extended periods of time for reflective and focused learning or tasks. But most of the time I am working on about 10 things at once, and using wikis as a respository for notes, ideas, and collaborative projects allows me to quickly and easily make small improvements or notes here and there without getting too distracted.

Some other insights that occurred to me as a part of preparing for and holding this interview:
  • Wikis are valuable because collaborative efforts are generally better than individual efforts. (One of my favorite books is The Wisdom of Crowds.) While I often think I know best, it always amazes me how other perspectives improve results.
  • Not only are wikis valuable because they are collaborative, but they seem to match some of the "continuous improvement" business philosophies that I was so taken with early in my career, when I was more focused on manufacturing methods. A wiki, unlike a blog, or even a regular "static" website, encourages and makes easy small, incremental improvements over the course of time.
  • I haven't been as excited about a technology as I have about wikis since I learned about relational databases 15 years ago. I remember staying up two nights in a row trying to get my head around Borland's Paradox relational database program, and I remember the sense that I was learning something that would dramatically change my ability to think about what I was doing at work. Not that it would just make my work tasks easier, but that I would do different kinds of work because of relational databases. And that was certainly true. I feel the same way about wikis. And already the ride has been fascinating. I had the idea for one night, registered the domain name the next day and spent two or three hours working on outlining and organizational structure for the site, and then watched several others pick up the ball to flesh it out (including Vicki in a big way!), and then seven days later having a national educational magazine call and interview me about the site. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience.
I hope you enjoy the interview. Please do note that we have started a wiki (of course!) at to start to build a resource for the use of wikis in eduation. Please contribute!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tell Us Your Educational Blogging Best Practices - by email, wiki, or phone!

SupportBlogging! is looking to create a resource for best practices in educational blogging. If you have something to add, it can be really easy to do so!

To contribute a favorite or "best" educational blogging practice, please:

1. Add links or information to the wiki page, or
2. Register your blog with and mention "bloggingbestpractices" in your post or tag it with "bloggingbestpractices," or
3. Email, or...

Drumroll please...

4. Call 916-273-9353 (US) or Skype-call "stevehargadon"

If I am in, we'll record a short conversation about the best practice you have noticed or participated in. If you reach voicemail, please leave your name, the age-level or setting of the blogging, what the practice or advice is, and information on where someone could go to learn more (if available).

I'll aggregate the responses into a recording that can be played from the SupportBlogging! website or be downloaded. :)


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Wikis in Education" Interview This Thursday Evening

This Thursday evening, at 5:00pm Pacific Time, I will be interviewing Victoria Davis and Adam Frey on "Wikis--What Are They, and Why Use Them in Education?" Vicky is the technology teacher at Westwood School in Georgia and a pioneer in the use of wikis in education (see, and Adam is the co-founder of the wiki hosting company Wikispaces (

The interview will be broadcast live by "Skypecast," meaning that you can listen to the interview by using Skype ( and also participate in the Q & A session at the end. The Skypecast link is:

You can also join a live online chat during the interview by pointing your web browser to (Thanks to the folks at EducationBridges for this service and their great support.)

If you have questions for Vicky or Adam that you hope I will address in the interiew, you can leave them on our wiki at

Monday, August 21, 2006

Opportunities to Present on Free and Open Source Software at Two Ed Tech Shows (CUE and NECC)

The Computer Using Educators (CUE) annual conference is March 1-3, 2007 in Palm Springs, CA. We have been asked to re-create our large Linux thin-client lab again this year, and will hold concurrent speaker sessions on Free and Open Source Software in the lab.

The deadline for normal CUE applications for speaking sessions is September 4th. HOWEVER, speakers in our Open Source Lab for CUE will be handled outside of their normal submission process and should be made directly to me. If you have already submitted a proposal for a session at CUE that you would prefer be done in the lab, please let me know so that we can flag that.

We have also been asked to provide a lab/speaker venue for the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Atlanta next June. Those interested in speaking at NECC as part of our Open Source lab there should also contact me directly, and I will let you know the procedure for submitting proposals when you do.

Both shows have expressed a great appreciation for the lab and will be including the speakers from our lab in their regular conference program. For my part, I am appreciative of the caliber of speakers that we have had, and thank those who have taken part.

Please forward this post to anyone that you feel might want to take part in presenting on Free and Open Source software at either of these shows.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Moodle: A Beginner's Guide, Plus Thoughts on Moodle and Open Source Software

Last night I interviewed Michelle Moore about Moodle, the open source learning management system (LMS) which has been so spectacularly popular. Michelle held three sessions on Moodle in our Open Source Lab at NECC 2006, and all three were packed.

As we talked, I was reminded of the impact that Moodle is having in introducing free and open source software to the education market. Michelle tells the story of her husband, as a district technology director, saw Moodle change the whole story with regard to the use of open source software--previously, he had met resistance in implementing open source solutions, but with Moodle there was a huge push from the users to make it available.

I would have to believe that this is, in part, because of the significant cost of the commercial alternatives. Using Moodle can save so much money that it probably opens doors just because of this. But many also consider Moodle to be superior to the commercially-available programs, and that has got to help!

The interview was intended to provide an overview of Moodle from someone who is just learning about it for the first time. We do discuss the current patent issue toward the end of the interview. You can listen to the interview directly from the web at, or at our new website. Both sites also have links to download the .mp3 or .ogg files.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Two Great Open Source Interviews from South Africa and Indiana

It's been a fun day! I started very early in order to be able to catch Hilton Theunissen in South Africa, who has led the tuXlab project to install Linux thin-client in 200 schools. Then late in the day Mike Huffman and Laura Taylor provided insight into the Indiana Affordable Classroom Computers for Every Secondary Student (ACCESS) program.

These are both fascinating interviews, and along with the interview with the folks from Atlanta Public Schools last week, they are confirming a pattern that deserves some real exploration: high-priced, high-maintenance computers have led to relatively little actual student time in front of them (35 minutes a week per student in the case of Indiana, at a cost of $100 million a year!); low-cost computer solutions provide significantly more actual time in front of computers for students, and the result is dramatic engagement by students and teachers, and significant academic success (some measured and some expected).

This is interesting to me, since I've lately been very aware that while the Windows, Linux, and Mac folks fight the battle of which OS is best, there is still a more fundamental and hotly-debated question with regard to computers in education: do they actually help students do better for all the money that is spent on them? What Atlanta and Indiana seem to show is that because it has been so costly to have computers in schools, they haven't been truly available enough for teachers or students to integrate their use into the curriculum. But in programs that are dedicated to cost-effectively getting the computers into the classrooms in sufficient quantity to impact education, the results are significant and exciting. And the "cost effective" part belongs to Linux and Open Source...

Hilton / tuXlabs
Huffman & Taylor / Indiana

Hilton / tuXlabs
Huffman & Taylor / Indiana

This Thursday night (August 17), it's time to hear from "our favorite Moodler," Michelle Moore from The one-hour interview will be broadcast live at 5:00 pm PDT / 8:00 pm EDT, and will also be available afterwards in recorded form. Links to join the live Skypecast, to leave questions, or to learn more are at

The following weeks I'll be interviewing Victoria Davis (Westwood Schools) and Adam Frey (Wikispaces) about Wikis, and Ruth Lutes and Ragavan Srinivasan (both from HP) about Open Source Licensing. To suggest future interview topics, or to contribute to the wiki, visit

Today was also my first day flying solo--which included doing the sound editing and uploading... Wow. Hope you like them. From now on it should be a little easier!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

LTSP/K12LTSP Interviews Now Available; Mike Huffman Upcoming

There are two webcast interviews now available to download from last week: Jim McQuillan and Eric Harrison on LTSP and K12LTSP; and Daniel Howard, William Fragakis, and Shawn Adams on the Atlanta Public Schools' work with K12LTSP. Unfortunately, the sound wasn't as great on these recordings, but the topic material was awesome!

Jim and Eric
Daniel, William, and Shawn

Jim and Eric
Daniel, William, and Shawn

This Thursday night (August 10), I'll be interviewing Mike Huffman from Indiana, who will talk about his work on their INAccess program and the role that Linux is playing in that effort. The one-hour interview will be broadcast live at 5:00 pm PDT / 8:00 pm EDT, and will also be available afterwards in recorded form. Links to join the live Skypecast, to leave questions, or to learn more are at

The following weeks I'll be interviewing Michelle Moore (Remote Learner) about Moodle, Victoria Davis (Westwood Schools) and Adam Frey (Wikispaces) about Wikis, and Ruth Lutes and Ragavan Srinivasan (both from HP) about Open Source Licensing. To suggest future interview topics, or to contribute to the wiki, visit

I'm sorry to say that Miguel Guhlin has had to reconsider his participation as co-host, and so for the time being I will be flying solo. Anyone interested in serving as co-host can email me directly. With Miguel's departure I intend to expand the show to include not only K12 Open Source topics, but will also include Web 2.0, educational technology, computer reuse, and some very specific interviews on Linux thin client. :)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Thursday's K12 Open Source Interview on LTSP & K12LTSP

For those interested in Linux thin-client technology, our webcast interviews on Thursday evening should be noteworthy. We'll be expanding our format for this week, and holding two interviews. The first, starting at 5:00pm PDT/8:00pm EDT will be with Jim McQuillan and Eric Harrison. Jim is the founder and project leader of the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP), and Eric is one of the lead volunteers for the prepackaged K12LTSP distribution.

The second interview will start at 6:00pm PDT/9:00pm EDT and will include Daniel Howard, William Fragakis, and Shawn Adams to discuss the status and roll-out of Linux thin client in Atlanta Public Schools.

Instructions on logging into the Skypecast and/or chatroom are on the web at You can leave questions in advance for our guests at the links indicated in the schedule. The recorded interviews will be available as podcasts sometime on Friday. You can subscribe to the RSS feeds for the podcasts for the interview series using the link

Next week, August 10th, we interview Mike Huffman, the Special Assistant on Technology for the Indiana Department of Education, who will discuss the use of Linux and Open Source Software their push for affordable classroom computers for every secondary student. On August 17th we'll be interviewing Michelle Moore from Remote Learning about the ever-popular Open Source program Moodle.

We hope you these interviews are of interest, and encourage your feedback and comments.