This evening I had a great chat with a guy named David. He’s a 9th grade science teacher in Minnesota. He’s working on a project called Growing Communities Of Scientists in his school. He plans to use a set of “computer enabled science classrooms” which embed thin clients into a student group workspace. David’s also got a great blog where he’s been journalling his experience. This means students have access to computers without interfering with they’re normal learning/social area. A common sight I’ve seen in most computer labs is individual students with hardly any working space and fairly isolated from each other and the instructor. It’s sort of like a cubicle effect. For sciences were you’re trying to get a lot of hands on instruction it’s rather difficult.
So, back to Edubuntu. While David’s been working on the hardware of his computer enabled science classroom he’s also been working on getting LTSP set up along with Ubuntu/Edubuntu software he needs to manage his classroom and teach his students. He’s run up against a problem that is fairly common to educators but is pretty difficult to work with on Linux systems. Simply, he needs to control access to applications. He wants to implement a rewards system where students gain computer privileges (getting to use Firefox, etc.) based on being responsible with current privileges. One of the things that’s great about Linux OSes is that you can install software system-wide and is supposed to be multi-user friendly. However, in this case, that freedom is a problem. I’d love to hear some suggestions on how to accomplish an application whitelist system in Ubuntu.
OK, but back to the title, why we need Edubuntu to succeed. The reason I say that is that Ubuntu and Linux/FLOSS in general needs advocates on behalf of students, educators, and the next wave of technolgy users. People generally tend to stick with the OS they first learn so one of the best ways to make Linux maintstream is to get it into schools.
The problem is that most software development in FLOSS is not centered around education. There are education-specific applications out there (Sugar, gcompris, KDE Edu) for sure, but the OS itself is not always education-friendly. I’ve seen a lot of educators trying to deploy LTSP servers in their schools struggle with applications that don’t behave well with multiple users, even common ones like Firefox and OpenOffice.org. On top of that key needs such as practical user and group management for educators is almost non-existent.
In many ways, one of the primary jobs of Edubuntu is to provide an advocate for educators and students to Ubuntu and upstream software developers. It’s not just about a making a way to install Ubuntu educational software easier, it’s about it’s about listening to educational user’s needs and trying to make some of those dreams reality. If Ubuntu can’t be “Linux for learning human beings” I’m not sure it can really make it mainstream. I’ll go out on a limb and say, as we start 2009, forget the “Year of the Linux Desktop” and look towards the “Year of Linux in Education” 🙂