Linuxfest coverage

I’ve finally got a chance to sit down and connect!

So, I’ve attended three panels thus far, and one bitchin’ after party. I’ve got another panel on distance ed in a bit, but until then, here’s some brief coverage of the panels. When I get home and get a chance to decompress, I’ll post my notes on each panel and more in depth coverage.

Supporting Classrooms 101: This was taught by a Network Admin turned Cisco certification instructor. He was very knowledgable in supporting a great variety of college and k12 environments using LMSes and other tools. His bottom line was that the main focus of any academic tech support should be the people. One of the really interesting points he made was that it’s all about the best functionality. He’s fine with schools using Microsoft in Washington, because they give schools a great deal on Microsoft software. At the same time, he uses the open source LMS Moodle for his own courses, because it’s functional and generally awesome, although it doesn’t scale well due to the support needs.

Open Source in Schools: The group following this was a group of freegeek people who wanted to find ways to increase open source usage in schools. They weren’t teachers, and seemed a little confused on where to start. The leader of the previous discussion helped them out a bit, and the decision came to be that a good place to start with open source software in schools is homeschool, STEM teachers, and resource centers. It all comes down to useful functionality- most teachers and students don’t care about the open source model, they just want something that works well. 

One of the most telling parts of this panel was when a teacher who had sat in on both panels spoke up and said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

Customizing Linux for the Classroom: This panel really highlighted the disconnect that seems to occur between the open source community and educators that I witnessed multiple times at this con- Open source geeks that think teachers are going to be impressed by a stream of technobabble, and teachers wondering how this has anything to do with their classroom. This presenter was a SUSE developer who outlined some of his projects that did seem useful for some classes, possibly, but the way he presented them spoke to a system administrator’s interest set, which seemed to frustrate the 50% of the class who were teachers. What really made me want to walk out was when one of the teachers asked, “Does this offer support for smart boards?” “Smart boards? What’s that?” as he proceeded to google smart boards. Also, he only mentioned Moodle once. As probably the best open source LMS out there, that probably belongs at the core of a class on customizing linux in classrooms.

At this point it became so completely clear that he was very disconnected to the reality of classrooms, and was teaching a class called Customizing Linux for the Classroom, made me feel like I had wasted a great amount of time, but it had reinforced a good message: There needs to be greater communication between people who understand the realities of the classroom and IT support people. That was embodied by the Supporting Classrooms 101 presenter, as he knew his stuff. However, people like that seem few and far between, which bodes very poorly for effective tech implementations.

I guess the bottom line is, if you want to offer any sort of tech solution for educators, (or anyone, for that matter), it’s best to speak to their interests, not the specific details of the technology. Most people just want a product that works well for a good price. When open source offers that, it gets adopted.

Oh, and the after party was incredible. There was a Tesla Coil show, and free beer provided by Wiseass brewing. Delicious stuff.

Now I’m off to the panel on Distance Education, then a long drive back home.