Canadian Education

A forum for discussion of issues important to the future of education for Canadians.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Take a look at this talk by Mike Huffman, from the Indiana Dept. of Education...over 24,000 linux computers in operation already in Indiana schools! Scroll down to Mike Huffman. Fantastic article on the huge Indiana linux project in the U.S. I have take the liberty of copying this short item below, since the credit and link is given above:

The biggest deployment of desktop Linux in K-12 schools in the US is taking place in Indiana. They’ve got 24,000 Linux desktops currently deployed in Indiana high school English classrooms, with plans to increase that to 170,000 in a year. What has been exasperating for me is that this project has been undertaken very quietly, with little publicity or communication with the rest of the K-12 open source community. I wanted to know what was going on! So it was a special treat to meet Mike Huffman, the special assisstant for Technology in the Indiana Department of Education, at the Open Source BOF and finally get a first hand report.
Mike started off an informal presentation to the BOF with a rhetorical one-two punch which managed to balance an emphasis on student learning with the practical and technical shortfalls of how we approach school IT. He pulled out some pithy statistics. Before starting this Linux deployment they did a survey of computer use in Indiana schools. The state had spent $100 million a year over 10 years on technology in education. The average student used a computer for 35 minutes a week. That’s a billion dollars over 10 years for 35 minutes a week per kid. There is no better statistic to demonstrate how broken our current paradigm is. A related quote from Mike:
“As long as we keep waiting for big bags of cash to fall from the sky, we aren’t going anywhere.”
I would add that as long as we’re spending our time coming up with “new stories” in hopes of causing bags of cash to fall from the sky, we aren’t going anywhere either. For that matter, it doesn’t matter what profound conversations we have about the potential of computers in schools, if we can’t get manage the technical and economic feat of getting computers into schools.Here’s another data point they found from their interviews with students:
Time needed for a Windows-using high school student to acclimate him or herself to the Linux desktop: 10 minutes.
The Indiana project, called InACCESS, has eight guiding principles:
Affordability, Sustainability, Repeatability, Flexibility, Compatibility, Openness, Commonality, Scalability.
Mike is also a seemingly bottomless source of funny and inspiring anecdotes about the students and teachers who have been impacted by the inclusion of computers in their classroom. Contrary to conventional wisdom, they haven’t done a lot of extra training for teachers or students. I don’t remember if Mike actually said “we’re already professional developing our teachers to death,” but if he didn’t he seemed to agree when someone else said it. Instead, he emphasized giving teachers time to adjust at their own pace. If it takes a year for a teacher to get comfortable with the computers installed under each desk, but at the end of the year they’ve begun to transform their pedagogy, that’s a success story. A huge success story. It seems like the physical presence of these immobile desktops mounted under every glass-topped desk in a teacher’s classroom makes them particularly difficult for the teacher to ignore, unlike a few computers in the back of the room, or a laptop cart or computer lab that has to be reserved.
It is a pragmatically motivated and run program. They liberally mix in proprietary technology where it seems cheaper and more effective than the open source alternative. And broader Linux advocacy is not their concern, at least in the medium term. It is also safer for them to keep a relatively low profile until the project has scaled up and proven its success. There is always a chance that corporate interests might try to derail the program via the legislature or other routes.
Mike did mention that some of their more successful deployments have been very simple by contemporary IT standards. For example, some schools simply use a generic “student” account for all students, who save their files to a web-based repository, (or USB keys, I’d imagine). With limited IT support, I can imagine that this would be effective in many cases.
In summary, Mike Huffman is my new hero.