Ramblings of a Digital Educator

May 14, 2007

My impressions of Edubuntu 7.04 and the Ubuntu Education/Developers Summit in Sevilla, Spain

Filed under: General Blogging — dtrask @ 10:15 pm

I’ve been back from Sevilla for a few days now.  The jet lag has
cleared and I’m “back in the saddle” so to speak.   I return with
renewed vigor and excitement for the future of Linux and Open Source in
education.  I had several fantastic opportunities while I was in
Sevilla.  I had a chance to visit the CGA (Centro de GestiÓn
Avanzado)and a classroom at IES Azahar in Sevilla (a local school). 
The CGA visit was quite an eye-opener.  I was amazed at both the
simplicity and the efficiency of their operation.  The CGA has charted,
developed, and deployed nearly 200,000 computers to schools all over
the region of Andalusia.  Supporting this massive project is about 50
people!  At any one time there are 16 people manning the call center. 
Each school has an appointed ICT Teacher (technology integrationist)
who acts as the single point of contact between the school and the CGA
as well as the person who supports the rest of the staff with regard to
integrating technology into the everyday curriculum.  If a teacher has
a computer issue…he/she contacts the ICT teacher who does some
initial troubleshooting.  If the problem goes beyond the capabilities
of the ICT teacher, he/she calls the CGA for assistance.  Most of the
problems can be solved with the help of the call center personnel.  The
call center technicians can remotely access the computer in question
via ssh or vnc and correct the problem.  In the rare event of hardware
failure, the CGA dispatches a technician from another government agency
or contractor that handles the hardware side of things. The system is
so simple.  Each school has a server which has the “master image” on
it.  The hardware is delivered.  The ICT teacher goes into the BIOS and
sets the machine to boot from the network via PXE.  The computer boots
via the network and deploys an image via an unattended installation. 
Once the computer is imaged, the ICT teacher simply resets the BIOS and
voila!  The computer is ready.  When a new image is ready, the CGA
pushes it out to the individual school servers and alerts the ICT
teacher via their own customized web page that the image is ready.  The
CGA monitors the servers in each school using graphical tools like
Nagios.  If a server goes down at a school, chances are the CGA knows
before the school does!  Authentication is handled centrally.  User
accounts are stored on the master server using LDAP at the CGA and
synchronized to the school that the student attends.  The user accounts
are used for computer logins as well as the SIS (Student Information
System).  VERY COOL!

I also got the chance to visit IES Azahar, a middle/high school in the
“inner city” of Sevilla.  I was amazed at the integration and use of
technology in this school.  Every classroom has computers on every
desk.  The desks are set up to seat two students with one computer
mounted in the middle.  This was done by design to encourage
collaboration and teamwork.  Each teacher has a master computer that
utilizes ITALC to manage the computers.  The teacher can share their
screen, watch the students, and even blank the screens to get the kids
to pay attention.  They can also control logoffs and reboot/shutdown as
well.  In the US we normally see this type of deployment and control in
computer labs, but in IES Azahar, they utilize it in EVERY classroom! 
I had a chance to visit a couple of classrooms and interact with the
kids.  It’s an amazing situation in Andalusia and a model to the rest
of the world.

On Thursday, May 3rd, I had the opportunity to present at the Ubuntu
Education Summit.  Folks from around the world attended, presented, and
collaborated on ideas concerning the use and advancement of Linux and
Open Source in education.  This meeting of the minds was an
invigorating experience.

Once UES was over I had a chance to once again participate in the
Ubuntu Developers Summit (UDS).  Everyone should experience this at
least once.  The energy, organization, and flow of ideas is truly
amazing.  This is why Ubuntu has become one of the top Linux
distributions in such a short period of time.  Specifications for the
next release of Ubuntu are proposed in the weeks leading up to UDS. 
The process for submitting specs is very specific.  Your spec needs to
be well thought out.  This prevents wasting time on frivolous things
that tie up development time unnecessarily.  Once the spec is approved
it is put on the schedule for discussion at UDS.  At the UDS, there are
BOF’s (Birds of a Feather) meetings where developers of a particular
project and those affected will meet and discuss the implementation of
the spec.  Once the details of the spec have been ironed out, the spec
moves from discussion to drafting.  Once the spec is written up
properly it is submitted for review.  if all the requirements are met
it is approved and the developers are assigned the task of implementing
the spec for the next release.  It’s a very solid and effective process
from what I’ve seen over the past couple of years.

Now…Edubuntu.  This is the release I’ve been waiting for.  Feisty
Fawn or 7.04 is definitely ready for prime-time.  I’m totally
impressed.  I’m also very impressed at the improved functions of the
Student Control Panel or Thin-Client Manager.  Now you can view student
sessions, send messages, launch or kill programs, logoff users, and
much more!  Ease of setup…ease of management…and ease of
deployment.  Edubuntu is ready.  Now…what’s really exciting is the
upcoming features for Gutsy Gibbon (7.10).  Local apps, thick clients,
and so forth are a hot priority.  This will change the landscape of
educational computing. 

Also of note is the upcoming Edubuntu web portal.  This will feature a
whole lotta’ links, blogs, interactivity, lessons, and so much more. 
You are encouraged to become a part of it!  The beta site is located
here:  http://beta.edubuntu.ch    Join!  Contribute!  Together we will
grow the site into a premier source for information for educators
around the world.  I want to thank Richard Weiderman, Oliver Grawert,
Mark Shuttleworth and the rest of the Edubuntu/Ubuntu team for allowing
me to be a part of this exciting venture.  This is an exciting time for
technology in education…hang on….it’s going to be a great ride!

Visit to CGA in Andalusia

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