Jon Roberts of the Davis School District in Utah talked to us about Using Open Source in the Classroom Every Single Day. He used to be a hacker and now he’s a teacher. Kids today expect constant connectivity and Jon wanted to talk to us about how he works with kids like this. Before becoming a teacher, Jon worked in software development for the military and moved on to becoming an independent open source contractor. The school Jon works for is a special school for children who don’t always want to learn – the “trouble” students. The classes are small so that they can give individual attention and can use creative approaches to teaching.
Why teach open source in the classroom?
- Technology has an increased role in education (there is a new curriculum required for match)
- Open source is free as in speech (communication is key)
- growing footprint for open source in the working world
- inherent sense of contribute and community
- obviously and especially useful for computer programming (which Jon also teaches)
There are some obstacles though:
- State office of education has guidelines for the curriculum that require things like teaching MS Office
- District purchasing office wants a ‘throat to choke’ they want a place to go to complain – they are not as comfortable with the open source model
- School admins have a fear of the unknown
- Technical support staff doesn’t want unwanted responsibility (aka they don’t want to learn something new)
- Students prefer what they already know (they have MS at home probably) – this is where he gets the least resistance though
Jon’s students see the KDE desktop in every class he teaches so they’re used to seeing Linux over MS Windows.
Jon has made teaching open source a viable option in the sight of these obstacles by focusing on curriculum goals and objectives. He also uses older computers and personal resources so that he’s not using new systems that he has to get approval for from purchasing departments. He also follows my favorite motto – it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. So instead of asking for approval he just does it and then the administration finds it hard to break it all down. Another little step he takes is to keep his computers off the network so that the tech people don’t see the machines that they don’t want to support showing up. Finally – and most importantly – he enlists the students support in making the case for open source. The kids want to learn how to develop for things like Android so get their support.
Some examples of open source he uses to teach include Perl scripts to run time tests. He also walks students through the installation procedure so that they can take what they learn and repeat it at home. Jon does something I do a lot – he created presentation and video tutorials so that students can see lectures again or review content they may have missed. He also has a lot of applications to assist in teaching his math lessons (some available from KDE Education Project).