Friday, March 24, 2006

Computers and Academic Performance - From the Front Lines

Daniel Howard is an interested parent who helped set up computers at Brandon Elementary in Georgia. By using Linux thin client technology with donated computers (see my explanations of this at, he has been able to increase the number of working PCs from 1 or 2 per classroom to 7 or 8--and he has done so for significantly less time and money than it would have cost to install new computers. Students who were used to getting only a couple of hours a week on the computer are now likely to have an hour a day.

One of the most enthusiastic adopters of this technology at Brandon Elementary is a first-grade teacher, and a letter from her to Mr. Howard is below. Granted, computers in the classroom are not a cure-all, and in this case it is not hard to read between the (articulate) lines of this letter to see that the benefits of additional computers have likely been significantly magnified by this teacher's understanding of how to use them. Nevertheless, Mr. Howard's use of Open Source software and Linux to bring more computers to the classroom has had an amazing effect.


"Dear William and Daniel,

"Thank you so much for all of the time and energy you have put into the technology needs of Morris Brandon this year. I love the Linux software. My students are discovering fun, educational games to play every day.

"Having 7 working computers in my classroom has helped increase student performance in both reading and math. My students are able to access Accelerated Reader whenever they are finished reading a book. The average grade equivalent score of the students in my classroom on the Star Reading Test has jumped from 2.0 at the beginning of the year to 2.7 at the beginning of third quarter.

"I have seen an even larger jump in the mathematics computation scores of the students in my classroom. At the beginning of the year my students scored an average of 40.31% on a first grade computation test. At mid-year the average score of the students in my classroom had increased 48.44 points for a class average of 88.75%. Because of the number of working computers in my classroom, my students are able to access and play the First in Math Website more often than the students were able in years past. My class is now first in the nation for first grade students.

"I believe the academic success of my students is directly linked to the wonderful technology solutions that you have implemented at Morris Brandon. Thank you so much!"


Mr. Howard is most interested in the measurement of academic performance as it relates to the number of PCs in a classroom, as well as the impact of Open Source software in this regard. Please direct any information you might have on this to him at

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Soliciting Contributions for "Open Source In Education" Book

ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education
(, has asked me to coordinate the writing of a book on
Open Source Software in Education, which they will publish.

I'm interested in:

1. Ideas, feedback, brainstorming, etc. What topics should be
covered in this book? What specific programs? Who is the audience?
Are there books already written that we should look at?

2. Contributors. Would you like to contribute? Can you think of
someone I should make sure has a chance to contribute?

Please post this to any other lists you feel could help in this effort.

Thank you.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Open Source Pavilion at the Show

We've just returned home from the (Computer Using Educators) show in Palm Springs, California--where Open Source "took the show by storm..." (an inside joke for those at the show, given the incredible wind storm on Thursday night and the snow storm Saturday!).

But certainly having 75 computers running Open Source software was a significant event, and our "Open Source Pavilion" was considered a great success by all involved, especially the show organizers. As part of a plan both to showcase Open Source software, and to simplify the show's evaluation process, the Open Source Pavilion was used as the exclusive evaluation area during the last part of the show, where attendees filled out an online evaluation and then received a show t-shirt in return. The show organizers had used words like "chaos" and "madness" to describe the frenzied hordes that would descend and do anything for a free t-shirt, but using the Open Source Pavilion turned out to provide a fast, streamlined, and calm experience for all involved.

The Open Source Pavilion was also host to eight presentations on Open Source software (see, three of which (two on moodle, one on blogging and podcasting) attracted crowds so large that even bringing in more chairs could not accommodate all who wanted to attend. In a significant move, our Open Source sessions were listed in the general conference brochure along with all the other sessions, and our visibility was quite high, as we were mentioned by several of the regular speakers in their talks.

We ran 32 laptops with our EZWebPC software (a CD-based Linux operating system that just runs a web browser) in an "email garden" formation with access to a printer. The laptops, used IBM’s with no hard drives and generously provided by Computers & Education (, were frequently in heavy use and appreciated by many. We then ran 43 old desktop Dell Optiplexes in a lab\lecture setting, each converted to thin-client use and booting from our "NetBooter" device. These thin clients then connected with either of two Linux servers, one running Fedora Core, and the other running Ubuntu. It was quite something to have 75 stable, reliable computers set up and running in such quick fashion.

At our hosting tables in the Pavilion we had available free copies of the OpenCD and Ubuntu, and lots of reading material. Many participants had lots of questions, and some few said that they only came to the show to see our Pavilion. We've been asked to provide a similar (although not quite so expansive) area at the NECC 2006 show in San Diego in July, where our speakers will also be included in the general program bulletin. As well, wanted to make sure we could come back next year. (Which will be a lot easier, now that we have all the ethernet cabling built!) All in all, a good showing!

Also: I was part of an interview on Open Source software in schools during the show, a webcast of which can be found at