Pennsylvania High School Rolls Out 1,700 Linux Laptops to Students
By Libby Clark - February 11, 2014 - 6:00am
A few weeks before Penn Manor High School gave Linux laptops to every student, stacks of the unboxed machines filled a cafeteria. There the Lancaster, Pa. district's IT staff, high school apprentices and volunteers spent winter break configuring and testing all 1,725 laptops in assembly-line fashion, in preparation for the start of the second semester.
Penn Manor students unboxing laptopsWhen they were done, every student, grades 9-12, came away with an Acer TravelMate laptop pre-loaded with Ubuntu 13.10. Then after a roughly 5-minute orientation, students were let loose with sudo access and a mission to tinker, study, and create to their hearts' delight.
“We encourage our students to install software and lift the hood of the system to better understand what makes it tick,” said Charlie Reisinger, the district's technology director. “I hope our students run local webservers, toy with Python or simply explore graphics programs such as GIMP. Linux offers so many opportunities to explore computing, programming, and the arts.”
Switching to Open Source
Linux has been the backbone of the Penn Manor School District's IT infrastructure for a decade – powering servers and providing the platform for its websites, storage, and learning management systems. So when the district set out to give every student a laptop, installing Linux was a natural choice for the IT staff.
Reisinger also did some personal soul-searching on the role of technology in the classroom, he says, and realized that many of the “fad” devices embraced by other schools didn't align with his educational goals for computing. (See his full rationale in his recent blog post on OpenSource.com.)
“It concerns me that we tend to chase the new silver tech bullet without thinking philosophically about what we want our students doing, or the freedom we want to give them with the device,” he said. “My fear is we're losing the art of computing. Then we lose a generation of engineers.”
Linux allows a level of exploration and control that other closed devices don't, he said. The cost savings in switching to all open source software is an added benefit. Reisinger estimates the district will save at least $360,000 in licensing fees on the high school's 1:1 laptop program alone.
Three years ago, the district set out to replace all of its classroom Windows and Mac machines with Linux and open source software. Elementary and middle school computer labs and classroom computers were the first to run Linux. And this month marked the end of the transition with the launch of the high school's 1:1 laptop program. <more>
What's even more impressive is that the unboxing, inventorying, and configuration of all 1725 of these machines was accomplished in "a two-day setup marathon" with a 13-20 person crew comprised of the school's IT staff, community volunteers, and student help desk apprentices using a system cloning tool developed (in true "think global act local" style) by local high school senior Andrew Lobos
. (More on that story here
That's a pretty impressive achievement, whether you're looking at it from an administrative, political, technical or philosophical
So much for Microzaftig
-FUD and those who say this can't (or shouldn't) be done!