free software laptop labs in school

The relevant part of my comment/response to Vicki Davis’ post regarding the cost of implementing a free software lab in her school:

I don’t know about the money. It sounds like the school can build a lab easily for that much…maybe two or three! There are several innovative laptop projects in the world right now driving the cost down tremendously. Remember that tech support costs may rise unless the school already has an educated enough community to launch such an endeavor. This can take time unless you are lucky. So, you may need to pay extra in the short-term to train/teach and/or acquire help.

If the school is thinking of doing this only to save money, I would suggest doing a detailed cost-analysis and then make a decision. If you pressure some proprietary vendors, you might be able to get a really good price for many years and actually save more money in the short-term than going with free software – especially if your school is a large institution. In fact, I suspect that as time goes on the world may see a point where even the most popular operating system software will become free (as in beer) as it adds OSI approved pieces around itself.

If the school desires to do this for ethical/pedagogical reasons (perhaps financial as well if that’s the case), then it will do what it needs to do to use free software. If the community has already made a decision to go with free software, then the hardware it buys (or already owns) may drive the software decision. In the free software world, there are choices. If your hardware won’t run a completely free system, you will have to go with a GNU/Linux distribution containing binary blobs. Or, if you feel the community needs time to adjust to some loss, the school may consider going with a distribution that makes installing (e.g. proprietary Flash) easy with an intent to work on weeding the garden over time. Often, a large community will turn in a direction while many members may not understand why. In that case, easing the resistance through compromise may be a better pay-off so long as the goal is freedom.

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2 Responses to “free software laptop labs in school”

  1. Vicki Davis Says:

    I hope that I can learn from these great resources about how to create such a lab! So many of us want to do it but I am having trouble figuring out how. Vendors just want to make money so they say it is not possible. I’m not so sure!

    Thanks for mentioning it — oh and tom Hoffman asked today why a laptop lab — well it is one we plan to roll between classrooms — everyone from 1st and up could check it out.

    Is it practical or doable? I don’t know. I hope someone who knows more than I can tell me.

  2. gnuosphere Says:

    A movable lab is an interesting idea. However, I don’t know if it’s really practical. Moving means more wear and tear and organization – in general, more hassle. If laptops are going to move, ideally each student would just have one of their own. If each has their own, then considerably less organizational work would be needed.

    If the computer is thought of as a textbook, then ideally each student would have their own textbook that gets signed out at the beginning of the year and returned at the end. This would be easier than buying a set of books, signing up in advance to use the books, and rolling them around the school. But hey, when budget constraints are an issue you do the best you can and perhaps a movable lab is realistic depending on one’s circumstance.

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