Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Edubuntu: Not a LiveCD Any More

Among the things I'm planning on doing with my 4th-8th grade computer class this upcoming year is give them a chance to play with OSes other than those installed on the school's lab computers. Presently both Mac OS X and Windows are in the lab. I wanted to have a week or two where we spin up some LiveCDs of different OSes and play around with them. I figured I'd have a short list of tasks for the students to perform on each system, as well as allowing for a fair bit of unstructured exploration.

Among the OSes I was interested in having available was Edubuntu. The presentation on the Edubuntu web site makes it look particularly attractive for a class at the 4th-8th grade level. So I ordered a free CD, a courtesy for which I'm grateful. When I ordered it, it looked like I'd be getting the older version of Ubuntu as the base OS since Edubuntu hadn't been updated to use the new version yet. For my use, this was not a problem.

When the disks arrived yesterday, however, I got two disks, not one. One disk is Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, the other is an add-on CD of Edubuntu software. As much as I appreciate free resources for my classes, having Edubuntu split in two sort of defeats the purpose I had in mind.

Many of the computers we have at the school are not particularly new ones. The disk space is at a premium even with just the basic OS and app install. This is why a LiveCD has such value to me as a teacher. It gives me the chance to bring in things that aren't installed on the systems already and use them in class, or to provide a working environment that is consistent across our different systems, without interfering with the basics already on the lab systems, and without giving myself or the already thin and overworked lab staff extra work.

I'll probably still use the base Ubuntu CD in class. But after having been sold on Edubuntu, it's a bit disappointing. I hope that the Edubuntu folks manage to find a way to fit a full version of Edubuntu on a single CD again in the future, because installing is frequently not an option in education.


Now, I don't want to come off sounding negative here. I'm disappointed that I didn't get Edubuntu all on one disk. But the fact that I can use LiveCDs of several OSes this way in class is great! The fact that the world is becoming more heterogeneous
in its use of operating systems, and that more and more flexibility exists in how everyday work gets done, is fantastic.

Doing "real work" on the internet is a reality now. The mass of complaints about Google Docs going down for an hour reminds me of the tales of the early days of networking at UC Berkeley when they took down a network that had been installed as a sort of science experiment back in the 70s, only to have the faculty in the halls complaining they couldn't get their work done without it!

The opportunity to not only teach on-system horizontal apps but networked apps, to teach not just the one major OS but several of them, is exciting. It's exciting to show students the amazing possibilities that are open to them. We have a plurality of OSes that run on a wide range of hardware. We have a variety of commercial, free, and liberated applications available. Work can be done locally or remotely. Virtually all the areas of knowledge are laid open to them, without cost beyond the computer and the network itself. Where ever their passions lie, they can go from novice to expert with the information available on the internet (and with a liberal application of elbow grease of whatever sort in applying that knowledge.)

With simulators and emulators they can do things without having an actual thing to do it on. Whether it's playing a classic video game or playing with electronic circuitry.

It's an amazing world we live in. I'm excited about helping give my students access to it.

And while I'm disappointed that Edubuntu showed up on two disks, rather than one, I'm glad I'll be able to show my students that when it comes to OSes, they aren't trapped and that they don't need to simply accept "what is." They have a choice.

I really, really would have liked to make this post about how cool Edubuntu is and how it's going to slot right into my lesson plan. Hopefully I'll have just such a post about Ubuntu soon, even if I don't get all the Edubuntu apps with it.