When high school students in the Indiana School System returned last fall, they found a pleasant surprise waiting for them. As part of the state's 1:1 Desktop Computing Initiative and the Indiana ACCESS agenda, more than 1,600 new Linux desktops were added to high school classrooms as a pilot program. The desktops were running either Linspire 5.0 or Novell Linux Desktop 9. "This is but the tip of the iceberg;" according to one school official, "as soon as this catches on, there'll be no stopping it."
The pilot program was initially rolled out to 24 high schools and 100 classrooms. If all goes as expected, up to 300,000 desktops will be added throughout the state.
The goal of ACCESS (Affordable Classroom Computers for Every Secondary Student) is to make daily contact with computers available to all students directly in the classroom. By placing the computers in the classroom rather than clustering them in a library or lab where scheduling and sharing can be an issue, it is anticipated that computer literacy among secondary school students will rise almost exponentially. Prior to placing the desktops in the classrooms, ACCESS estimated that computer usage was typically only 35-40 minutes per week per student, and a great deal of time and momentum was lost during the school day moving to where the computers were. With the computers now in the classroom, the amount of time interacting with them is projected to be 6-20 hours per week.
ACCESS, overseen by the Indiana Department of Education, has a mandate to implement low-priced hardware ($249 is allotted for 256MB RAM machines and $293 for 512MB systems) and no cost, or low-cost software (an average of $13 per desktop). The program's eight guiding principles are: affordability, sustainability, repeatability, flexibility, openness, compatibility, commonality and scalability. To meet these standards, it was clear that the only way the implementation could be successful was to use an operating system that was both open and rock solid. Enter Novell Linux Desktop.
The Novell Linux Desktop is a combination of the best features of the incredibly stable SUSE Linux operating system and elements of Ximian and other Novell products. Factor in that Novell Linux Desktop also includes the following, and you can see the elasticity of the operating system to fit almost any need:
- Mozilla Firefox Web browser
- Novell iFolder for file sharing and mobility
- 2.6 Linux kernel
- Acrobat Reader, Macromedia Flash Player, RealPlayer 10 and so much more
Another reason the State of Indiana chose Novell was because of their involvement with the Mono project. According to postings on the Department of Education Web site (doe.state.in.us), Novell agreed to work with education software suppliers to certify .NET applications on Mono. They're also cooperating with the Department of Education and Indiana school districts to encourage the suppliers to certify their software on Linux computers and/or achieve compatibility with the open source Web browser Firefox.
The initial rollout was mainly to English classrooms, with a limited number going to biology and social study rooms. Every student has their own user account issued by the school system. While the applications are stored on the local machine, all user data is stored on a central server. This makes it possible for students to access their accounts from any computer in the school and the user data to be backed up regularly.
To make configuration management possible and streamline software distribution, ACCESS recommended Novell ZENworks Linux Management. Using policy- driven automation, the servers essentially lock down the desktops and keep the students from changing their required settings. ZENworks Linux Management also simplifies inventory and software management, such as patch management, and reduces the headaches for the system administrators. The ACCESS recommendation was for each school to host its own ZENworks Linux Management server, with a master server residing at the state's network data center.
To make the first day of school a success, Quick Start cards for Novell Linux Desktop were available to the users. The cards covered topics such as: panels, workspaces, file management, archives, desktop settings and Firefox. These were in addition to the support materials made available by Novell, such as product toolkits, Professional Resource Suite, Software Evaluation and Development Libraries.
Don Vosburg, a Novell Category Specialist for the Midwest Region was the frontline point of contact with Novell. He worked closely with the school systems to ensure the rollout went well and any issues that arose were quickly resolved.
With the school year about to end, and another one not too far away, it will be another busy season for Novell, Novell Linux Desktop and school systems everywhere.
> More Information
For more information on ACCESS, visit doe.state.in.us/technology/inaccess.html. If you're considering an implementation of this scale, a more technical site, which reads like a case study, is http://inaccesstech.blogspot.com.
About the Author
Emmett Dulaney is the author of the Novell Linux Desktop 9 Administrator's Handbook (ISBN: 0-672-32790-2) and the Novell Certified Linux Professional (CLP) Study Guide (ISBN: 0-672-32719-8) by Novell Press. He holds a number of Linux and other certifications.
Linux is not the only component ACCESS turned to in order to affordably increase exposure to computers. The "openness" guiding principle requires the adoption of open source solutions across the board. In addition to the operating system, their specifications also called for the StarOffice productivity suite (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation program, etc.) and Crossover solutions, which are basically Windows apps running on Linux. CMAP (concept mapping software), Firefox, REALplayer and GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) were also requirements. VNC capabilities/functionality was also a requirement to enable teachers to monitor student workstations. This is not only to make sure the students are not off task (CIPA-compliant Internet filtering and other safeguards are in place), but to also allow the teacher to help the student without needing to leave the front of the room.
All monitors are 17 inch and can be either CRT or LCD. Laptops were considered in an effort to mirror a similar program done by the State of Michigan, and continue to be a possibility for the future, but are currently not within the budget. Maine and New Mexico also tested 1:1 programs utilizing laptops instead of desktops.
ACCESS also recommends teachers use laptops. This not only lets them move around the classroom, but also allows them to take the machine home. By taking the laptops home, teachers are able to use—and become familiar with—Novell Linux Desktop and the applications.