This seems silly to title a post in the middle of winter but our storm last week started with a great deal of rain before the snow hit. The plan was to hunker down for a day to let the storm hit and then dig out.
So, planning to hunker it was.
I had been reading a number of posts from people who were turning old computers into Chromebooks using Neverware’s CloudReady operating system. Now, I’ve got this beautiful computer that I bought in 2010. It’s a Sony Vaio and it was yet another one of the “last ever” computers that I would buy. It had an i7 processor, 500GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM, every port that you could ever think a computer would ever have a use for. It came with Windows 7 and it was a screamer. Those who go back to that time will appreciate that it was my go-to computer for doing presentations. It’s not a light machine but I had a rolling computer bag so it wasn’t a big deal. At the time of purchase, Sony had this promotion where they would engrave your name into the screen frame which sounded great at the time but makes it a bit awkward to recycle to others!
I went to the Neverware site and the only thing I needed to make this happen was an 8GB USB key. I don’t know about you but I’ve always hoarded these things. So, I had no doubt that I’d have one. I have a bag of them and went through – 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, some memories of conferences where I actually got them but no 8GB USB key. I looked out the window and it hadn’t started to rain yet so I quickly decided to go into town to Walmart and buy one. If they had one.
It’s been a while since I’d bought a USB key. There was nothing less than 8GB that I could see. There were some with massive storage amounts. The “cloud” has made me miss a whole technology getting bigger! After my purchase and a $1 Mcdonald’s coffee, I was ready to go. Now, I had checked the list of Neverware’s verified machines and, unfortunately, mine wasn’t one of them. But, the message, in this case, was to just try it and chances are that it would work. The installation procedure was easy enough. I had the power sitting on my key.
Now, I had configured the computer to dual boot – Windows 10 and Linux Mint. It was the Windows 10, upgraded from Windows 7, that was the inspiration for this project. It was so slow as to be unusable. This had really just been a Mint machine for me. So, I was hoping that I could just replace the Windows partition. I booted with the key in one of the three USB ports and quickly there I was in Chrome OS, using the Chrome browser. I kicked the tires and all seemed to be good so I instructed it to put the OS on the hard drive.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t an option to put it on a particular partition. That really wasn’t a show stopper; I figure that I could install it and then create and install a Linux Mint partition later if I wanted. Go!
All seemed to be going well and I was doing something else at the time. After a while, I heard a “snap”. That snapped my head up to see the computer now with a black screen. That seemed like an odd way for an installation to finish. I rebooted without the key and sadly got a “No OS” warning. Perhaps there was something that I had missed so I redid the process, paying attention this time. There wasn’t anything for me to do that I had missed out and the snap happened again. Maybe the third time would be a charm. Snap.
What to do now? I had a computer with no operating system.
I was going to grab a Linux Mint installer and then remembered why I went down this road in the first place. I wanted to make a Chromebook out of it.
I went looking for the “lightest” version of Linux I could find. I had an idea but this article confirmed it. I wanted something that would be a derivative of Ubuntu so that it would be well supported. I’ll admit that I was leaning towards Lubuntu and the article basically confirmed it. Besides; one of the earlier releases was nicknamed “Bionic Beaver”. That was a message for those who can remember the Icon computer!
I know that the “minimum” standards are basically there to get it to boot. 4GB of RAM for Windows just makes it start. You need more to actually do something. With Lubuntu only needing 1GB, I should have more than enough!
The last time I’d done a fresh installation of Linux, I had done it from CD or DVD. You don’t find those on new computers these days but my Vaio had one. All I needed was to burn myself media to do it. Again, I found myself behind the times. As I poked around, I learned that the world had changed for the best. There’s a whole new world of installers for the ISO file that do it right from the USB key – Rufus, LinuxLive, Universal USB Installer – I went with the last one called fondly UUI.
Now, in a perfect world, I would try out Lubuntu live from the USB key before clobbering the data on my computer. But, I’ve already done the clobbering part so I went straight to the install and it worked incredibly quickly. No snapping this time and all looked good. A reboot without the USB key in place and my computer was ready to configure Lubuntu and let me log in. Voila! There I was.
Now, I had the intention of making this a Chromebook but Lubuntu comes with Firefox. I started that and, once I gave my wifi password, I was good to go. Of course, me being me, I was happy but what else came with the installer. LibreOffice, VLC, the classics and then a few other specific things I resisted the urge to play around and just checked out the internet. I needed my Password Manager so that I could actually log into my favourite websites and an ad blocker but those were just momentary hiccups.
I’m constantly amazed with all the Linux that I’ve installed how they recognize all the components. Even my trackpad worked right out of the box. It was kind of neat to use a trackpad with two actual buttons again. As I write this post on my new Firefoxbook (is that a thing?) I realize that I’m where I wanted to be when I started this project.
It was a very successful day. Maybe this truly could be the last ever computer. Who knows? I look forward to playing around and seeing what this combination is capable of.
Andrew Dobbie is an elementary school teacher with the Peel District School Board. Last year, at the annual Bring IT, Together Conference, he and a group of students took over one of the booth areas to talk about their passions. I was quite impressed with the technical discussions that I was able to have with them. Read on to find what they are and how you might get involved for the good of your classroom, students, and the environment.
Doug: Thanks for agreeing to this, Andrew. Can you remember the first time that we met?
Andrew: I believe we first met at an ECOO conference in Toronto, years ago. My first year as a presenter. It’s been an almost annual event for us ever since👍
Doug: We’ve followed each other on Twitter for a while now and you’re a regular on my #FollowFriday listing. To make that list, you have to have been active on the previous Thursday. What makes you so active on Twitter?
Andrew: As an educator, I’m always looking for new research, advances in technology, and current events that I can weave into our daily classroom work. I’m also a strong advocate for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, so I like to share current global events related to our progress @TeachSDGs
Doug: Let’s get this out in the open first. Are you or would others consider you a computer geek to be avoided?
Andrew: Computer Geek? My wife says no….BUT she says when I start speaking about the coding required to create some of the special computers used for repurposing other, older computers, it sounds geeky🤣
Computers are a necessity turned hobby for me. I rely heavily on them as a conduit to support learning in our classroom, therefore I believe my students and I need to know how to build and service them to ensure we can troubleshoot and repair them as needed throughout the day.
Practical. Not geeky.
Doug: At the Bring IT, Together Conference last fall, you offered to give any teacher who was interested their own reimaged computer to take back to their classroom. How many expressed interest and took you up on the offer? I noticed that you had a stack of Dell computers at your booth.
Andrew: Last year, we gave away about 30 free laptops/desktops to attendees. Some were keen to repurpose more of their older computers at their schools, so we built them Linux server computers instead. Our Linux servers are designed to repurpose older, connected computers MUCH more efficiently. We continue to support all of those teachers throughout Ontario, as well as the more than 14 000 students using Linux computers in classrooms every day.
Unfortunately, Greentec showed interest in helping us by possibly donating laptop hard drives but they didn’t follow through at all. Furthermore, there is resistance in all school boards related to students using free Linux computers at home and in classrooms. The school board resistance is unfounded because the computers are running an up-to-date, secure @Xubuntu operating system with Google Chrome that auto-updates in the background daily. School boards are putting barriers in place that DO NOT support learning, DO NOT save tax dollars and DO NOT divert e-waste because Ontario school boards continue to recycle FUNCTIONAL computers instead of repurposing them with Linux and keeping them in service.
Doug: So, let’s get right to it. At the Bring IT, Together Conference, you and your students were sharing your stories about Environmental Stewardship and your partnership with Renewed Computer Technology Canada.
What brought you into this relationship?
Andrew: RCTO (rcto.ca) is a not-for-profit organization that gives schools free desktop computers. I needed computers for my classroom, so I asked them and they gave me enough free desktop computers to put between 4-12 computers per classroom throughout our school (to service more than 800 students), effectively saving us 10 years of board provided new technology budget. They are amazing! I have been paying it forward by helping other schools apply for, transport, and set up their own free computers from RCTO as well.
Doug: Your website (link below) talks about the success that your efforts have had and you estimate that you have saved your school district $1,431,000. This is done by diverting computers that would normally have been sent to disposal and repurposing them. Typically, these would be Windows computers and you end up installing a flavour of Linux on them. How did you get interested in doing this?
Andrew: To clarify, we have saved Peel District School Board alone about $500 000 tax dollars. Our efforts globally have saved almost 1.5 million tax dollars. Our support for students can be found as far as Iceland👍
We developed an interest in Linux out of necessity to support student learning with computers, while having little to no board funding to support computers in classrooms. We needed classroom computers, the school board had no funding to get them, we acquired older computers from RCTO that wouldn’t run our board image, so we repurposed them with Linux to make them functional, Chromebook-like learning support tools👍
With the guidance and support of Mike Diou, Neil Lyons, and Aaron Prisk (along with dozens of other teachers globally), we have developed a Linux solution to poor school board premature recycling that saves hundreds of thousands of tax dollars annually (could easily save millions per year if the Ontario ministry and school boards would implement updated Linux repurposing policies).
Doug: Whoa! Linux. Isn’t that a geeky type of thing where you have to learn all kinds of command line statements in order to do something?
Andrew: When we repurpose an older computer to run with Linux, it operates almost exactly like a Chromebook. We install and auto-update the current, stable version of Google Chrome on the Linux computers too. Linux works faster than Windows (especially with slightly older computers), so it is a perfect repurposing option for any slower computer that is 10 years old or newer.
Doug: There are all kinds of different distributions of Linux and you went with Xubuntu. Why that distro?
Andrew: Xubuntu allowed us the ability to create operating system protocols for computers to be used in classrooms. This prevented students from using root access (just another layer of security to help). However, when we give away free, donated computers to students and their families, we provide them with a fully unlocked Xubuntu operating system and encourage them to explore it. I tell them not to worry about wrecking the computer because we can just reimage it again to make it like new in minutes👍
Doug: Now, in order for this to be successful, you have to hijack the machines from your district’s IT Department renewal process for your project. How does that work?
Andrew: While we are working outside of our board’s IT pervu, we are not hijacking any board computers. School board IT departments do not provide us with computers. I wish they would, so we could move them back into even more classrooms. All schools have computers they have purchased with their school budgets. Principals have the freedom to choose how and when to recycle those computers they have purchased with their school budget. We work with responsible principals who choose to support their students, while saving budget and diverting e-waste. Once in a while, we receive donations from companies or local individuals wanting to help provide families in need with a free computer. Most of the computers we work with were donated by RCTO. We would be able to help thousands of more students and their families if school board IT departments repurposed all functional computers with Linux instead of recycling them prematurely.
Doug: That assumption is my error. I had thought you had previously indicated that computers to be retired by the IT Department were redirected to you.
The process of installing Linux isn’t that difficult these days but your students have become champions at doing that. What skills do you figure that they’ve acquired in this process?
Andrew: Our students have learned Linux terminal coding techniques and are able to build their own Linux FOG Servers, student-tailored user interface, and deploy their own image onto any other computer. Students learn at their own pace and find different ways to get involved to support the UN SDGs, either through software or hardware expertise.
Doug: What’s the minimum specifications for the type of computer that you use for the project?
Andrew: Minimum computer specs for reliable, daily student use is a dual core processor with 4GB RAM. However, Linux will run well with a minimum of 2GB as well (with fewer Google Chrome Tabs open).
Doug: Do your graduates continue to do this once they leave Mr. Dobbie’s classroom?
Andrew: Yes! Our Technology Stewards continue to help their families and friends by repurposing their computers. Some of our grads are in high school now and actively working in clubs to support local families in need👍
Doug: A real Linux purist will not use anything commercial unless they absolutely have to. I’m assuming that you’re getting no access to school licensing of products so what are your students using for:
Graphics and Image editing
Andrew: Cloud-based LMS tools like Google Apps for Education or Office 365 provide students with online access to all of their apps/tools, regardless of the computer being used. So, our Linux computers simply have the up-to-date, current, stable version of Chrome. Chrome will run all web-based applications students need to support their learning. Any other learning tools we need for simulations or A/V we find in open source products that are license free👍
Doug: Truth be told, school districts currently have this obsession with Chromebooks. Chromebooks actually run a version of Linux so why isn’t your procedure done in more places? Ultimately, you end up in a browser and you’re on the internet, aren’t you?
Andrew: Absolutely true! This isn’t rocket science. We transform older, slower computers into faster Linux computers in which students can explore the world via Google Chrome (FOR FREE👐)
Doug: During the emergency teaching this spring, did your students have access at home? Were they tech savvy enough to get through any issues?
Andrew: Throughout our spring session, many students had donated Linux computers at home as their only lifeline to their school learning environment. I received some tech support emails but most were taken care of peer-2-peer👍
Doug: You indicate that you are a SDG ambassador. What does this mean to you and your students / school / district?
Andrew: As SDG Global Ambassadors, our efforts are recognized and supported by the global @teachSDGs community. Through our SDG community we will be working to support communities in other countries as well.
Doug: If people are interested in more about this concept, can they reach out to you?
Doug: Thank you for taking time for this interview, Andrew. I hope that those that read it will have a new appreciation for what you’re doing and perhaps they’ll push for the same concept in their schools.
You can stay on top of Andrew’s latest adventures here.
You know, you don’t really appreciate something until you lose it. I’m feeling that this week in my loss of freedom to just go and browse my way through a store. It’s not that I do it a lot but the important part is that, in another time, I actually could if I wanted to. I just can’t now.
I did have a fulfilling moment last night. A childhood friend of mine had a crashed iPad and I was able to give her some advice and she’s back online now. My price was very affordable compared to what Apple would have charged. I got:
On to some of the great things that crossed my keyboard this week from the blogs of Ontario Edubloggers.
Shelly Vohra offers some candid advice about attempts by the Ministry of Education to promote e-learning or online learning or what you may wish to call it. She echoes some of the observations that have been talked about here and in other places. It is in stark contrast to the comments coming from some of the right-wing news sources in the province. They just don’t have a clue. The sad thing is the number of anonymous comments. I don’t reshare because I don’t believe and yet I can’t resist the urge to read the garbage that they are spewing. Like I indicated previously on this blog, you can’t equate one person with a computer from their employer and an internet connection with a teacher trying to teach a class of students with varying needs and just as many varying computer configurations. That is, of course, if the student is fortunate enough to have a computer and an internet connection.
Shelly points out, with respect to the Minstry’s assumptions that this is a good thing:
The first is that educators were not consulted in the creation of this ‘resource’
Secondly, the ‘resource’ doesn’t take into consideration the diversity in our student population
my third issue with such a ‘resource’ – the issue of equity.
We can’t overlook that this will be a good resource for some and certainly school districts are, or have been directed to, share on their website.
Shelly promises a followup post with some of her ideas.
From the ETFO Heart and Art Blog, Michelle Fenn makes some observations based on the current reality and some of the realizations that can come from it.
We all have experienced the various scenarios in Michelle’s post. We have indeed dragged ourselves into work when we should have stayed at home.
We all have those emergency lesson plans that are tucked away for such an occasion and hope that we never need them.
We all know the panic of going to bed well and waking up ill. What will the kids do?
At some point, we’ve all had the experience of going into work when we really shouldn’t. As Michelle notes, we’ve made gains through collective bargaining about how to take care of ourselves. Sadly, there are employers that want to cut into this. There’s a huge difference in workplace activity between dealing with a full timetable of students who might be sick and some other professions that are nowhere near this. I still can’t get over that moronic Twitter message that I read indicating that teachers will get through COVID-19 because the experience of dealing with coughing the spreading a of germs of the classroom will help them.
Ironically, we have an entire province that has shut itself down due to a virus and those that are really worried about the impact of the lack of doing their jobs and the students they’re charged to work with are the teachers.
Tim King follows up on a previous blog post where he addressed the challenges of having insufficient internet access at school for his needs with this post.
Now, he takes the concept of connectivity globally. I found his reference to the Loon project interesting. Note that this video is at least three years old.
And, of course, you’ll need a computer to attach to the network. He cites two sources; one being the unused computers at schools right now and the second being the Computers for Schools project.
I would suggest that all this is a start but won’t get us where we ultimately need to be. My internet service provider uses LTE and Satellite; it’s part of Canada’s rural solution. I had to send a warning to Stephen Hurley earlier this week that our voicEd show might be in danger when I ran a Speedtest and got this.
Stephen recommends at least 2MB for success. Fortunately, it was a bit better for Wednesday morning. Had I needed the speed when I ran the test, I would have been out of luck. Imagine being a student at home relying on synchronous connections with a teacher.
The second part of the equation involves getting computers in the hands of students. One solution is to provide repurposed computers with a Linux environment and have them connect to a network with those specifications. The problem with older computers is that repairs and getting parts can be a challenge when things go wrong. I have a Dell (not exactly a generic machine) with a flashing orange light indicating that it doesn’t recognize the battery that it came with. It’s not likely that I’m going to shell out money for a new battery for this older computer.
On top of all of this, we make reference to this as a solution to those students whose families cannot afford their own technology. So, the poorer get a bandaid solution?
Despite my negative points above, a solution like this needs to be found. Traditionally, we’ve looked to public libraries as an evening solution but when they’re closed, that option is out.
Looking for a solution while living the problem really isn’t the solution. A proactive solution like hospitals have in hand needs to be in place. Smart educators like Tim should be given credit for their thoughts, along with a budget, and come up with a permanent solution should a similar situation ever arise again. And, even if it doesn’t, who wouldn’t want a solution where every student in the province has reliable access to the internet.
From the TESL Blog comes a post from Martina Finnegan that includes one of the best thinking moments for me this past while.
“Skillful teaching is the teaching that is contextually informed” (Brookfield, 2015, p. 20). We teach what we assume students should be learning in their particular situations, and sometimes this requires veering away from a syllabus and taking hold of alternate methods to help students learn what is required for their field
In today’s reality, I think of teachers that are now thrust online to continue their teaching.
I’ve been in conversation with a friend in the States that is teaching his Computer Science courses online. The connection to the student is through video conferencing from his living room to goodness knows where. I do know that one of those locations is in China.
One of my superintendents was a big believer in Management by Walking Around. Great read here. He believed that the best teachers are always walking around, looking at student progress and then let the alternate methods that Martina alludes to kick in. Educators know what the end game is and will do whatever is needed to get there.
I would hope that the best of the best meet Martina’s standards of a “Skillful Teacher”. She’s got some great references for additional reading in the post.
She’s looking at a glossy magazine that describes her neighbourhood. The pictures that she sees in the magazine are drastically different from what she sees when she looks out the front window or around her neighbourhood.
It’s difficult to believe that this is happening in Canada in 2020. Judging by the comments to Melanie’s post, she’s not the only one who sees this and want to take action.
Letter writing to the magazine is a good start. Letter writing to those businesses that advertise in the magazine, cc: the magazine and to social media would even be more effective.
When I read the title, I thought it might be about a Degree in the Arts and a Degree in Education like so many teachers in province have and how could that be a post.
But I was wrong.
It’s a wonderful story about a relationship and professionalism that brings in a running kindergarten student and how grade 5 students ended up being more effective than the vice-principal in her role of authority.
Now, I’ve heard (and watched) 6 degrees of separation. I had to do a bit of research to find out just what was meant by 2 degrees. I hope that this is the context that they use in the post because I used it to understand their message.
There are specific spaces around each of us: 1. private space is the immediate space or circle – you. The next circle or microsystem is: 2. close family, friends, and peers in school, workplace, religious affiliation and neighborhood. The next circle would be the mesosystem: 3. to a lesser degree of closeness, extended family, acquaintances, and peers in school, workplace, religious affiliation and neighborhood. Circles 2. and 3. are the combined social space. Next is the exosystem, public space: 4. community, county, state, nation. The final circle, macrosystem, would represent: 5. the world. In Karinthy’s concept of six degrees of separation, a person would be six steps away from any one person in the world. This is the interconnectedness of dependent-origination. We are all connected. One degree of separation would place you solely in the inner most social circle or microsystem. This would lead you to a very select few within that social space closest to you.
When her direct message was ineffective, she turned to the connections of the 2nd degree and they were indeed able to be effective in stopping the running behaviour.
Then, in true Beast fashion, we’re witness to a discussion between Andrea and Kelly about this and their relationship.
In particular, I’m interested in this concept of a “2 degrees pilot”.
And, again, a wonderful collection of thought from Ontario Edubloggers. Please take time to click through and read the original posts.
I’ve used a number of utilities like this over the years. It’s a handy way to keep track of online resources that I use frequently. A long time ago, I even created one for the school district and it was called the Student Reference Portal. I had the IT Department make it the default page for the browsers.
Essentially, it’s a collection of important and frequently referenced links. If you’ve ever witnessed the frustration of watching students type a URL, you’ll immediately see the value.
And, more importantly, you can’t expect students to “Google” everything that they want to use on the internet. That doesn’t teach them much and there’s no guarantee that they’re going to end up where you want them to. Then, there’s the whole misinformation / literacy piece.
I played around with my latest find in this genre of resources this morning. It’s called Papaly.
You can create your own account and start getting organized or just play around with this tutorial offering.
The authors have taken a “card” approach to the layout. This means that you can pick up any of the cards and rearrange them to meet your need. When you start from scratch, you’ll have nothing but quickly can add your own links or import your bookmarks.
You’d populate the board with cards and enclosed links of your own and then leave this in a tab or make the link to your board the default for your browser.
If you’re going to start somewhere, you might as well start somewhere immediately usable. We all have our browsing routine. With a service like this, you can facilitate it by baking it right in.
Andrew Dobbie is a teacher with the Peel District School Board. To get his attention, all that you have to do is express an interest in sustainable activities or reusing computers for the benefit of students. I had the opportunity to interview Andrew.
Doug: Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Andrew. My first question is always the same; do you recall the first time that we met in person?
Andrew: Thanks for inviting me to chat Doug! My memory is fading in old age🤣 but I believe we first met when BIT was held in Toronto before the shift to Niagara Falls.
Doug: We’ve been following each other on Twitter for a long time. Why would you want to follow me?
Andrew: I thought it was pretty obvious why people follow you, Doug. You help me sift through current media and provide me with useful, sometimes actionable resources each week🙌
Doug: Your passion for sustainable things is very evident to anyone who follows you on social media. Can you give us a sense of where your passion is with this?
Andrew: The root of my passion for sustainability is in providing learners with a quality education through equitable access to computers in their classrooms. My students needed help, so I researched a way to help them. Then, my students and I agreed that we should help everyone else.
Doug: My interest in following you comes from the conversations and interactions that we’ve had online dealing with Linux. You use it to breathe new life into old technology, often discarded. My interest was personal. I just wanted an alternative to Windows 10 for my 2010 Sony Vaio laptop.
Do you use Linux personally?
Andrew: Yes! I use Linux every day with my students. I am also well versed in Win10 and MacOS too🤣 I need to be comfortable with all operating systems because some of my students bring in their own devices and I need to be able to assist them with daily operational challenges/troubleshooting. I also dabble a bit with Android OS too just for fun. More along the lines of experimenting with converting different computing devices into hybrids running other operating systems. I’ve built some ChrMacbooks, converted old Windows computers into Linux devices, and even built one of the largest Android boxes using a massive desktop computer (as a joke- and it continues to be in operation today🤣).
Doug: Now, when a person dips their toe into the world of Linux, it can be a bit frightening. Long time Linux users go back to working the command line. apt-get, sudo, etc. Did you start that far back?
Andrew: I remember when I first tried terminal coding. I had no idea what I was doing. I have no formal training at all. Just YouTube, blogs, and Google Hangout guidance from a Linux expert, Aaron Prisk👍
Aaron continues to be a very patient and supportive teacher. He listens to my coding frustrations and helps me to find parallel understanding between our common language and that of terminal coding. I started to learn the verbs of the language and it helped me learn how to install, move, package, and assembly Aaron’s student-tailored Xubuntu OS. I still haven’t met Aaron in person. All our work has been completed remotely via Hangouts, Facebook IM, and now mainly via text message. So, yes. I use raw code in the terminal when constructing Linux FOG Servers and student-tailored Linux workstations.
Doug: Linux comes in many flavours. My first distribution was Ubuntu 4.04 and then the Edubuntu fork. What was your first?
Andrew: Oh wow! You’ve been at it a little longer than me. I started with Cub Linux and Lubuntu initially because they were packed so small and could fit on a 2GB USB for installations. Then, as I started dabbling with install on many different systems, I worked all the way back through history to Ubuntu 10, BSD, Linux plop, and all flavours after Ubuntu 10. Over the past 3 years, I have used and installed dozens of flavours to learn more about their unique strengths and differences but followed Aaron’s lead in using Xubuntu 16.04 for the first version of the student-tailored workstations.
Doug: Since that time, I’ve changed my allegiance and now run Linux Mint. What’s your favourite distribution?
Andrew: My friend Ryan, who is a data analyst and Linux junky, loves Mint too but my favourite continues to be Xubuntu because it provides me with all the necessary packaging tools to create the Linux student workstations.
Doug: You talk about using Xubuntu. Why this distribution?
Andrew: Aaron Prisk introduced me to Xubuntu (a developer version of Linux) because he was already using it to create his own districts’ student image for all of their computers in Pennsylvania. Lucky for me he was working through the process when I showed interest in learning it, and he took me under his wing (so to speak).
Doug: It’s golden when you find someone with that amount of interest and patience. If someone else was interested in getting started in this area, how do they get started?
Andrew: If anyone wants to learn how to install any Linux operating system, then I would suggest beginning with the USB installation technique. We created a gForm to walk new learners through the process:
Andrew: rcto.ca is an outstanding not-for-profit business who provide learning facilities with free desktop computers. Initially, I needed computers in my classroom because our school didn’t have the budget for them and I couldn’t afford to buy them. RCT Ontario helped us. We were lucky because they had tons of available computers back in 2016 when we first asked. They also had lots of LCD displays, which are a hot commodity and not easily available currently.
Essentially, if any learning facility needs free desktop computers, then they need to go to rcto.ca and request them. You will need to fill in a few online forms but be sure to request the free computers. They do offer some very affordable paid computer options as well (including a 1 year warranty), so they are a much better idea than buying new. The first batch of 150 desktops we received for free in 2016 is STILL in service, supporting student learning needs in our classrooms!
RCT will also be happy to answer your questions by telephone too, so if you need help just call them.
In September, I was asked to assist their IT department in establishing a Linux line of free computers, so I created a Xubuntu 16.04 FOG Server clone, and a Xubuntu 18.04 FOG Server clone. Both of which can deploy the student-tailored Xubuntu operating system on any computer 10 years old or newer.
Doug: One of the stumbling blocks that some might have with school districts is putting non-district computers on the network. How have you handled that?
Andrew: All school boards have always been open to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, so we explored and found success with multiple school boards by signing Linux computers onto board networks as BYOD devices. I was invited to York Catholic and Toronto Catholic boards to show their IT department heads how this process can work, and at that time (in 2017-2018 I believe) I created FOG Server clones for them to more efficiently deploy the student-tailored Xubuntu operating system onto their computers.
I think it’s important to note that all of this is free, and always will be.
Doug: That’s always been the claim for Linux and there are so many talented people driving that ship. We could always remind them that the Chromebooks that people buy new are running ChromeOS which is based on the Linux kernel!
How do you address concerns from teachers that running Linux doesn’t given them all of the applications that they would have on a Macintosh or Windows computer?
Andrew: Most teachers and students are running cloud-based programs these days anyway. My students never have a problem using Linux to run any gSuite, Office365, or any other web-based tools like Scratch, Robocompass, Explorelearning.com, you name it. They all work!
Some teachers have asked for special photo editing tools, so I showed them how pixlr.com runs perfectly through Google Chrome, and is easy for students to use.
Essentially, if an educator is resourceful enough, then he/she will find a comparable and free software tool that will run on their Linux systems. Yes, Minecraft too👍
Doug: Your plan also involves your students. How much training do they require before they are experts?
Andrew: Experts? Hmmm. I’m not an expert and they would say they aren’t either, I think. However, after having about a month or 2 of troubleshooting exposure and experience within our Tech Stewardship program, our Stewards are able to repurpose old computers easily. In fact, 3 of our newest Stewards just repurposed a teacher’s old laptop this past week and they just started in the program in September.
Granted, our Xubuntu FOG Server does make the repurposing process extremely easy to transform multiple computers into Linux machines with only a few key strokes.
Doug: What is the minimum requirement for a computer to be refurbished for your purposes? Do you limit it to old Windows computers or have you put Linux on Macintosh computers?
Andrew: Current minimum requirements for excellent performance running our Linux image would be 4GB RAM and about a 2.4GHz processor (not that much really). It will run fine with only 2GB of RAM as well but 4GB RAM and learners WANT to use Linux instead of brand new computers because they are faster.
Also, I recommend installing our Xubuntu student-tailored operating system on computers 10 years old or newer. Older than 10 years and we usually run into compatibility issues with hardware drivers and hardware begins to fail at times.
At this point in time, we have FOG Servers that can deploy Linux onto Windows computers easily. Regarding Macs, students love ChroMacbooks the most, and I used to hand code each one because the FOG server wasn’t designed for Macs😓. Each student-tailored ChroMacbook took about 2 hours to code about a year ago. Now, I simply open up the Mac. Remove the hard drive. Put the Mac hard drive into a windows computer. Change the hard drive to Linux using the FOG Server, then put it back into the Mac👍 Only takes about 15 minutes depending on the build.
Doug: You will be doing a session at the upcoming Bring IT, Together Conference. Can you give us a sneak peek?
Andrew: A sneak peek😕
On Wednesday morning, I will be bringing some of my special FOG Servers to make FOG Server clones for anyone that wants one. You just need to bring an old laptop (that turns on🤣) with you, and stop by. I will even show you how easy it is to use it. You can use it on site to repurpose any other laptops you bring with you🙌
When I’m not teaching the process, I can repurpose up to 50 computers an hour by myself. So, if you just want some help repurposing your laptops for student use in your classrooms, then bring them by on Wednesday morning.
I will also be sharing some of our work highlights at IgniteBit2019 on Wednesday evening, so feel free to connect with me there too👍
If you can’t attend the Wednesday session, then my students will be joining me on Friday morning to help attendees repurpose their computers with Linux too. So, we can build you a FOG server or student-tailored Linux laptop at that time as well.
Finally, I believe I will be bringing lots of free mini desktop computer towers for attendees to take back to their classrooms for their students to use. These mini desktop towers have been donated by rcto.ca and will include the tower, keyboard, mouse, and power cords (but unfortunately not LCD monitors due to short supply at the warehouse).
Doug: Wow. Come to Bring IT, Together and leave with a free computer. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, Andrew. If people want to follow you on Social Media, where would they turn?