CLASSROOMS AND TECHNOLOGY


The current buzz in education is about bringing technology into the classroom. I am fully on board with the idea. The time as come for education to fully embrace the wonders that technology can bring to the classroom. I remember as a teenager watching physics and chemistry video lessons in my high school in rural Jamaica. When I could stay awake they were great. Staying awake post lunch was always a problem.

The current rush to bring computing devices into the classroom is both admirable and dangerous. The danger is that the implementations will be haphazard and teach kids the wrong things about technology. I would love to focus on the admirable part. I love technology and often I am out on my little branch working and ignoring the current fad, because I have already been there. In the 1990’s while in college I taught myself enough Pascal to be dangerous and later learned to assemble my own computer and explore alternate operating systems alone with Windows. From playing around I learned a lot about technology and about how I learn. The freedom to deconstruct the hardware and software was vital to my experience. I would suggest that giving kids that freedom will be beneficial to us all.

However, we must not become reliant on the technology to teach. Teachers are still the most important part of the equation. Teachers need to go back to the basics. Our classrooms need to revert to the apprentice models. Our teachers need to be competent and fluent in technology so that the technology will be integral but not overpowering. The balance is hard to achieve especially with the sums of money that are at stake. The big technology companies want to sell a product. They are not interested in education. This leads to school systems buying expensive hardware and software and loosing focus on the educating part of the mission. Technology is a tool, not the destination.

The increased introduction of closed hardware and software to children will likely stymie their development. I would like to see schools adopt an open hardware and software platform. These are the key design elements I would focus on.

1. Open hardware
2. Open software
3. Student support
4. Recycling
5. Hardware and software as an integrated learning environment.

RESCUE MY OLD COMPUTER


I never liked being on the side of the majority because often that means you are incorrect or at least misguided. I am certainly not in the majority when it concerns the software I run on my computer. Since 2007/8 I have run only Open Source software on my computers. My young daughters do not know any better and are not disadvantaged by it.

My first real awareness of FOSS (free and open source software) started in 1998 with a copy of BSD. I was soon introduced to Red hat Linux. My love affair with FOSS was briefly interrupted by medical training. As soon as I had the time I was back to my love and Linux has proven a valuable lens through which to observe the world. The FOSS community is not just about free software. It is about holding each other to high standards.

The major of us will buy a computer and believe that the only choices are Apple or Microsoft. That is a false choice reinforced by both companies so that they can steal from us. The truth is, a lot more choices are available. Neither company makes a product that is in the interest of the end-user. We all need to take control of our software and by extension our lives. The FOSS philosophy suggests that the end-user should not be restricted in the use of software. He should have access to, and be allowed to modify the source code. This would seem like a competitive weakness to creators of software, but it is not. If businesses would have to compete on the strength of their services and not how secret their process was it would be better for the end-user. In such a world the companies with the best service would have a chance to rise to the top. Today it is the companies with the right “buzz” that command the market. The end-user is too ill-informed to know otherwise and continues to get her pocket picked by big corporations.

Your old computer hardware is not dead because it is slow, you have a software problem. I have rescued many older computers from the dust bin and their owners marvel at the functionality of what was recently considered too old to use. Our consumerist society makes products and encourages us to dispose of them long before the useful life cycle is complete. This early retirement of completely functional hardware is driving most of us to be poorer and making a few richer. More of us need to step out from under the thumb of corporate exploitation.

Where should we start? I would suggest you start by not dumping that old computer. I would consider opening your mind and learning something new. I suggest you learn about Linux. What is Linux? It is an operating system for your computer. Replace Windows and OS X with an operating system that respects your freedom. Your freedom to control your computer the way you want to. The freedom to only run software for which all have access to the source code so security can be improved by the flood of eyes on the creators of the programs we use.
Free yourself, expand your bank account and donate to the independent programmer that is making your life richer.