Energizing Education through Open Source: Using Open Source Software to Enhance LearningBy Christopher WhittumISBN: 978-1-4834-0444-8Pages: 144Price: US$21.95Available at Lulu.com, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.A new book on open source education teaches school leaders and parents why kids need to see coding as more than cool. Energizing Education through Open Source: Using Open Source Software to Enhance Learning by Christopher Whittum makes a strong case for deploying the Linux OS and its academic software in schools.
The step-by-step lessons and free online resources Whittum provides make this book required reading for developing computer-driven curricula and at-home studies. It is part of the STEM Education Coalition’s mission to inform federal and state policymakers about the critical role that science, technology and engineering play and the benefits available to schools from open source technology.
Computer systems analyst jobs are projected to grow 22 percent between 2010-2020, according to the United States Department of Education, but only 16 percent of high school seniors are interested in a STEM career. To improve those statistics, computer technology teacher Christopher Whittum asserts that U.S. schools can implement more STEM classes at a lower cost.
Whittum pushes the idea that school districts easily can deploy open source software and the free Linux operating system to provide more affordable options to incorporating technology across the curriculum. His book is a how-to guide on learning open source computer systems through use of Edubuntu Linux and UberStudent Linux.
The challenge to giving schools access to more affordable technology starts with an awareness of open source software. Whittum focuses on using viable alternatives to proprietary software and technologies that dominate school buying decisions.
Whittum presents his rationale for using open source in a building-block fashion in five main sections. Each section is divided into a series of parts. This makes it very easy to see the significant aspects to each step of the open source discovery and selection process.
For example, the author maps out the components of the Linux operating system in the first main division. Then he peels back the layers to discuss each element in five parts. This immediately puts the focus on using Linux as an academic solution.
Part One of this first division, Linux Distributions, tells why Edubuntu Distro and the Uberstudent distro are ideal choices for school administrators and teachers to use with students in a learning environment. The author’s decision to take this approach eliminates confusion and information overload that would come from including general purpose and enterprise class Linux variants.
This well-executed content design continues through subsequent parts of the first main division. For instance, Part Two treats System Administration. The author’s intent here is not to overwhelm readers with tech talk. Instead, he takes a plain language approach to present just enough information to satisfy what school leaders and educators need to know about deploying and using Linux in the classroom.
This occurs in sections devoted to Linux/Unix File Structure, the Home folder, system settings and the Synaptic Package Manager. The author also includes a quick guide to software installation and removal along with managing user accounts.
Part Three focuses on System Security. Again, this is not a shotgun assault for Linux system admins. Rather, the author slices precisely into handling antivirus for Linux and using the Update Manager. The author tailors his comments to practical security matters and how the Linux OS is a sensible solution,
Whittum’s experience as an educator couples with his keen understanding of Linux. This is particularly evident in Part Four where he discusses Linux to the Rescue. His focus remains on how the Linux OS and open source software can fit in without shiny new metal boxes to run them.
In three succinct sections, Whittum details how to determine hard drive type and boot from rescue media, how to integrate DOS/FAT16/FAT32 and what to do with NTFS. The sections are brief yet to the point.
In Part Five, Whittum is perhaps a bit too brief in mentioning that schools also can run must-have Microsoft Windows software using the WINE Windows Emulator. This is perhaps the weak point in this book. WINE is not a guaranteed solution as it does not work with all programs. I would have preferred some additional details about integrating existing Windows software on the Linux platform.
One of the most useful parts of Whittum’s focus on open source software in schools appears in his second major book division. This is where he discusses the vast curriculum strengths of open source software.
Whittum lays out the available software that awaits use in six parts. He covers Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, the Arts and Bible Studies.
For each academic area, the author taps into his years of classroom experience in teaching computers to give step-by-step examples of how lessons can be built around open source software. He takes his curriculum options even further by including an online resources section for all five academic areas.
Whittum’s passion for open source as a salvation for classrooms is most evident in his Productivity division. In two main parts with multiple subsections, he delves into the adaptability of the LibreOffice suite of applications.
The author also unveils the latest software for handling school Internet needs. He covers Web browsers, email and chat clients, FTP software and BitTorrent, Web development and blogging. Just as he does in the Curriculum portion of his book, Whittum offers online resources and references for each software category he presents.
Takes a Teacher
Whittum does not emote empty theories about open source and Linux in schools. He views the topic as an informed educator who knows what school leaders need to break away from the Microsoft and Apple compounds of costly hardware and proprietary software.
The author backs up his stand for open source with practical deployment and teaching benefits. In the Aids to Learning division of his book, he shows how open source can facilitate key areas of the educational process.
These learning aids include Individualized Education Plans for special education, learning environments, skills building and using graphic organizers throughout the curriculum. He again includes a wealth of online resource for each of these targeted learning areas.
Anyone contemplating the potential for open source in schools should study Whittum’s last main divisions. They present how-to-do guides on planning for the implementation.
In the Getting Organized section, he spells out curriculum planning, organization tools and library management using open source technology. His online resources addendum is a key tool for those forging ahead with these asks.
In the Open Source On a Budget section, Whittum shows options for window managers, thin clients, the One Laptop Per Child program, and choices for open source hardware. The included online resources addendum makes this a must-read section.
About the Author
Whittum got interested in computers and the promise of IT during his freshman year at a private secondary school in New Hampshire when a teacher introduced him to a computer lab. He pursued a graduate degree in educational technology.
Whittum earned his Master’s Degree in Learning and Technology from Western Governors University. He has been working with computers for more than 30 years and teaching for eight years.