2 Sore Feet, 200+ CDs, 400+ Teachers: BETT 2009

After having a bit of lay-in this morning (but not as long as I’d hoped for), I thought I should mention what we got up to at BETT last week.

The National Hall Olympia

Along with our friends at the OpenForum Europe and helpers from a few other Free Software or Open Source related organisations, we exhibited much of what it is best about FOSS to the international education community.

Our Stand

We had a couple of shiny new Samsung 2343BW widescreen monitors showing off Edubuntu/Ubuntu to full effect. There were a variety of sub-notebook class devices demonstrating various Free OSs and just what £99 can get you if you care to look.

We discussed – sometimes at great length – philosophical, financial, technical, security and educational benefits that can be had from using FOSS solutions in an education context. (Why would anyone in their right mind use proprietary software if they had a choice or a clean sheet to start from?)

We promoted and extolled the virtues of many individual FOSS projects including, Moodle, Elgg, Mahara, Ubuntu, Edubuntu, and countless others.

We met up with colleagues old and new from various places such as: Elonex, Sirius and Alpha Plus. We found some new and interesting products. For me the most exciting was seeing first cross-platform interactive whiteboard solution being demonstrated on Windows, Mac OSX and Ubuntu live by Mimio.

As a comparison to last year, we made contact with nearly 200% more individuals, and gave away around 200 more Ubuntu Desktop CDs (and quite a few Server CDs too).

My personal take on this year’s BETT was pretty encouraging.

  • I had many fewer conversations this year that started with me having to explain what FOSS is. And many schools and education authorities are familiar with and already using FOSS successfully.
  • There was considerable interest in finding out more and in looking for ways to introduce FOSS into what is a very closed-shop (MS) environment currently.
  • There was a really good throughput all week of teachers, ICT staff and Heads/Governors who expressed a passion for FOSS and its use in their schools and colleges.
  • There was a great deal of criticism for the lack of leadership from Government regarding FOSS and the way in which the education sector is very largely tied to MS, especially with the SIMS product from Capita. This was a very frequent discussion; how to integrate non-Microsoft products such as OpenOffice.org with the almost ubiquitous Schools MIS platform.
  • A healthy dose of scepticism from other visitors made us the educator for a while and hopefully we helped to open some eyes to the possibilities that FOSS can deliver.
  • And I met a FAN! After looking at my business card and seeing our logo, the visitor I was talking too grabbed my hand, shook it passionately and declared with some gusto – “You are The Open Sourcerer!”. Fame at last eh. Thanks Phil, it was a pleasure to meet you.

Now the show is over, the stands are torn down, and everyone has left. This is when the real work starts. Following up with all those hundreds of educators who want our help to introduce FOSS into their environment.

My feet are still sore (and this is more than 24hrs after getting home) but it was bloody well worth it. I met some great people and feel as though we have achived a great deal more this year. All being well, next year’s BETT will be even bigger and bolder for us – the planning is already underway.

BETT 2009

Next week, we’ll be exhibiting at BETT, “the world’s largest educational technology event” in Olympia, London from the 14th to the 17th January.

On our stand (SW104) “The Open Source Precinct” with our friends at the OpenForum Europe we will be:

… promoting the benefits of Open Standards and the Free and Open Source Software Community. This global community creates high quality software that is Free for everyone, and best of all, the code is open so anyone can study how the software works and make improvements. Open Source and Open Standards create a lower cost, more open and competitive ICT market. Visit us to see (and play with) software for students and staff and learn where you can get local support from IT companies and user groups to get you started.

Please drop by if you are coming and say hello. Or if you know of any educators who are going, mention us to them. The educational world really needs FOSS right now more than ever before. But publicising it against the backdrop of vast marketing budgets and political influence is hard.

Think about it.

  • Do you have kids who go to school?
  • Do you still go to school?
  • Do you teach?
  • Do you pay tax?
  • Do you care about the future?

If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions then FOSS in education really matters.

Do you want our Government and education system to waste your money on proprietary software like Windows, Anti Virus Software, Office 2000, 2003, 2007 etc and simply teach us how to use these products? “Just press CTL+ATL+DEL when it stops working Jonny”

Or would you prefer to spend the money on more teachers, buildings, hardware etc and teach us how to use any computer and how the software works and how to improve it and how to collaborate and how to communicate and and and?

We will have Edubuntu running on all our PCs, and lots of interesting applications to see and touch and play with.

Teacher: “No Software is Free” [Updated]

Thanks to Glyn for pointing this one out to me.

A thoroughly shocking saga from “across the pond”.

This blog is momentarily interrupted to bring you a snippet of recently received email.

…observed one of my students with a group of other children gathered around his laptop. Upon looking at his computer, I saw he was giving a demonstration of some sort. The student was showing the ability of the laptop and handing out Linux disks.

After confiscating the disks I called a confrence with the student and that is how I came to discover you and your organization. Mr. Starks, I am sure you strongly believe in what you are doing but I cannot either support your efforts or allow them to happen in my classroom. At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. These children look up to adults for guidance and discipline. I will research this as time allows and I want to assure you, if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows.

Mr. Starks, I along with many others tried Linux during college and I assure you, the claims you make are grossly over-stated and hinge on falsehoods. I admire your attempts in getting computers in the hands of disadvantaged people but putting linux on these machines is holding our kids back.

This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer and putting on a carnival show for an operating system is not helping these children at all. I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older verison of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them…”

Karen xxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxx Middle School

Where on earth does one start? I assume that AISD is the

Austin Independent School District,
1111 W. 6th Street,
TX 78703

This teacher’s position is frankly scary; to be in a position of authority and yet be so ignorant. I would suggest that she is sent on a two day FOSS course at AISD’s expense and then asked to give presentations/tutorials to the rest of her teaching community. She could also burn some CDs and give them out too.

I really hope that my children (who both use Edubuntu) will not encounter such blind ignorance during their school life.

I hereby pledge that I will do my utmost to help any offending teachers should this arise.

Update: Helios has written a postscript to this story after it became caught up in a frenzy of /. and digg mania. It seems as though Helios thinks he needs to apologise for something. Personally I didn’t feel that he had done anything wrong in his original post (he did keep the teachers identity private afterall) but clearly he didn’t like the tone of many of the comments. That’s honourable and almost certainly the right thing to do. But surely this is a two way street? Don’t you agree that Karen should have done at least a modicum of research before launching her exocet? Afterall she is a teacher…