Uber Geek Moments: Teaching Linux

I have one really geeky class this semester: Linux Systems Administration. Last semester, the same students studied Windows XP Professional with me.

Because installing Linux on dedicated lab computers is out of the question (my 4 other classes need Windows), I found 2 alternative environments to use: Ubuntu Linux live CDs and shell accounts on a public Unix server.

Live CDs are Convenient

Each student has his* own Ubuntu CD. We pop ‘em in the Windows computers at the beginning of class, run Linux all hour, then reboot back to Windows for my next group of students.

The Live CD option gives me several huge benefits:

  • Students get to play around in Linux as a desktop environment. One student has already installed Ubuntu (dual booting with Windows) on his personal laptop — it’s only been 2 weeks!
  • The CD can go home with students for practice or the wow factor.
  • Ubuntu is a Linux distribution (whereas the shell accounts are Unix). I, however, see it as a small difference these kids may never notice.

Shell Accounts are Portable

My favorite public access Unix system, SDF, now offers a student account with free validation. Check out TEACH for details.SDF Logo

I like the shell accounts for several reasons:

  • I get to show off the power of *nix on an internet machine — we can look into PHP, for example.
  • Login to the shell account is fast. Fire up putty on a Windows machine, login, and you’re off. Booting Ubuntu can take several minutes.
  • The shell account remains active after the class. I love the idea of setting these guys up with web space and a powerful web authoring environment (PHP, ASP, and CGI included).

Combine with Wikispaces & Email

The entire Linux course is online. My lesson plans, content, assessments, and even student work happen electronically. Check out the Linux Systems Administration home on Wikispaces to get an idea.

I’m loving the shareable Google Calendar that I embedded on the class home page. My notes for “what are we doing today?” become a great help to all the students, but especially to those who are absent.

Assessment got simpler this semester when I asked students to submit quiz answers to me via email. Wow, grading is so easy when all I need is an internet connection! I love this answer from the first quiz:

Q: What’s your working definition of open source software?

A: Open source is a typically a free download able file that is open to the public and is able to access the “source” code.

* Yes, all my students are guys. *Sigh* The girl geeks just don’t seem to attend my school.

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Web Filtering at a Private School

For my school, I recently installed Dansguardian web filter and Squid web proxy/cache. on the Dell desktop computer shown at bottom in this photo.The server is configured as an Ethernet bridge using Ubuntu’s bridge-utils package. That way, the machine is invisible on the network so I don’t have to reconfigure the clients behind the filter.

John Rucker’s howto install DansGuardian was incredibly useful and my primary source.

(Picture: Test Setup for Web Filtering Installation, Originally uploaded by mgolding)

Linux at School

As I prepare to install Ubuntu on some older computers at school, I am inspired by this librarian’s Ubuntu story.

My computer needs constantly outstrip my ability to purchase new hardware. Which explains why I’ve been meaning to give Linux a shot at some of the older hardware I have. There’s plenty of discussion about putting Linux on old hardware: on Digg, on LockerGnome, and on Linux.com.

I’ve experienced ups and downs in using open source software at my small private school. The kids love The GIMP (a Photoshop replacement) but Open Office version 1.4 was booed by the student body. Ubuntu stands to be popular because I can use Firefox — which is already our standard web browser. If a kid really needs Word, he can wait for a Windows machine to come available. ;)