Linux education: A lesson to be learned

By Joe Barr, LinuxWorld.com |  Development



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In my mind, the debate was actually over a lower-level argument that people weren't consciously raising: Is Linux too difficult for normal users to grasp and learn to use productively? My dweebs, I am most happy to report, based not only on my own feelings on the subject but on the success of the initial class, that that was not the case. Next issue, please! What were some of the topics we did cover when we weren't arguing? Good question. The class covered the nature of a multiuser operating system, logging in, command structure, the man utility, redirection, pipes, the Bash shell, paths, groups, permissions, foreground and background processing, editors, mail, grep, and even regular expressions and a little bit of shell programming. But it wasn't all CLI.


The classroom machines were set up to dual-boot. LILO's default OS was set to Windows and given a very short fuse. That allowed high school school students to use the same machines during the day in their normal (!?) environment in an almost transparent manner. The volunteers decided on Mandrake as the distribution we would use. There were minilectures on Netscape, Lynx, Internet resources, the history of GNU/Linux, and the philosophy of free software and open source. Volunteers whose sysadmin skills are not as sharp as some of the other volunteers (in other words, volunteers like me), could participate by doing a demo or giving a minilecture during the evening. Those not actually teaching on a particular night often came to class to give one-on-one support during the class exercises.

Class, we have a special visitor tonight

We even had visitors in the classroom. One evening a group of federales from the Department of Education peeked in the door. They were doing a tour of all the computer literacy classes being offered by CATF-Austin. I heard one of them explaining to his cohorts that Linux was an "alternative operating system" that was very reliable but very difficult to use. It's a pity he couldn't have stayed around for a few more minutes. Perhaps the students could have disabused him of one of those notions. But they weren't our only guests.


In a fit of madness, I had invited Linus Torvalds to drop by and visit the class. Poor Linus is so overburdened with requests such as mine that I doubt he ever saw my note. It's not easy being a legend in your own time, especially while you're trying to do other things such as raise a family, earn a living, and get another release of the Linux kernel out the door. That's a shame, too, because I think he would have thoroughly enjoyed the visit had he been able to stop by.

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