Linux education: A lesson to be learned

By Joe Barr, |  Development

But through a bit of really good luck and the graciousness of another Linux luminary, I did surprise the class one night by showing up with Jon "maddog" Hall.

Mister Dawg was in Austin to give the keynote at a local high-tech show, and I happened to bump into him there at the LUG's booth. I mentioned the class that night and asked if he would like to stop by. To my amazement, he said that he would. I promised to pick him up at his hotel and deliver him to his dinner engagement immediately afterward.

The class -- there were perhaps seven or eight students that night -- adored him. He sat down with them in the classroom and joined in a delightful conversation that ran about half an hour longer than he had planned. They (OK, it wasn't just the students, it was the volunteers as well) just wouldn't let him go. To tell the truth, I think he enjoyed it as much as everyone else. Ms. G (I told you she was a wily one) took advantage of his presence to ask the big question. Should we or should we not include CLI work in a class at this level? He agreed that we were definitely doing the right thing by including it.

Figure 1. Jon "maddog" Hall listens to a question from one of the students

Some attrition occurred during the class, but Ms. G told us that no one dropped out because they didn't like it or found it too difficult. All those who didn't complete the class were unable to do so because of jobs or personal issues that didn't allow them the time for the class. My unofficial count is that of the ten original students, seven completed the class.

On the last night, those students provided good feedback to all of us involved in the project. One of the things they suggested to improve the course was a Linux glossary so that the next bunch of newbies wouldn't be overwhelmed by the language alone. I then asked the students if they found the class or Linux to be too hard. One student, who seemed to speak for most of her classmates, told me:

I thoroughly enjoyed the class. I came into it without knowing anything about programming, without knowing anything about Linux, other than it was -- to me -- a new operating system. Even though it has been difficult, I've gotten a lot of the philosophy behind Linux, and I now have a general understanding of how it works and why we use it. I'm very excited, and I plan on installing Linux and using it.

Another comment I heard that night from one of the students, Gustavo Soto, really made the whole thing more than worthwhile from my point of view:

I think it is revolutionary, totally mind-boggling, the possibilities of open source. Because I've been dominated by that monopoly, I'm tired of it. It crashes, and you have to pay, and you have to constantly upgrade your system. And you're always behind the curve.

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