Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Local Linux Advocacy Done Right

Jim Kronebusch describes the slow and steady approach to the K12OSN list:

But as far as convincing the staff, teachers, and administration, this has been about a 5 year total effort. I started by just telling them about the software and possibilities. Then I slowly moved into some demos and a small lab (I never formally told the staff that they had a new lab, I just built it and left the doors unlocked, it was their decision if they wanted to wait for the mac lab or try this new thing out) to show what things looked like. Every time budget shortfalls came up in discussion I mentioned FOSS and how it could save money. But I think the most important part is I never told anyone that we had to switch. I just kept throwing the bone out and then as they asked more and more about it I gave them needed information but told them that we wouldn't make the change because I didn't think they were ready. Finally this year the President of the school told me we had $50,000 to update teacher machines and he would like to switch from Macs to Windows. I gave him the usual lines about how Windows is subject to spyware and viruses and tough to manage... yadda, yadda, yadda. I told him that if we went to Windows we might have to hire another person part time. I said as much as I don't like Macs (flame away :-) I thought that at this point Macs were the best option as they didn't put too much change on the teachers and staff, and that if we were willing to move to Windows we may as well go Linux. Then explained how much each option would cost but said again, I don't think our staff and teachers can handle the change yet. I told him if I had my choice of what to do, I would upgrade all the lab and media center machines for less than the budgeted $50,000 this year (which would only have updated a portion of teacher machines), let students and teachers adjust to that change for a year (I would put Firefox and OpenOffice on the Teacher Macs for a little compatibility but not too much change). Then the following year convert the teachers for a fraction of the cost of going with Windows or Mac. But then said that I didn't think we should go that way because it would put too much stress on the staff/teachers to make the change and it could cause some small curriculum hiccups which would require change. Long story short the President finally said "I want to go with this Linux open source stuff, if we can offer hundreds more applications, save money on administration costs, money on power consumption, and offer more computers for less money, then the teachers and staff can deal with a little change". I still tried to be hesitant instead of leaping for joy and said that we should consult with the teachers and staff before making such a change instead of blindsiding them over the summer. Surprisingly when presented to them they seemed to realize that even though this may be some work, we need to make the changes.

Now everyone wants to make this a big deal publicly. They now see that this is something they can present to the public to show how "advanced" our school will be and how we are environmentally conscious by using a lower power thin client solution and machines with longer life cycles. They now see this is a positive thing to show parents who pay tuition how we are getting the biggest band for their buck in the area of technology. They will tout our increased application offerings and higher computer to student ratio for less money. We will also be offering connectivity to work from home via FreeNX or VNC for students who are home sick or for doing homework at night. They will be able to provide the same software available at school to students for free. It seemed taking the not so pushy approach and just offering the facts in this case paid off. Our school President has now met with the administrators of all other private schools in our Hiawatha Valley Conference (who our school competes with in sports) and is preaching to them that Open Source is the future and this can help them overcome their budgetary shortcomings while offering more computers and applications. He is trying to convince them to attend the North Central Linux Symposium (www.nclinux.net) and is distributing our fliers to them for us now.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Awesome post, thanks for sharing. The key part for me was:

"It seemed taking the not so pushy approach and just offering the facts in this case paid off."

I sorta wish now that I hadn't taken a "pushy" approach two years ago when I first got on my own school board. It actually got me more grief than results and set me back a couple of years.

Now I'm taking a "smaller step" stealthier approach of introducing our tech folks to OS-neutral ideas like Gmail for schools, etc. It seems to be working (or, at least people are more receptive to it than wholesale OS changes). Hopefully by weaning people off of being dedicated to a specific OS, this will open up opportunities for Linux infiltration.

It's victory by a thousand cuts. A little slower than I selfishly wanted (i.e. not in time for board re-election) but hopefully more effective in the end.