In our County, we face the same problem many face–the possibility of losing teachers to reductions in budget. While adding one or two students to a class does not sound like much to our politicians, most teachers understand how this will amplify their preparation and paperwork over the course of a year. We also stand to lose many offerings in our schools, as we remove teachers. A number thrown around in my small (8500 students) district is 40 teachers. So how can we continue to provide students with relevant classes and content, without increasing the drop out rate? Well, one area is the trend to virtual schools. We are seeing a lot of this about, and I just finished reading the often-cited book Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen. A brief synopsis of this book will show that Christiansen uses this novel to rally for the need of ‘disruptive’ innovations to move education into the 21st Century. He makes some pretty good allegories to private industry and how we can learn from them. And of course, the use of virtual schooling permeates throughout.
A reoccurring theme throughout is comparing the mainframe computer company Digital Equipment Corporation to Apple and other personal computer companies that sprouted up in the 80s and 90s. He defines a disruption in industry as not changing things immediately and not directly competing against the existing force, but overtime phasing out the existing force. Apple, Dell, and others definitely did do that by targeting a different population, the home user, and eventually, eliminating the need for mainframes as we knew them then. Yes, they still exist in different forms, but the disruption put PCs in schools, offices, and homes.
So how does Open Source factor into this? Well, in many ways. Recently we have heard so much in the fact that Windows XP netbooks are more popular than Linux netbooks. According to the media, consumers return the Linux netbooks in droves, as they apparently ‘cannot figure them out.’ Although my school district continues to utilize both Ubuntu and Xandros running netbooks. Windows seems threatened by this, so as for all the propaganda they spew. Just this morning, I found out about ‘It’s Better With Windows,’ (http://itsbetterwithwindows.com/), a partnership they have with Asus to advertise their laptops are better when running XP as opposed to Linux. The tagline on the site eschews even more propaganda:
Windows helps you quickly and easily get online and connect to your devices and services- without dealing with an unfamiliar environment or major compatibility issues.
While totally steamed at Asus for supporting XP exclusively, when Linux got them into the market, I do take offense to some of the comments in this tagline. At our school system we deal in mostly eeePCs. All, using a pre-shared key, connect quickly to industry level access points. We have some Dell minis, and the XP versions struggle at times to connect using Radius Authentication methods. The Linux Mini-Dells quickly connect using pre-shared keys. So that part has been negated. Unfamiliar environment? I guess they are referring to the tabular feature of the Xandros OS for the eeePC. While not familiar to most, since most folks have been stuck on XP for ten years–has it been that long, while unfamiliar, students quickly were able to navigate to the application they needed. Unfamiliarity is not always a poor thing. And have not we all heard the rumors Windows 7 for netbooks would integrate tabular application pickers?
So here is our disruption. Linux, which offers flexibility and open-ness, finally is beginning to grab a toehold in the market. They did not begin to challenge Windows head on. We all know they existed on te server side for years, running somewhere near 80% of web servers across the globe. Now, another disruption, they targeted the new netbook craze. It has been a slow, but steady climb, and it appears like we will see more integration on the desktop client side now, if Christiansen’s disruption models hold true. Windows is scared, and will try to step in the way of the disruption, and time will tell if that works.