School turns to open source to cut cost, foster student thinking

The role of open source in learning

When existing computing facilities were not meeting the growing need of students and teachers at the Lorien Novalis school in Dural, NSW, students suggested that the school investigate open source software as a cost effective way of improving its computing power.

Now, Lorien Novalis has a network of more than 30 1.6GHz Pentium desktops between some 160 users. Most of the work in setting up the network, including laying down CAT 5 cable, crimping wires, and installing software, was done by the school's ICT manager, Stuart Rushton, and students.

The school's workstations operate on the Mandriva 2006 Operating System, and run free and open source software options including: Open Office for office applications; Mozilla Firefox for Web browsing; GIMP for image editing; and Evolution mail for sending and receiving e-mail.

At the core of the network is a simple HP ProLiant ML 110 server running Mandrake 10.1, NIS and NFS, and that connects to the Internet via a 1.5Mbps broadband connection.

Besides reducing costs for the school, Rushton expects Lorien Novalis' use of Open Source software to also have educational benefits for students, as students are able to look up the source code of any application that sparks their interest.

"We want the students to be able so see a computer as a wonderful piece of technology made by people, and not a sort of mystical, God-like thing," he said, speaking at linux.conf.au on Monday. "Kids are the most prolific producers of creative work, and open source offers opportunities for that."

Lorien Novalis' widespread use of Linux on desktops is unusual for an Australian school, Rushton said, attributing the ease with which the school migrated to Linux from its previous Macintosh systems to its status as an independent school.

"We are a non-systemic school, so when we decided to change to Linux, we just did it," he said.

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