Linux in a Public High School
Walt Whitman High School is located in Bethesda, Maryland, a cozy suburb of Washington, D.C. On the surface, Whitman looks like any other school. However, if you look to your right upon entering the building, you will see something rarely seen in our schools: a neat row of terminals, each displaying the message shown in Listing 1. What is unique about this login screen is that the server it comes from is entirely student operated and maintained. The story behind it is as unique as the situation.
In 1994, the students at Walt Whitman High School were told they were on the very bottom of the list to become part of Montgomery County Public Schools' Global Access program. Global Access is an initiative to give all of MCPS state-of-the-art computers and high-speed Internet connections. Having moved into a brand-new building just two years before, Whitman was given low priority for the technology upgrades. However, the community did not stand idly by and allow their school to become a technological backwater. With community support, the school purchased three Power Macintosh computers which are now used for multimedia presentations and a few Windows 95 machines for the WWHS Media Center. These computers were put in a storage room off the Media Center, creating the “Tech Team” where students could use the few available advanced computers for projects and research. However, some students had an even more revolutionary idea: use Linux to provide e-mail accounts and text-based Internet access to everyone in the school.
George Mason University's Center for the New Engineer had a grant to provide several schools in the Washington, D.C. metro area with ISDN links to their four T1 lines. Walt Whitman was chosen as one of the schools. The school already had a donated Compaq Proliant server with the following specifications:
Intel Pentium 100 processor
48MB of RAM
4.2GB of disk space with Compaq's HotPlug system
DigiBoard IMAC ISDN router
Lucent/Livingston PortMaster 2e
Although the machine originally had Novell Netware 4.1 installed, the Tech Team decided to use Linux as the server's operating system. The original system administrator, Gerald Britton, spent hours setting up the server and adding accounts for 1500 students and staff. The server now has over 2000 users and handles a large volume of mail. It is maintained by a team of five students and hosts the school's web site (http://whitman.gmu.edu/) which receives several thousand hits a week. The web site is used for such things as school announcements, contests and even homework postings by teachers.
Five years later, Whitman students still use the server for research projects, to keep in touch with mentors, friends and family, and to communicate with people all over the world. To facilitate easy use of the server, the Tech Team installed a menu system for students and staff to use so they don't have to explore the innards of Linux unless they truly want to. However, many students elect to use a conventional shell and have learned real-world UNIX skills on the server.
Whitman has a one-channel ISDN line to George Mason University which connects their entire school network to the Internet pending the arrival of Global Access. However, the arrival of county support may not be good news for the Tech Team. The county has not given the Tech Team permission to run their server on the Global Access network. Therefore, the Tech Team is currently searching for an Internet service provider to donate bandwidth so they can continue their student-run Internet services. Their system now boasts a Livingston PortMaster 2e and 25 USR modems attached to phone lines throughout the school, with which the Tech Team is experimenting with plans to allow students to dial in and check their e-mail from home at night. Walt Whitman is one of a few public schools using Linux and currently one of two schools in Montgomery County which provides e-mail to all its students. The other school plays host to a Computer Science magnet program that only recently has opened its system to the whole school. MCPS has an e-mail system called FirstClass that students can use. However, students applying for an account must first find a staff sponsor before they can submit their application. Whitman requires only that the student and the student's parents sign a contract promising that the student will not misuse the system. Despite fears that students would use their accounts for non-educational purposes, they understand their access is a privilege and each one of them has a responsibility to safeguard it for the school.
With the Internet becoming more of a research tool than a toy in schools today, it is important that all students have equal access to services like e-mail. Whitman has tried to level the playing field a bit and allow all of its students to have the same opportunity to communicate and share ideas. Whitman's system administrators hope they can find enough resources to continue the service. Whitman's use of Linux is only a small part of the picture. The focus of their efforts isn't just to promote Linux in schools, but to provide the rest of the school with a valuable learning experience that shows the Internet to be a useful tool in the real world.
At the time I originally wrote this article, Whitman's connection was in the process of being severed. The Tech Team submitted proposals to local corporations in the hope that they could receive enough funding to continue the service. Now, Whitman has received a grant from Science Applications International Corporation (http://www.saic.com/) and Bethesda Online Organization (http://www.boo.net/) that will allow it to continue its Internet access for another year.
|Dynamic DNS—an Object Lesson in Problem Solving||May 21, 2013|
|Using Salt Stack and Vagrant for Drupal Development||May 20, 2013|
|Making Linux and Android Get Along (It's Not as Hard as It Sounds)||May 16, 2013|
|Drupal Is a Framework: Why Everyone Needs to Understand This||May 15, 2013|
|Home, My Backup Data Center||May 13, 2013|
|Non-Linux FOSS: Seashore||May 10, 2013|
- RSS Feeds
- Making Linux and Android Get Along (It's Not as Hard as It Sounds)
- Using Salt Stack and Vagrant for Drupal Development
- Dynamic DNS—an Object Lesson in Problem Solving
- New Products
- Validate an E-Mail Address with PHP, the Right Way
- Drupal Is a Framework: Why Everyone Needs to Understand This
- A Topic for Discussion - Open Source Feature-Richness?
- Download the Free Red Hat White Paper "Using an Open Source Framework to Catch the Bad Guy"
- Tech Tip: Really Simple HTTP Server with Python
- Keeping track of IP address
23 min 12 sec ago
- Roll your own dynamic dns
5 hours 36 min ago
- Please correct the URL for Salt Stack's web site
8 hours 48 min ago
- Android is Linux -- why no better inter-operation
11 hours 3 min ago
- Connecting Android device to desktop Linux via USB
11 hours 31 min ago
- Find new cell phone and tablet pc
12 hours 30 min ago
13 hours 58 min ago
- Automatically updating Guest Additions
15 hours 7 min ago
- I like your topic on android
15 hours 53 min ago
- This is the easiest tutorial
22 hours 29 min ago
Enter to Win an Adafruit Pi Cobbler Breakout Kit for Raspberry Pi
It's Raspberry Pi month at Linux Journal. Each week in May, Adafruit will be giving away a Pi-related prize to a lucky, randomly drawn LJ reader. Winners will be announced weekly.
Fill out the fields below to enter to win this week's prize-- a Pi Cobbler Breakout Kit for Raspberry Pi.
Congratulations to our winners so far:
- 5-8-13, Pi Starter Pack: Jack Davis
- 5-15-13, Pi Model B 512MB RAM: Patrick Dunn
- 5-21-13, Prototyping Pi Plate Kit: Philip Kirby
- Next winner announced on 5-27-13!
Free Webinar: Hadoop
How to Build an Optimal Hadoop Cluster to Store and Maintain Unlimited Amounts of Data Using Microservers
Realizing the promise of Apache® Hadoop® requires the effective deployment of compute, memory, storage and networking to achieve optimal results. With its flexibility and multitude of options, it is easy to over or under provision the server infrastructure, resulting in poor performance and high TCO. Join us for an in depth, technical discussion with industry experts from leading Hadoop and server companies who will provide insights into the key considerations for designing and deploying an optimal Hadoop cluster.
Some of key questions to be discussed are:
- What is the “typical” Hadoop cluster and what should be installed on the different machine types?
- Why should you consider the typical workload patterns when making your hardware decisions?
- Are all microservers created equal for Hadoop deployments?
- How do I plan for expansion if I require more compute, memory, storage or networking?