Linux in Government: Linux Lab at the University of South Florida Opens Eyes
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." --Albert Einstein
Check the curriculum at the University of South Florida, and you find a campus offering mainly Microsoft technology courses. As with the vast majority of the nation's universities and schools of higher education, you can learn how to use the Excel spreadsheet program, but you cannot find much about Linux kernel internals. Although many schools claim to have embraced open source, don't you believe it.
One of the issues I consider when visiting a university campus is the loss of technology leadership. As a nation, the US had failed to continue the tradition of sparking innovation on the campus. Microsoft has succeeded in capturing the core curriculum of universities and has trained people to become dependent on Redmond's technology. We have become a nation of technologists who drag-and-drop icons rather than technologists who can create an interface between a heart-monitoring device and a monitoring system in a hospital network.
In 2003, I attended an open-source desktop conference at Boston University, invited as a speaker on Linux in Government. Although the conference seemed to be well attended, I learned from the organizer that we would not have another conference at Boston University's Corporate Training Center (BUTrain), because Microsoft--through various incentives--influenced the university to discontinue anything open source. I wrote about this occurrence on several mailing lists. One of my posts elicited this response:
I am the executive director of the group running the Desktop Linux Conference at Boston University.
I too have heard that Boston University took the "Gold Partnership" with Microsoft. I don't know the contract terms, and highly doubt that it says _on paper_ that they won't invite us again, even if that is understood between the parties.
This time, Boston U. put money _into_ the conference. We're going to have a conference to promote Free Software on the Desktop. _We_ set the program and invited the speakers, B.U. and Microsoft had nothing to do with that. Microsoft asked to have a speaker in the program, and I refused.
To create a boycott or bad publicity before the conference would just be playing into Microsoft's hands.
After the conference, I will issue an open letter to BU asking if the allegation that we won't be invited back due to a Microsoft partnership is true.
Only the organizers at Boston University, the organizers of the conference and a few others know if the allegations have merit. I did notice, however, that a Linux Desktop Conference at Boston University was not held in 2004.
When I learned that the College of Business Administration at the University of South Florida was sponsoring a course called ISM 4220, Business Data Communications Hands-On Networking Lab, it peaked my interest. In preparation for the course, Dr. Manish Agrawal, the professor writing the curriculum and teaching the class, asked our community forum where he could find Linux packages he needed. Rather than point to links and offer directions on how to compile source code for the Linux distribution Dr. Agrawal wanted to use, Dave Southern, who builds RPMs for our community Web site, went into immediate action and built the actual application packages. I soon learned from Dave that Dr. Agrawa had finished the course curriculum, and I received a copy. Upon opening the file, I discovered one of the finest Linux courses I have ever seen offered at any University. You can find a copy of it here.
For any one wanting to teach this course, you can find Dr. Agrawal's contact information at his home page. For others, such as corporate and government training leads, this material provides outstanding information about Linux, servers and the Internet.
I had several opportunities to speak with Dr. Agrawal. Many of them resulted in me attempting to outline the course on our Web site. Eventually, he provided us with a PDF file of the syllabus and arranged for students to give their impressions of the course. This opportunity allowed students to explain what they got from the course. I presented a questionnaire to the students and arranged for follow-up interviews. Below are excerpts from their responses.
Three students provided answers--Melanie Macko, Hal Ledman and Vijayalakshmi Kadri. One of the common points I have heard from students in the past also applies to these students: the cost of higher education gets higher every day, and they would like more for their money. They would like to learn Linux as well as active directories.
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