August 22, 2002

Danish group writing how-to books for schools interested in Linux

-By Grant Gross -

We've noted several Open Source-in-education efforts based primarily in the United States on these pages over the past couple of years, including the Schoolforge coalition, the K-12 Linux Terminal Server Project and a new study of Open Source software in Mississippi schools. Over in Denmark, a group of education-minded Linux fans is taking a different approach to advocating Open Source to schools, by authoring a book aimed at IT directors at schools.
The project, called Gnuskole (GNU school), has so far produced one book, written in SGML, focusing on setting up Internet and intranet servers using Red Hat 7.x. The book covers topics such as setting up Web servers and mail servers, and setting up intranets that can "completely replace" Windows NT/2000 servers. Additional chapters are on the way.

The group's next book, says member Lasse Riis, will focus on client boxes. The six core members of Gnuskole recently answered some questions from us:

NewsForge: How did the project get started?

Gnuskole: Gunner Poulsen, Christian Hansen and Søren Ulrik met each other while founding NJLUG (North Jutland Linux User Group). Back then, our primary task was to get the LUG on track, though the idea of Gnuskole was already forming in Gunner's mind. A few months later Gunner presented the idea of making a project aimed at primary schools. Jesper Hegaard, joined later, when he also took interest in the GNU-school project. Lasse Riis joined the Gnuskole project in spring 2002.

NewsForge: What are the backgrounds of the members?

Gnuskole: Søren Ulrik, 30 years old. Has worked as a teacher and IT administrator at a primary school in Aalborg, Denmark, for four years. Since August 2001 employed at Aalborg Municipal Educational IT centre as an instructor, system administrator and paedagogical consultant.

Gunner Poulsen, 37 years old. Teacher and IT administrator at Lyngbjerggårdskolen, a private school with 167 pupils, two servers and 30 clients.

Christian Hansen, 25 years old. Finished the Danish high school in 1997. Refused to join the army and was therefore sent to a small school instead to help teach classes. He and Gunner spent a lot of time "playing" with the school computers. It was at this school he first met Gunner. Began studying physics and computer science at the University Of Aalborg after the nonmilitary career. Never finished the study, though. Perhaps some day in the future he will. For now he has a very exciting job at Tankegang A/S in Denmark as a developer creating Web sites and backend systems such as Fundanemt. Co-founded NJLUG with Karsten Thygesen and approximately 160 others in 1999.

Jesper Hegaard, 37 years old. Teacher and IT administrator at Brovandeskolen, a private school with 150 pupils. Two servers with (Samba) and LTSP (Terminal server thin clients) and 60 clients running Windows 95.

Jens Karsø, teacher and IT administrator at Hjørring Realskole.

Lasse Riis, 20 years old. Just finished the Danish "gymnasium," which is the equivalent of U.S. senior high school. Was employed by Brårup FritidsCenter (a kindergarten and youth club) in Skive, Denmark, in December 1999, initially to make their Web site; however, they had more serious computer problems, so today he maintains six clients and one GNU/Linux server.

NewsForge: What do you know of other Open Source school projects in Northern Europe?

Gnuskole: Well, we're familiar with similar projects in Norway and Sweden. Visit www.linuxiskolen.no and www.linuxiskolan.com, only they're in Norwegian and Swedish. The Norwegian group is working on a Debian-based distro for use in schools. It will have a simple setup interface in which you type in the needed basics and simply choose from server, client or terminal (thin client) installation. When it's completed (shouldn't be long now) we expect to translate it for use in Danish schools. Gunner has met with representatives of the other Scandinavian projects.

NewsForge: How many books do you hope to produce?

Gnuskole:
Currently we only have one book, concerning the setup of an intranet/Internet server, including these features:

  • Remote administration with OpenSSH.
  • Exim mail server with encrypted imap/pop3 accounts, providing secure mail access for teachers and students in their own homes.
  • Apache webserver with MOD_SSL and PHP/MySQL.
  • Webmail access using Neomail.
  • Remote access to users /home directories with Averist and Drall.
  • FTP server using ProFTPD and encrypted FTP with SafeTP.
  • Internet proxy with squid.
  • Firewall setup for a secure LAN.
  • DHCP services.
  • Timeserver, keeping client clocks synchronized.
  • File and printing services for both GNU/Linux and Windows clients, using Samba and NFS.
  • Domain logons for Windows clients.
  • Network user authentication for GNU/Linux clients, using NIS/YP.
  • Disk Quotas for limiting users' space usage.

We operate with a term called the "24-hour school," which is basically an effort to provide the students with almost all the services from school at home.

We are working on additional chapters about:

  • Internet content filtering with the squid extension DansGuardian. Preventing download of harmful files.
  • Cloning of client partitions via LAN. "Images" stored on server for easy client recovery using two boot floppies using PartImage.
  • Turning aging hardware into fast clients with the Linux Terminal Server Project. Possibly even with diskless clients.

The book is written for the latest stable version of Red Hat Linux, with additional notes for Debian when the configuration methods differ. The book doesn't concern the installation of Red Hat Linux; the Skåne Sjælland Linux User Group (www.sslug.dk), the largest LUG in Denmark, maintains a thorough instruction manual for this.
We're hoping to compile another book, focusing specifically on the setup of GNU/Linux clients.

NewsForge: Who are the books aimed at -- technology people or less experienced school people who want to set up Linux servers, etc.?

Gnuskole:
The books are aimed at your average school IT administrator. The book is kept simple and contain instructions for a basic yet effective setup. We've picked out the software that we think is the best or the easiest to use, and provide installation instructions for it. This way, people that are unfamiliar with GNU/Linux won't have to make any difficult choices. They're presented with a setup that has already been tested and should work. Hopefully, the book is a platform from which people will explore the world of Open Source software. Hopefully. they'll find new software, and maybe (if we're lucky) contribute with their experience to our project.

The client or desktop book will also contain chapters about educational software.

NewsForge: How many users of the book do you have so far? Have you heard stories of people who were helped by the book?

Gnuskole:
The last year have we had about 22,000 visitors on our Web site, and quite often, we receive mail from users who ask questions and thank us for the book.

NewsForge: What's the major goal for this project? What would you like to accomplish with it?

Gnuskole:
Well, first of all, we would like to see more Open Source software in the school system. This is because we believe that Open Source software simply is better software. With it, the school computer systems will be much more flexible and stable. We don't like to use the economic aspect as our main argument, even though it's a major appeal factor. We try to tell people that this is better software, not necessarily cheaper software. We also argue that administrators should still have the same amount of time for administration of the computers, but with Open Source software, he will be spending his time developing and improving the system, as oppose to fixing broken Windows clients or servers.

Hopefully we'll get the attention of a lot of people and this way spread the use of Open Source software to more schools and other areas of public administration. Our utopia is an all-Open Source school system. We're hoping to have a conference (and some demonstration weekends) where people can come by and see a working system and learn how they can switch to Open Source software.

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