HOWTO make a school computer lab for free with "broken" computers and free/open source software

Elizabeth on ifixit tells us the heartwarming story of Robert Litt, a teacher at ASCEND, "a small arts K-8 school in the Alameda County School District." Litt needed a computer lab. His school had no budget, So he called around to local businesses and individuals and collected all their "broken" computers (refusing anything made before 2002 or with less than 512MB of RAM) and installed Ubuntu GNU/Linux on them. What he got was a free, robust computer lab. Litt says ""Discarded computers are our most wasted educational resource," and that we are "starving in the midst of plenty."

Faced with inadequate educational technology, few teachers would take it upon themselves to create an entire computer lab with no funding. It’s a daunting task, no doubt. But, Robert argues, it’s within every teacher’s capabilities. He came into the project with absolutely no computer repair or tinkering background. “My background is being a 6th grade teacher,” he says. “I am self-taught 100%.” He used free resources available online and troubleshot as he went along.

Robert advocates open-source software even for schools that aren’t lacking technology. US government reports say the digital divide is shrinking, at least in schools—97% of teachers have at least a single computer in the classroom. Yet that’s not the whole story. “The digital divide is growing in a hidden statistic,” Robert says, “the actual teaching of technology in a meaningful way.” He shows students how to do math on spreadsheets, how to make simple websites, how to put together slide presentations, all on free software. These are the computer skills that, students tell him, they are later expected simply to know. And with the prevalence of recycled computers, there’s no need for even 3% of classrooms to be without computers.

Robert will be moving to a new school this coming Fall, where he hopes to continue teaching technology meaningfully. And he calls on other teachers to do the same: in a digital world, teachers are responsibile for making students “better digital citizens.”

How One Teacher Built a Computer Lab for Free

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