Laguna IT Coordinator Eric (standing) and co-teachers Bathani and Maureen
try quick publishing and test creation in one of the school's computer labs.
Laguna National High Scool Officials Discuss Eminima
The new IT Coordinator of DepEd Laguna, Eric Zaide, invited the author for a discussion of Eminima on August 4, 2005 at Pedro Guevara Memorial National High School, Sta. Cruz, Laguna.
Frederick B. Zaide, as the lead person, and fellow IT teachers Bathani A. Abrantes, Maureen A. Quesea and Al P. Gapud wanted to get more information about Eminima and its implications to their teaching and curricular programs. The following summarizes the issues raised by the teachers and the author's responses:
- Licensing of software - The school does not have the money to buy software, which costs P11,000 for MS Office and P5,000 for Windows XP.
Free, open source software that have comparable office capability is now available. An example is Puppy Linux that released last July 2005 its version 1.04 with Open Office (called Chubby Puppy), the total size of which is only about 90 MB.
- Additional computers - More computers are needed to serve the students.
This is one area where I requested the help of Eric sometime in 2003. I came here to study the economical use of PC by students. The study found that on average, students use PCs for 2 hours per week. That usage will give you 20 users per PC. If the school has no money for PCs, these 20 students can share the cost of buying a PC, maybe a used PC, for P5,000. Each student will have to pay only P250, which is really affordable.
But you need not be confined to buying old PCs. Thin client technology can be used in schools, and the cost should be low enough, although I still have to find out how low it is (that is why am visiting Singapore this August). But if you need a figure right now, one thin client I know from the US is $150, or about P8,000. The cost should be lower if it is produced in Asia.
- Initiating Eminima - What suggestions can you make about introducing Eminima in our school?
Having an IT or elearning program is a complex undertaking that has a number of interacting variables. Before you deliver the first lesson to the students, you have to make sure that many decisions that have been made at the "top" and at the "bottom" are consistent with what you intend to deliver, else the lesson itself will change.
One decision is the choice of platform, proprietary or open source, in which administrators can have their own preferences. Another concern is the procurement of computers, in which parents must share so the PCs will be made available. And then the matter of content shall be decided. "PC as an office productivity tool" is the usual teaching path used in introducing computers to students. This should give way to "PC as a tool for enhancing learning". Once the student gets to know how to use a PC, s/he should be taught how to search for information, then how to interact cooperatively so that the learning experience becomes richer and deeper. Thus, browsing, searching and the proper use of discussion boards should be one of the earliest lessons in computer education, and not necessarily office applications. These decisions impact on each other, and you will have to attend to each before you start teaching students about computers.
What Eminima tries to do is to make elearning possible, even with the lack of resources in schools. The use of free, open source software is one aspect of this, and the use of low-cost PCs is another aspect. Right now, you can use modern software using PCs as old as Pentium I. For example, Firefox, a modern, secure browser, can run in Windows 95 (version B) as well as in compact/live Linux CDs. In introducing elearning to students, that is the crucial software we need, a modern browser.
Note that in schools that do not have PCs for students, the teacher can go ahead and use the Internet, with students going to Internet cafes to do the supplemental lessons. This is what your teacher Laury Arca (of another campus) did about Values Education. She used PDF files for lessons and created practice tests. She used the Web to be able to cover with more depth the many lessons that she has to cover in the course. She used a free PDF file converter, Cute PDF, and a freely hosted Eminima folder at annex.ph-islands.net.
- Using content - How do we address the matter of content? Do we always have to connect to the Internet?
The Internet will always be a rich source of content for education. However, given the school's limited resources, such as limited computer time for students and large class size, there are more urgent items to be implemented. There are two I could think of right now: online presence by teachers and interactive/practice tests for students.
Distracted in a big class, a student can still achieve a deep understanding of the lessons if he is able to read a teacher's outline and synthesis of previous lectures. He can then take an interactive practice test to get self-assessment and feedback about his weaknesses. Two hours of computer usage per week can allow him these activities.
The Eminima server already includes these services, namely, easy Web publishing and test creation. And the server is easy to deploy. Using the Eminima CD and this old PC, for example, you just command at the boot prompt "slax server", and your server goes online. To change the IP address of the server, you command in the console "ifconfig eth0 192.168.10.200", as you use "10" for the third digit and have reserved "100" for other uses (this change is needed because the default Eminima address is 192.168.0.100). The admin pages allow you easy authoring and test creation. And when the day is over, all you have to do is command "configsave", point to your USB flash drive as saving device, and all the day's work are saved to your USB drive.
- Our PC collection - what can you say about these PCs?
Yes, you are really resourceful, having brought in PCs like these. You mentioned that these Pentium 4's have 512 MB memory? That is just the kind of PC being used by servers in the Internet today. But those servers anticipate thousands of users at any time. In a local situation, such as a school, even an old Pentium I PC with 32 MB memory can work well as server. I say this because you would normally have no more than 50 PCs in a room. And this is the number that your Pentium I server will easily cope with. Remember that we are preparing teachers to be able to run their own servers. It can be as simple as this: plug in your USB key and turn on the PC, which is not hard to do, is it?
- IT stuff - Are there other demands from IT teachers in addition to those that you already mentioned?
Am really happy that you're very enthusiastic about working things out for your school. You see, elearning needs these very positive traits so we can bring up the level of education together. Given the open interactivity of Web technologies, teachers have to learn to be open and collaborate with peers. We must learn to share materials and create departmental practice tests. And, yes, we must be true examples to students whom we will expect to be honest in contributing to online discussions.
Yes, spend some more time with the EM CD-server to be familiar with some of its technicalities. Note, however, that the only HTML formatting required of you is in the modification of the index.html file that acts as the entry point to the server. The rest of routine involves copying files from the main folder em to a teacher's personal folder, and then setting the color preferences.