Bringing older technology back to life and making it useful in a classroom.

chromium-logo.jpgubuntu-logo14.png 13 - 1.jpg(*)

Have you ever had a parent, a friend or a relative come up to you and say something like "I have this old computer. Would it be of any use to you in your classroom?" Maybe you have recently upgraded your computer and feel as though you should be able to use your old one for a couple more years before recycling it.
If this is the case, dropping by my centre for a few minutes might be able to help you out. It is my hope that people will be able to repurpose an older laptop so that it can be used in the classroom.

The installation process (if it goes smoothly) takes around twenty minutes and the "setup" can run from around ten to fifteen minutes. So, in a little more than thirty minutes, you should have a "reset and reconditioned" laptop that is ready for use in your classroom. All previously existing data on the computer that you bring will be erased.

If you are interested, you can "set the process" in motion, visit another station or two and then come back and finish the process.

We are going to be looking at and working with two operating systems - Ubuntu Linux and Chromium*. Both of these operating systems are "Open Source" and free. Chromium is the operating system that Google based its Chromebooks on and Ubuntu is a version of Linux. Both of these operating systems are "fast" and will easily add a few more years to the life of a recent-ish laptop.

Many of you have probably heard of Linux and I feel comfortable saying that, although it might look different than Windows or MacOs, the transition is very easy to make. All the applications that students need come "standard" with each install and, if you start exploring the software centre, you will find thousands of other interesting and useful applications available to you. When I gave my students a few laptops with Ubuntu on them, they were instantly comfortable with them.

Many boards in Ontario are exploring the way that Chromebooks can be integrated into classrooms. ChromiumOS can turn an older laptop into what is, for all intents and purposes, a Chromebook. When children log in, they are presented with a standard chrome environment and all of their extensions, google drive files, etc. are accessible just as if it were a Chromebook.

Here is a photograph of a couple of old Thinkpads (from around 2008 or so) that are running Ubunutu and Chromium. The one on the left is Ubuntu Linux and the one on the right is Chromium. These are the "login" screens for both machines.

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While it is true that not all technology can be "re-purposed" for classroom use, with the hardware upgrade cycles that people seem to be going through these days, computers that are a few years old can be brought back to life in a classroom and used effectively.

There are some minimum specs that you will want to keep in mind for the laptop that you are bringing. It should:* have working working wifi
* be bootable from usb
* and, while there really is no official "rule" to this, the laptop should probably not be more than six or seven years old
* should not have any sort of "bios lockout" (meaning that you should be able to change the bios settings when you hold down F2 or F12 or whatever option appears before the computer begins booting)

I feel as though I have to mention that because these operating systems are free and Open Source, there are almost always a couple of hurdles that need to be jumped along the way. The people that write and work on these Operating Systems do so in their spare time and, while almost every configuration has been explored, there is no guarantee that we will be able to get either Ubuntu or Chromium working. Still, I know that my students have appreciated having access to extra technology and I feel that is worth giving it a try.

I do not pretend to be any sort of expert when it comes to either of these operating systems but I have been experimenting with both of them in my classroom over the past year and I have been pleased with the results.
If you bring a usb stick (4gb minimum) you can also take-away a disk image so that you can install it on other machines, too. If you are interested, you can explore strategies for creating your own custom install images, too.


*The third image at the top of the page comes from an Open Source operating system for Android. It is called "Cyanogenmod." I have recently been experimenting with it and been able to install their version of android 4.4.4 (kitkat - the latest version, as of this writing) on several very old Android tablets. I don't anticipate working with Cyanogenmod at ECOO as the installation process can be a little tricky but if you are curious, it can give older tablets very modern features.