Friday, July 31, 2009

SNDT college Decides to go FOSS

Hello all,
I have been busy off late doing a lot of awareness workshops and some gnu/linux deployments in some organisations.

However I am back with some great news!
I did a couple of large workshops with 2 colleges. One was with Vidhya Vardhini College of Engineering in Vasai. This was in the last week of June this year and it went moderately successful.
However the next workshop was a grand success. It was a 3 day hands-on seminar in the IT and Computer Science college of SNDT Womens Univercity in Mumbai.
Infact we started this as a workshop but it was a mission which some authorities in that college had taken up.
So let's get the news out first since it is indeed a great thing to happen for FOSS.
SNDT has decided to totally migrate to Free and Open Source Softwares!

This was infact the planned mission by very visionary faculties in the college backed by their IT Head Of Department and the principle.

This was really well planned

I had been planning this workshop for a long time with Mr. Sanjay Shitole, the IT Head Of Department and Mr. Sumedh, the Head of Department for Computer science.

These 2 visionary faculties of the college had realized that exclusive use of Free Software based operating systems like GNU/Linux and other related softwares will not just benefit the college in terms of cost savings, but would help the students to learn in a much free and open way.

“our students will get to learn in a much better way because the source code for proprietary softwares are not available.” said Sumedh Pundkar.

Inspired by RMS

Infact Richard Stallman had delivered a talk at SNDT University which many of the faculties had attended.
“I had attended the seminar given by Richard Stallman about 4 years back and I got inspired by the ideology of Free Software. I had ever since decided that my students should also get the chance to acquire and share software and knowledge freely”. Said Sanjay Shitole, who had been discussing about this workshop with me for more than a month. We had also been planning the subsequent shift of the college labs to gnu/linux. Not to mention MRS Kumud Wasnik, the current college head had also provided her own time from her busy schedule in all the pre-workshop activities.

The workshop

On day 1, I and the rest of the team started with the demonstration of GNU/linux based GUI applications on the Gnome Desktop. It was actually not the first session but the first hands-on session. We started the day by a talk on Free Software and its impact on the digital society. That talk actually set the tone for the following 3 days which were packed with hands-on practical sessions on various free softwares.
Followed by the basic desktop computing, we moved on to some moderately advanced topics such as the shell and people enjoyed learning that some interesting shell commands can even give them detailed hardware information or many other things which were not really difficult to remember.
Throughout the workshop we kept on discussing about how we can make the learning experience of students much better and how practically we can teach any given topic.
For example practical examples on using commands like cat or grep were particularly interesting to the attending faculties.
All of them played a lot with the lspci command using grep to only print out information on the device they were interested.
The most happening session was on day 2 morning when we did the 7 easy steps of Ubuntu installation and every one present were amaised at how easy it was to get Ubuntu running on the computers. Infact One of the faculties Mr. Lahane got his laptop the very next day and not just installed ubuntu on it but also found out by himself how he could configure his touch-pad and many other things.
One of our Team members Akshay demonstrated the 3D desktop on a machine and the participants were zapped at the cube effect and all other Eye-candies. All in all one impression which Myself, and my Team members Prashant, Akshay and Prathamesh got was that all the faculties had not come there just to learn for themselves but with the mindset of “we must give this to all our students”.

We also had some fun at the lab configuring the printers. Actually HOD and other authorities had been misled by some resistant, pro windows people that those printers won't work on “linux” and they had tried doing it for quite some time.

But we had 2 of their printers working within 5 minutes.

Another query raised by many participating faculties was “how do we go about teaching C and C++ to our students “ and related to it, another query was “we don't know specially how to do graphics with C”. We changed our scheduled modules a bit and went in-dept on those issues.
This was the third day and by now Mr. Shitole and Mr. Sumedh backed by their principle MRS. Kumud had already decided that they will migrate all the labs to GNU/Linux.
“just imagine, we never used to allow the girls to put in their pen drives in those machines and put all kinds of restrictions including usage of Internet. But now since we have no fear of viruses, we will be happy to remove all the restrictions”, Mr. Shitole was happily telling me on the third day during our morning tea.

Infact we also did a demonstration of the permissions system in the linux based file systems and why viruses can't propagate like they do on windows.

We left a thought provoking question in the minds of the participating faculties about the virus issue.
I asked them after showing the file permissions etc, “if Unix had solved this virus problem around the 1970s, then just like linux, why Microsoft did not adapt the same method for their most popular Desktop OS?”

The answer is obvious and visionary teachers like Sanjay and Sumedh realize this very well that such loopholes are kept purposely by companies like Microsoft so that an exploitation based business can be built.
“first you by the OS with all the backdoor entries and let the virus in. Then you pay for the anti virus” is the straight forward justification for Microsoft's policy on windows development.

And one thing I personally noted about teachers like Sanjai Shitole is that they are passionate about the progress of their students and he has always tried to give them the freedom to learn which is indeed one of the major goals of Free Software.

We had made the 3 day workshop completely interactive and as one of the member faculties rightly pointed out “we could not differentiate between the organizers and the participants.” The seriousness of the college on shifting to Free and Open Source is evident by the fact that their principal personally attended all the 3 days. Infact she was one of the front bencher (not that the back bencher were not involved ).
As I said, we experienced the true wiki culture of teaching and learning in those 3 days.
I really can't count how many things we learned or taught. It was an overall learning process for all of us.

SNDT has set an example for colleges

Now it is certain that many colleges will follow the example set by SNDT.

Just yesterday Sanjay Shitole called up and he was happy to tell me that they are getting good response from students. He also informed that they have started to use other free softwares like octave.

Indeed a great move and lucky you SNDT Girls!

All I can say at the end is that The girls in this college will now be lucky that they will learn in the most creative way and will be able to openly share knowledge. “Free softwares like GNU/Linux will obviously improve the skill set of our students because they can see more and more source code for components like kernel.” said Sanjay Shitole who was as happy and excited as I was at the end of those 3 days.

Now, the next step planned is to change the course for the college a bit and add currier oriented modules such as the Python language.
Already all the labs in the college have shifted to GNU/Linux with Ubuntu installed on all the machines. I won't be surprised if the students of SNDT are the majority in getting jobs in the IT sector.