Linux in education: a genuine alternative

John O'Neill, deputy head of Computing and IT at Barnfield, told us a little about how Linux training became part of the prospectus,

"Barnfield College has been offering Linux training courses since 2004. Back then it was an in house-devised course running Red Hat 5.2. Over time we have evolved our provision to include a range of distributions including Damn Small Linux, SLAX, Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSUSE.

"Barnfield College has always prided itself on offering courses at the forefront of technologies. In the early part of the decade the college was an established Novell house using Netware 5. Students were given the opportunity to build and manage Netware servers as part of their coursework. Novell's acquisition of OpenSUSE inspired the teaching staff to investigate this new contender to Network Operating Systems," he told us.

When we asked him what the biggest challenge had been in supporting Linux alongside more mainstream operating systems, his answer was a logistical one, rather than a philosophical one:

"The biggest problem to the teaching team has been the need for maintaining adequate Network Security on our corporate network, while gaining access to Linux repositories. This has been resolved by the introduction of a dedicated teaching LAN with its own access to the internet."

The breadth of Linux training offered at Barnfield is also significant, covering both user and administrator roles.

"Linux is integrated into the majority of our course provision and is used to teach students ranging from Level 2 user qualifications through to foundation degree and, of course, the vendor qualifications," O'Neill explained. "Interest in these courses remains high due to the tutor's passion and the ability for students to create their own distributions. The Barnix live CD being one such incarnation. This was developed by two of our 18-year-old BTEC National Diploma students back in 2004," he added proudly.

The Barnix distribution can still be found on Distrowatch, and despite being around six years old, still looks in good shape for a distribution built around a technology that's no longer available, in an attempt to ape an operating system that's no longer supported.

But it's the potential to access new technology without having to jump through software acquisition hoops that also makes Linux a good choice. As O'Neill put it:

"Linux gives our students unparalleled access to technologies ranging from VoIP through to in-depth security testing along with traditional desktop usage." This is why the college has extended its Linux courses to integrate LPI-based certification alongside the CompTIA accreditation the college has offered for sometime, as O'Neill explained:

"Following the inclusion of LPI with CompTIA, Linux+, which the college has traditionally delivered, now simplifies vendor certification for students, and not only meets the requirements of industry partners, but also gives a clear pathway to certification."

Which leaves the most important question. If you want your child to study Linux at their local institution, how should parents and interested parties make it happen?

"Colleges can use Linux across the range of their curriculum. It gives learners access to both GUI and command line interfaces, and even Microsoft is revisiting the command line with their Power Shell interface," he states.

"Tutors need to be aware that Awarding Bodies will accept evidence obtained from many different operating systems as part of their coursework. Students and parents can be assured that skills learnt through the use of open source operating systems and applications only serve to better demonstrate the breadth of knowledge they have of cutting-edge technologies used in all business sectors."

Case study 2

Another college that's taken Linux to its heart, and one that's making it a vital part of its curriculum, is Forth Valley College in Falkirk, Scotland. Like Barnfield, Forth Valley is another further education college that positions itself for school leavers, adult learning and employers, and offers a similar range of subjects to the Bedfordshire establishment.