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Last year, we - the Indian GNU/Linux Users’ Group - Kolkata Chapter, had conducted the highly successful 2-month long weekend program on GCC programming workshops and tutorials at the Rajabazar Science College, University of Calcutta.
Recently there was a call for support and collaboration from the Institute of Open Technology and Applications (IOTA), an autonomous society that has been recently set up under the aegis of Dept of Information Technology, Govt of West Bengal. IOTA’s mandate, afaik, is to identify cases and espouse the use and adoption of FOSS in the state of West Bengal. Towards that end, training in FOSS based technologies of high school teachers across the state, has been identified by the society as one of the courses for immediate action. Several training programs are in the offing. The teachers’ training program at West Bengal State University (WBSUB), Barasat was a part of that.
Between 2nd and 4th October, 2008, 51 high school teachers belonging to 42 different schools from across the district of North 24 Parganas attended the workshop. A team of six ILUG-CAL.ORG members gathered in Barasat (North 24 Parganas) from 4 different districts of WB, worked nearly against time to plan, execute and successfully deliver the program, with less that 20 hours of head-start before the event took off.
The following ILUG-CAL.ORG members were involved :
|Susmit Shannigrahi||Fedora Ambassador|
|Sarbartha Sengupta||Co-ordinator, RCCIIT LUG|
|Dipanjan Chakraborty||Co-ordinator, RCCIIT LUG|
|Arindam Ghosh||OpenStreetMap GSoC 2008|
|Rabi Kumar||Python enthusiast & Phoenix fanatic|
|Indranil Das Gupta||Coordinator, ILUG-Cal|
During the workshop, the team was also assisted by Dr. Subhojit Sarkar, Visiting Faculty, Physics, WBSUB
About the Workshop
The workshop was designed to impart a hands-on, working level familiarity with the FOSS Desktop environment and in using OpenOffice.org as a productivity suite and basics on Internet usage including emailing and accessing educational content from the Net.
Getting ready for the Workshop
The WBSUB is a very recent University (born like 4 months back), so infrastructure-wise nothing was really in place needed to conduct the workshop. And since we had just a 20 hours head-start before the workshop was to start off, Susmit hurried down to the Chandi Chowk market and brought back a WiFi router (WRT54G), CAT5 cable, crimping tool, RJ-45 jacks, LAN testers and other tools of the trade with him.
And so, in the first two hours of Day 1 (2nd Oct), the ILUG-Cal team hurried to set up a complete computer lab - 16 desktop PCs installed using the latest Fedora 9 DVD. We also set up the WiFi network in the lab (triple NAT-ed incidentally) and installed a 50 metre long trunk-line to connect the WiFi router in the lab with the University’s broadband ADSL router’s 100Mbit LAN port.
With all these happening in the background, Dr. Sarkar, myself and Prof Thakur (Vice Chancellor, WBSUB) got the first day’s initial theory session under way. By 1 PM, the infrastructure was ready and in place. Arindam was designated to prepare the hand-out documentation of the lecture schedule outlines. Susmit and myself assisted in bits and parts in the edit process.
I was happy to see the youngsters - Dipanjan and Sarbartha doing really well in their sessions. Rabi was OK, but he really needs a shot of confidence and more exposure. Being a non-native speaker of Bangla, he was ill-at-ease with the participants during his lecture/demonstrations. He was however good when it came to one-on-one guidance during the practical sessions. Arindam was as usual very good in his delivery of the content. As expected from him, he was also very competent in handling the technical nitty-gritty of OpenOffice.org. Susmit has shaped up into a fine mentor himself and a competent speaker.
The training schedule
Between Susmit and myself, we managed put together this training program outline. We based it on instructions from Prof. S. K. Sen (President, IOTA) and Prof. Thakur.
The turn-up was good, 51 participants from an expected total of 52 teachers was what we had. Considering that the schools were going in for their annual Durga Puja holidays in another 2 days and with the Pujas starting from the 6th of October, this was indeed *huge* turn-up. What is interesting to note is that the total attendance even for the 3rd day (4th Oct) was still 42.
- Participants’ Details (participant name and school name only)
- Detailed participants’ registration data (includes age, contact details, subjects taught) available in PDF format.**
** The file contains personal information of the participants and hence it has been password protected. Any persons authorised by the President of IOTA Society may mail me in private for the password.
Our participants were by no means a homogeneous set. Although there was a strong Physical Science / Maths contingent, there were a total sizable number of participants from Humanities / Social Sciences. There were upto 6 teachers in all, who looked after subjects like Physical Education / Work Education / Nutrition. Interesting to note : Only *one* teacher who taught computer applications in his school. Below is the detailed breakup of that list.
|Biology /Life Sciences||8|
|Commerce / Economic Geography / Biz Org||2|
|Physical Education||4 **|
** Some teachers look after for more than one subject, hence totalling the count of teachers in the list above will result in 60 instead of the 51 participant count.
The program was delivered and over by 3:30 PM on the 4th October 2008, with the Registrar of the University - Prof. Kamales Bhaumik distributing the certificates and the Vice Chancellor - Prof Thakur addressing the closing session and and interacting with the participants, telling them how they can collect the hand-outs and software CD / DVD after the University opens after the holidays.
A total of 38 participants of the 42 attendees on the final day of the workshop opted to put in their feedback to the following questions (see the charts below), most of them also provided detailed personal remarks / suggestions / comments (it has been presented verbatim, except for possible typos during data entry)
A Few Observations
- During the training sessions, nearly 25% of the teachers stated that they regularly need to input unit test marks, prepare marksheets, tabulate them, generate individual report cards, often using proprietary software or by a partially manual laborious process. They would like learn if OpenOffice.org can be used to largely automate such tedious but important every day work and if so, then how. They have expressed a keen interest in the idea of a separate workshop / training focussed on such school administration specific use of OpenOffice.org and other FOSS packages.
- The Birati High School team of 3 teachers, particular Mr. Sajal Kumar Banerjee expressed their interest in exploring free/open source school information system (SIS). Birati High presently uses a locally developed, highly popular but closed-source proprietary SIS product. The entire team expressed their helplessness about the vendor lock-in and annual maintenance contract, including horror stories about the product stopping to work when the annual renewal is due. If a viable alternative is available or is made available they are ready to shift.
- The biggest mindshare winner for FOSS was the realisation by the participants that Windows-based viruses and worms are rendered harmless on GNU/Linux platform, with several participants showing a keen interest in installing Linux on their personal and/or school systems
- Participants expressed a need for a resource centre or access to resource persons that they can turn to, post-workshop. So that when they run into problems in installing / using FOSS software they can be assured of help.
- Several of the participants expressed their helplessness about their inability to convince their school management. The argument went like this - “We have understood the benefits. But we are very new to this, how are we going to explain this properly to our management? Can you help us in anyway?”
Without question, this teachers’ training program, was at the end of it, one of the most hastily organised and yet most successfully delivered programs from ILUG-Cal. As a team working together, it had literally left us with zero room for error. Nearly everything has to be done on-the-go. The largest portion of the credit for the success goes undoubtably to the ILUG-CAL.ORG team. It goes to Susmit and Arindam who had just returned to Kolkata from VNIT - Nagpur on the 30th September where they conducted a hectic 3-day workshop on behalf of the Fedora Project (India). Arindam again came down all the way from Durgapur, even if it he had just gotten home and the Pujas were around the corner. To Dipanjan and Sarbartha, who inspite of personal engagements, came down to Barasat everyday all the way from Belur. To Rabi for being there to help out as needed, which is easy to get overlooked until you miss it. To Prof Sen and Prof Thakur for the advice, encouragement and constant support. Prof. Bhaumik for helping smoothen the administrative wheels and temporarily loaning the cash to buy the urgently needed networking supplies. To Sushil-babu, the soft-spoken Finance Officer of WBSUB for his quiet efficiency and helpfulness. To Bapi, Pinto, Sanjay and other support staff at WBSUB who helped in shifting materials, arranging them and for putting up with my demands for incessant cups of tea.
On a side note : On the second day of the workshop (3rd October) the ODF Olympiad information sachet from IOTA was also distributed to the participants. More on that later.