Monday, August 24, 2009

Software Freedom Day

It's rapidly approaching and feels like some kind of landmark: it's the first software freedom day to be celebrated by Albany Senior High School. We've decided to do things in our own way, and have chosen to hold a LAN party (with pizza and drinks) playing only open source games. Students are arranging themselves into teams of four and will play each other in capture the flag and deathmatch games. Our relationship with games at ASHS is an interesting one: we have Wine installed on our Ubuntu machines, and very quickly students realised that they could bring in Windows games and play them on our network. Within a very short space of time (and with the help of a few USB sticks) students were arranging their own LAN parties at lunchtime using software of questionable legality (at best). One of our staff members and I sat the gamers down and explained our dilemma: we didn't mind them playing games; what we did mind was them pirating software in order to do it. We decided to explore other alternatives including open source games, and quickly found out there are quite a few more than reasonable Linux-based options. Within a few days we had added a dozen games to our machines and the students were tearing into them. The two most popular are Alien Arena:
...and Nexuiz:
So now our students play legal, open-source games, and we're going to celebrate the fact on 18th Sept with our very own LAN party.
Interestingly the PIRLS 2006 survey found outside of school on a normal day, 49% of teenagers play computer games for more than 1 hr/day while 66% watch television for more than 1hr/day. Clearly teenagers play games, and clearly we need to accept this fact if we're ever going to be able to harness them for learning. With more and more games and simulations being used to train doctors, pilots, engineers and planners its only a matter of time before the play a key role in education. For some of the best games I've seen in a long time, have a look at Games for Change.
For the record, we have the following games installed on all of our machines:
  • Alien Arena
  • Battle for Wesnoth
  • Flightgear
  • Frets on Fire
  • Nexuiz
  • Torcs
  • Warsow
  • Glest
What really brought a smile to my face was an email I received last week: extremely polite, very well composed, and reading something like this: "While we appreciate the games you provide for us already, we have noticed there is a lack of strategy games on the school machines. We have researched open-source strategy games and would appreciate it if you added the following to the student computers..."
I'm adding them now.

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