Why UberStudent?

Stephen Ewen's picture

 
Conceptually, UberStudent began in December 2009 when I could no longer stand a certain "itch" I felt. I was very dissatisfied with the state of Linux distributions for the higher education and advanced secondary sectors and felt compelled to do something about it. Having worked in higher education, it was little wonder to me to read research that found that the unfavorability rating of Linux among EdTech professionals in higher education was in the mid-90 percentage range. That's awful, to say the least.
 
To make matters worse, much worse, I knew from my own experience that higher education decision makers often circulated a certain 2009 news article (archived here). A college student had just bought a new Dell laptop for her studies, and due to her difficulties with it, failed her classes. It had Ubuntu on it and didn't really work "out of the box" or "as expected." At that moment, Ubuntu became Taboontu in the minds and cultures of many in higher education, and all of Linux along with it, even more so than it already was.

Many Linux advocates blamed the student rather than crafting a positive response. UberStudent was my positive response. 
 
Strategy
 
There has been a persistent concern among Linux advocates, namely, How shall we increase adopters of the platform, especially in light of multi-million dollar marketing campaigns by Microsoft and Apple, the success of which is not necessarily related to them being actually superior platforms?

That leads to a second question, namely, How shall we strategically increase the number of Linux desktop users in the world?
 
I wish to suggest that the answer simply must be aimed at students and those responsible for educating them. The reason is simple: because it is when people are young and being educated that lifelong habits are most formed.
 
That principle is illustrated in the marketing strategy that Pepsi Cola followed some decades ago. If you've ever wondered why you can't find a Coca-Cola for sale on many college and university campuses in the U.S., it’s because Pepsi saw a strategic opportunity and latched on to it. Each year, they donate to the athletics or other budgets of those colleges in exchange for monopoly privilege. Why? Because they know all too well the principle I just described above, namely, that whatever products that specifically students become accustomed to tends to carry over as a habit for life.
 
Does that apply to Linux on campus and among end-user students? Most, most definitely. And you can know with certainty that Microsoft and Apple knows the same principle applies to them, which is why they often essentially give away their software to students and teachers.
 
Importance

In light of this, I don’t think I overstate things when I say that there is no more important Linux project in the world than one that is strategically and smartly aimed at the higher education and secondary school sectors. Not aimed at Computer Science Departments, but the normal computers in the the normal student computing labs, and at the students who daily do computing tasks. That is to say that Open Source communities, I think, can beat proprietary systems at their game. We have the "free" end down, but what has lacked is a truly cohesive, pedagogically sound alternative. That's UberStudent.
 
UberStudent is a full-featured academic success curriculum in the form of an installable, ready-to-go learning platform. Learning UberStudent means learning the skills and habits required of all students across all academic disciplines. As well, since the line between developers and end users blur in the open source world, learning UberStudent means learning not just computer literacy but the sort of computer fluency that students will really need to gain the edge as knowledge workers in 21st century workplaces. That can translate to increased student learning outcomes and graduation rates, and increased workplace success of graduates. That's attractive to decision-makers in higher education--or should be.
 
Moreoever, UberStudent's core programs are cross-platform, so adopters can avoid the lock-in traps of proprietary alternatives. In truth, people don't much use an operating system for its own sake. The point of an operating system is to more or less get out of your way and stably run your programs, which is exactly what UberStudent does but for free. That's also should be an attractive to decision-makers in higher education.
 
In other words, in UberStudent, the Linux desktop may have suddenly became a whole lot more attractive to a sector that really matters.
 
Conclusion

So that, in a nutshell, is the UberStudent vision and its "backstory." From the developers end, I surmised that if I could get a solid proof-of-concept distro out there, it would attract enough attention such that I could begin more completely casting the vision for why UberStudent really belongs in the Linux world, and more, why it really deserves the very serious attention of Open Source advocates, developers, and end users.

Thoughts?
 

3 comments

I will be reviewing this on my website soon.  It's an excellent distro.  Are you doing a lite version, as you did with version 1?

Stephen Ewen's picture

As soon as I get the 32-bit version done. :-)

This is awesome.  I hope you get all the support necessary to help you make UberStudent one of the best distros out there.  I am a new linux user and UberStudent was my first Linux experience to convince me to completely switch over.  Thank you, Stephen!