The problem

This project addresses several issues related to computer technology

The first two problems would seem to solve each other, channel the unused computers to those in need of them. Unfortunately that solution is not practical within the constraints of existing proprietary software. The cost of hardware upgrades to meet the minumum requirements of software which requires buying and maintaining licenses is prohibitive.

The solution

Fortunately there is an alternative which not only provides a method of making the computer waste useful, but provides a number of additional benefits.

There is a global community consisting of forward thinking computer experts involved in writing and promoting free software. The currency of respect within this gift culture is the quality and quantity of one's offerings to the community. This emphasis on cooperation for mutual benefit is in contrast to an approach which values accumulation via competition.

At the core of this phenomenon is the Linux operating system, a free, stable and powerful alternative to proprietary operatiing systems. Linux is capable of running on older computers. Surrounding Linux is software to meet virtually any user requirement. Adoption of Linux by businesses, schools and governmental agencies is accelerating.

The process of reviving discarded computers with Linux offers a number of opportunities for education and training for staff/student level participants;

Studying computing in a setting with a community interface will help to reinforce the concept of the technology as a means to improve communication, collaboration and access to information. The classwork can range in extent from a one hour class to a four year degree.

The model we are proposing also provides benefits to the community at large;

There is also potential for achieving sustainability;

An economic advantage of this system is that IT dollars stay in the community in the form of wages and building the workforce knowledge base.

Implementation

We envision a technology center which is staffed by a combination of students, volunteers and paid staff. The facility is equiped for processing donated equipment into usable computers. Students learn via proscribed curriculum and research topics. Community members and volunteers are given opportunities to use equipment, learn and help the project in whatever way they are able. The situation allows for a very wide range of skills to be valued, from simple sorting of screws to implementing a parallel computing cluster. The paid staff provide curriculum development, training, student evaluation, facility maintenance and coordination.

Evaluation

Where are we now?

We held a computer drop-off day in November of 2002, at the Ashland Area Enterprise Center, collecting hundreds of computers, monitors, printers and assorted other equipment. We have completed the task of evaluating the monitors, seperating those we are keeping from those which the WI Dept. of Corrections will be picking up. We have formed an alliance with WITC. A fourth semester Computer and Networking student is working with the project as his work-study internship. He conducts workshops for Ashland High School students, teaching computer basics. There is a classroom component at WITC and hands-on work at the warehouse. Over 20 students have participated so far, many more are signed up for the workshop. Several students showed up for a Saturday work day, and many have expressed interest in the Thursday PM session which will be starting March sixth. The response from students, teachers and parents has been very positive.