Like that FedEx Super Bowl commercial that said every great commercial must have a certain list of elements (a celebrity, some animal, a kick in the groin, a punchline, etc), every great class should have a certain list of elements for its success. Students love examples, hands-on demonstrations, and something to keep and utilize for a long time to come. Because of the increasing use of technology in the classroom, and it is commonplace for most rooms to have a computer and even a projector, instructors want flexibility and consistency of technology. The Knoppix CD satisfies the need of students and instructors.
I am currently teaching my course entitled Security, Privacy, and Politics in the Computer Age, offered at Tufts University by the Experimental College. There is a Dell computer in the room that I teach in, but it is problematic. I have to login using some generic account, thus I do not have many privileges; error messages about the hard drive running low on space, but there actually is plenty of space, constantly pop up; and I can’t run some examples from the SSH terminal that is provided on the computer. To resolve these problems, I boot the computer using the latest Knoppix CD. For instructors who roam to different classrooms, a Knoppix CD is nice because you will have a consistent look-and-feel on different computers, a consistent and flexible set of tools, and you can bypass numerous barriers.
I have twenty students in my class. All of the students are familiar with Microsoft Windows. Only a handful are familiar and have used UNIX or Linux. I have used Linux on numerous occasions: to demonstrate software tools such as John the Ripper (how easy it is to crack passwords), the ping command (although it is installed on almost all Windows systems anyway), how to send forged e-mail via Perl script, and open source packages such as the Gimp, GAIM, OpenOffice during my lecture on open source software. The students were spellbound when they saw a live Linux desktop for the first time.
I gave each of my students a copy of the Knoppix CD. The value of this is tremendous. They can test-drive and learn Linux (especially basic commands) without installing anything on their hard drive. They can use most of the popular open source software packages, can play games, and even browse the Internet. Of course, I also told them that they can use the Knoppix CD in case of emergencies to retrieve and backup files, scan for viruses on their Windows hard drive, and reset Windows passwords. Last Saturday, I received an e-mail from one of my students that he needed to reinstall Windows but the install CD didn’t work. He was locked-out of his system (Windows could even boot, and the hard drive was on the verge of being erased), and feared that some of his critical documents were lost. Fortunately he had the Knoppix CD and was able to read and back-up the files. So everyone was happy with that news.