Linux Club Organization

Doghouse – Linux Club

Article from Issue 271/2023

Fostering an after-school Linux Club by encouraging participation.

When I was growing up, we had a saying that people needed to have "skin in the game." The saying meant that in order to create the best you had to participate and not just be a spectator.

Recently I suggested that a Linux Club ( be started at a progressive high school near me. My contacts at the school thought this was a great idea.

Starting an after-school club for FOSS is often a lot easier than trying to intermix FOSS into an existing program in a school. You do not have to change the school's curriculum or interfere with the school's certification. The school board does not have to be involved, and parents can regulate whether their children attend or not. Rather than try to put the club during school hours (and possibly limiting the attendance of some students), usually an after-school club can be available to all.

However, I still hesitated. I did not want to commit to an on-going weekly or semi-weekly club when the only skin in the game would be mine.

Normally school clubs are started by students themselves and may be mentored by a faculty member or a parent of one of the students. It may be facilitated by the institution (whether it be a church or secular school) or some other outside institution (such as the Scouts program) where local leaders (Scout Leader and Assistant Scout Leaders) are typically drawn from the group of parents. However it was the Scouts themselves who were supposed to lead the patrols and troops, to organize the hikes and meetings – skin in the game.

My personal desire would be that the students themselves lead the program, with some of the students being organizers and others helping with technical topics to help everyone move along. The rising tide lifts all boats.

Much of the "hard" organization of a local Linux Users' Group (LUG), such as finding a meeting place and creating a calendar, is a lot easier for a school club. The administration of the school can supply a room for the meeting, and the room would be free of cost. The days and times of the meetings would be relatively easy to plan (since they would mirror the school year), and a calendar could be set up using the school's communication means (website calendar, newsletter, etc.)

The hardest part would typically be finding the topics to discuss and finding people to discuss them. This is where mentors would help a lot, to suggest topics to the students and the order that they might be discussed. Then the student organizers could prioritize the topics and find speakers who would lead the discussion about the topics.

In running clubs, I might suggest two levels of presentation. One level for the "newbies" who have never used FOSS before and one level for the more experienced student, so they will not become bored with the club. In order to implement this, the club might meet on odd weeks to do beginner presentations and on even weeks to present the more advanced topics. Of course each topic level would be open to both levels of students, but with expectations set that beginners may not understand shell programming (in the beginning) and advanced students might be a little bored with a discussion about how to do an installation.

If the school steps forward and finds these student/teacher leaders, then I am happy to act as an advisor/mentor to the club. Does this mean I show up at every meeting? No. However I may be able to suggest speakers who live in the area that would be willing to talk to some students or suggest online videos they can watch or books they can read. I can help them with a curriculum for the club that will lead them past knowing nothing about FOSS to learning a lot about FOSS and computer engineering in general.

I headed up the Greater New Hampshire Linux User Group (GNHLUG) for over 10 years (1995-2005) until world travel (100+ countries, visiting most of them more than twice) made it too hard to attend the meetings and make sure the meetings went okay.

I set up a mailing list, and once a year asked the potential attendees what they would like to learn. I put the topics into two lists (newbie and advanced) and asked the same group of people to do a ranked vote on what they would like to learn. I took the top 50 from each list and sent it out again to see who would be willing to speak on each topic. Then I had a list of 50 newbie topics and 50 advanced topics, two for each meeting and speakers who could present. From this I created a calendar.

It worked for 10 years; it can work again.

The Author

Jon "maddog" Hall is an author, educator, computer scientist, and free software pioneer who has been a passionate advocate for Linux since 1994 when he first met Linus Torvalds and facilitated the port of Linux to a 64-bit system. He serves as president of Linux International®.

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