I have three classes on the go, all of which are heavily digitally inflected. In the past, I’ve always figured it was better to teach students how to use the machines they have to hand, rather than trying to get them all on a single virtual machine; after all, most of the students come to my classes with only the vaguest idea of what their machines can actually do. Being able to click around madly in Word or Powerpoint is not digital literacy. In which case, figure out what this (real) thing is capable of before we complicated matters with another (virtual) thing.
That means a lot of tech support. I’ve always undertaken to help the windows people put things into their path variables, and mac people to guide them around the terminal (terminal?! path!?) and so on and so on. Normally, not a big deal. But this term, the three courses combined are taxing me pretty heavily.
Have you tried turning it off and on?
I’m thinking that the next time I run these courses, it’d be better to just bow to the inevitable, get everyone working on the same image, and spend time sorting out a virtual machine and then getting on with life. My question then is, what is the minimum viable digital history virtual machine? What are its components? What flavour of linux? Should it have a GUI? etc.
There are some places to start. Turkel, Start, and Milligan have the ‘HistoryCrawler‘ available for use. But the instructions are, well, complex . (EDIT- As Ian points out in the comments, those instructions are for replicating/building from scratch; to use, just download, load into virtualbox, and Go. It’s still 8gb though). One of my undergrads* built a VM last year for me – which was awesome, A+, that man – but it was still too heavy and a touch unstable. Ben Marwick has a VM set up script for archaeological computing (and me futzing with same).
It would have to be extremely straightforward to install. I’m thinking, no more than a handful of commands (that includes setting up all the virtualization framework too). It would have to automatically be configured to communicate with the students ‘my documents’ folder or similar, for getting stuff in and out (that’s a mission critical point, by the way. Configuring that would cause brain melts). It would have to be extremely light. No one has turned up with a chromebook (yet), but people are buying some godawful cheap laptops with next to no RAM.
Anyway, those are just some initial thoughts. What should the minimum viable machine have in it? What are the crucial things? Answers on a postcard.
*He also rewrote one of the exercises in the workbook to use a vanilla linux VM – see https://github.com/Ottawagunner/ResearchHistoryNotes/blob/master/MOD2.md#instructions
(edited Jan 31, rewritten a bit)