The following instructions are for people who are mostly (or completely) unfamiliar with the whole Linux thing.
Most of you will want to do the VIRTUAL install, but read the whole thing below to be sure.
If you are already familiar, feel free to use an existing install or perhaps try out a new one.
NOTE, some of the numbers you read below/later may be a little low and might need to be updated accordingly, e.g. you may need 10-15gb of space instead of 4, and perhaps 1024MB of ram instead of 512. Also, I've switched from recommending Lubuntu to other distros, there may be some optional comments that haven't been updated — these should not at all affect your ability to do the installs. Most everything else is accurate.
You'll first need to decide whether you'll want to do a "virtual" install (literally not scary at all) or a real install (far less scary than you imagine) — here are the pro's and con's.
The (arguably) safer option is the Virtual Install, wherein you use virtualization software to emulate a machine. Your installation will "think" it's a real computer, but instead it will operate more or less like any other application within your regular OS.
You should use this option if
1) your computer is relatively fast and
2) is in a situation in which it's absolutely critical to preserve the existing OS, e.g. it's your only machine and you have no external drives, or you're borrowing a friends, etc. Mac users should probably consider this option.
The advantage here is that it does not require any low-level changes to your hard drive, and you can stay within your familiar OS while using Linux. You do, however, lose most of the practical advantages of having a Linux system, but this will at least allow you to become familiar with the interface/OS in class.
IF YOU ARE NOT USING YOUR OWN COMPUTER — you'll need an external hard drive or flash drive with at least 4 gigs free. We'll create a virtual install that you can keep on your external drive. Note — this is known to create quite a bit of wear-and-tear on flash drives, which are generally not designed to host operating systems; don't use one that you care a lot about.
+Virtual Install Complete Instructions
And here is some troubleshooting info
This installs Lubuntu Linux as a primary operating system on a computer; bootable and wholly independent of any other systems that may be present. This is a real install, as such it will provide you with the added security and protection that comes with Linux, and provide you with the most complete Linux experience possible. You'll either have an excellent new primary OS, or an excellent backup OS in case you decide to continue to use something else.
- Solo Install
This will completely erase everything on your computer. As long as you've backed everything up, this is a great way to revive a seemingly dead machine you may have lying around.
- Dual Boot
This will allow you to keep your existing operating system, and use extra space left on your hard drive to install Linux. Once completed, any time you boot your computer, you'll be able to choose which OS you'd like to boot into. (Note, I've heard this is pretty difficult to do on Macs). You'll be able to access your other OS' drive from Linux as well, which is why this makes a good backup option, among other things.
The arguably hard/scary part of a "real" dual-boot install is Partitioning your hard drive, which is the process of "cutting up" your hard drive into multiple virtual drives. I've literally never had (or known anyone to have) an irrecoverable problem while doing this*, but lots of sources do suggest that this is a potentially dangerous operation with regards to your existing data, so be careful and be sure to backup anything important. Given the high failure rate of all hard drives, you should be doing this frequently anyway.
*as of very recently, this is perhaps a bit misleading. For a friend, we tried to dual-boot Windows 10 and while the Linux install worked perfectly, Windows 10 would never boot again. I personally consider this a win-win, but perhaps some might not see it that way? ☺
+Full Real Install Instructions