PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOL-BASED INTRANETS

Pete Humbert

CHAPTER 1


INTRODUCTION

Educators, world-wide are changing their traditional teaching methods and beginning to
understand the enormous potential being offered to their curriculum through the largest information source known to man... the Internet.

“They may not understand exactly what the Internet is, the resources or experiences it has to offer, or exactly how it might be used to improve learning experiences, but they have a sense that the Internet is somehow becoming a major force for change in educational practice” (Grabe and Grabe,1998b p.2).


Most are ready and willing to embrace and exploit the Internet with the purpose of improving the education of their students. Despite the enthusiasm, there are several factors which stand between the educator and their good intentions.

Taking these factors into consideration, it becomes necessary to ask how Web technology can best be delivered to the students. One such solution exists in the form of an Intranet. An Intranet can be conceptualised as a miniature Internet which operates within the bounds of the school’s computer network. No connection to the Internet is required, yet an Intranet has the ability to supply all services which are currently available on the Web itself. The advantage for schools is that an Intranet has the ability to provide a school with a scaled-down version of the Internet that is reliable, affordable and provides a safe, secure working environment for the students.

1.1 Significance of the Study

This research is of significance to the domain of educational technology as it extends the knowledge base that currently exists in that field. The concept of Intranet technology is relatively new to the majority of educational institutions. The handful of schools who have chosen to embrace the concept and implemented the technology have welcomed the educational and administrative benefits it has to offer. Therefore, research which explores the advantages of such technology will help to raise awareness among those who are unacquainted with its potential applications and benefits within their educational setting. To illustrate the potential of a school-based Intranet the research investigated two institutions currently using the technology. The findings which have resulted from each case study have the capacity to impact upon the method by which electronic information literacy skills are currently undertaken in schools.

This study has been of significance to over 70 interested educators who wanted to learn more about the setting up process and application possibilities of school-based Intranets. In March, 1998 the study resulted in the formation of a Special Interest Group which offers members ongoing access to a virtual meeting place. The forum, which is still operative, was formed with the intention of fostering a collaborative approach whereby all members contribute and respond to questions, suggestions and ideas concerning the building, maintenance and integration of a school-based Intranet. Members interact either electronically, using the group’s Internet-based Email list (intranet@gospel.iinet.net.au), or face-to-face at the group’s regular school-based meetings. The interest among educators is evident from the rapid growth of members subscribing to the group mailing list and attending meetings. Further information regarding the Intranet Special Interest Group is available on the World Wide Web at: http://www.iinet.net.au/~humbert/intranetsig/. Having justified its significance to the members of the Intranet Special Interest Group this research is poised to expand the general knowledge-base for further research into the area of school-based Intranet technology.

1.2 The Research Questions

This research sought to demonstrate the practical applications of a school-based Intranet and provide the technical assistance needed for individuals to establish their own Intranet. The overall design was governed by a qualitative focus. To successfully address the research focus, a three step approach was used. In phase one the study sought to formulate a help guide which could be used by teachers to assist in the technical process of establishing their own school Intranet. Phase two studied two schools currently using Intranet technology and phase three expanded on this information by examining current literature to suggest further applications for school-based Intranets. Therefore, the questions which guided this research were:

1. How do you set up a school-based Intranet?

2. Why do you need a school-based Intranet?

3. What is it about an Intranet that gives it potential for greater educational benefit than the Internet?

1.2.1 Phase One

Phase One implemented a research and development methodology. Borg and Gall (1983) propose a process to design, execute and evaluate the effectiveness of a package. The product produced during phase one of the study was an Internet based web site which provided teachers with a guide to the installation, maintenance and integration of an Intranet into a Primary School setting. After following the steps as outlined by Borg and Gall (1983) the final package was a product based upon research which is ready for use in the schools.

Changes and alterations made during each revision stage were a direct result of feedback obtained via responses to a questionnaire. Teachers were selected to participate in the trialing of the product at each stage. The chosen teachers had wide ranging degrees of understanding in the area of computer networking and the function of the Internet itself. The purpose of this was to ensure the design of the package catered for the needs of both technologically advanced and technologically disadvantaged schools.

The questionnaire asked the respondents to answer specific questions about the package in terms of the content and general design by rating each category on a scale. Once this data was reviewed, alterations were made to the content and design of the existing package in preparation for the next testing period and final implementation into the educational environment.

1.2.2 Phase Two

The second phase of the study documented an “in situ” exemplar of best practice using Intranet technology in a way that empowers educators to encourage electronic information literacy skills and overcome some of the problems associated with the Internet. The case study examined how Intranets are currently being used by some primary and secondary educational institutions to encourage the development of electronic information literacy skills. Two schools were selected to form the case study focus. The first case study was based at Girralang Primary School in the Australian Capital Territory and Felsted School in the United Kingdom became the second case study subject.

1.2.3 Phase Three

Phase three sought to expand on the information gathered during the phase two case studies. Current literature concerning the use of Internet technologies and strategies was reviewed and an explanation of how these concepts are applicable to users of a school-based Intranet was given. Furthermore, phase three uses a series of key information technology outcomes to address how the strategies can serve to prepare students for the technological challenges of the future.

1.3 Limitations of the Study

The help guide produced during phase one of the research was originally intended to form the basis of a case study which would see a nominated school use the package to develop their own Intranet. The research would then be able to investigate how the subject school was using the Intranet to:

1. overcome some of the problems associated with the Internet

2. teach electronic information literacy skills

For the case study to benefit the research it was necessary for the chosen school to implement and develop their Intranet within the set time of six months. Several candidates were considered for the case study, however, none of the schools could guarantee that the six month time frame would be adhered to.

Without a case study school to trial the help guide, the developmental procedure was incomplete. The development of the product now became limited to feedback from small scale field testing among individual volunteers rather than the grand scale dissemination which an entire school may have offered. Despite the limitations a decision was made to proceed with the development of the Intranet guide with the understanding that it would not be used to form the basis of the case study. Instead, the case study focused on two schools who are considered by many to be at the leading edge of school-based Intranet technology. Girralang Primary School in the Australian Capital Territory and Felsted School in the UK were contacted and expressed willingness to share their experiences as case study subjects.