PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOL-BASED INTRANETS

Pete Humbert

CHAPTER 3

PHASE TWO: CASE STUDY OF TWO SCHOOLS

3.1 Introduction

The second phase of the study documents 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. To reveal best practice, two schools were selected to form a case study focus both of whom had established reputations as leading innovators in the field of school-based Intranet technology. Each school had received public acclaim, either in journal articles, newspaper reports or had been given favourable reviews from several Perth-based academic personnel. The first case study was made of Girralang Primary School in the Australian Capital Territory and Felsted School in the United Kingdom formed the second case study subject.

The case study content has been drawn from a number of different sources. Technical manuals produced for users of the school networks, and magazine and newspaper articles characterising the exploits of each school were the primary sources of information. Face-to-face, professional visits were arranged with the key personnel from both schools and details were gathered via interviews on these occasions. Follow-up via Email communication served to reinforce and extend the case study content. Additional content was drawn from Internet sites featuring the case study schools.

The content of each case study has been divided into three areas of concentration. The first section accounts for the historical development of the school Intranet, the second section examines how their Intranet is employed to encourage electronic literacy skills among students while the third section identifies how the Intranet is engaged to facilitate administrative duties. Figure 3.1 shows an outline of each case study structure.

3.2 The First Case Study School: Giralang Primary

3.2.1 Introduction to Giralang Primary School

Situated in the northern suburbs of Canberra, Giralang Primary has been an educationally innovative school since its opening in 1977. Currently Giralang supports an enrolment of 250 students. The school’s curriculum is based on eight Key Learning areas which are addressed in an integrated way with the primary emphasis being literacy, numeracy and information literacy in a multi-age teaching and learning environment. The school Home Page can be found on the World Wide Web at: http://giralangps.act.edu.au/

Greg Smith is a teacher at Giralang who was appointed as an Information Technology (IT) coordinator at the school in 1995. Previously, Smith had been a teacher at nearby Hall Primary School where he had taken the initiative to install a Bulletin Board System (BBS) on the school network. Smith, the prodigy behind the creation of the Giralang Intranet, “... installed cable in every classroom and took the existing Internet single dial-up account and turned it into a Local Area Network - all within a strict budget” (Apple Education News, 1997, p6).


Figure 3.1: Case Study Framework


3.2.2 Historical Development of the Giralang Intranet

To understand how the Giralang Intranet evolved to its current status it is necessary to consider the factors which brought about its origin.

3.2.2.1 The Need for an Intranet

Upon returning from a nearby conference, the principal of Giralang Primary, Helen Cant, expressed her interest in establishing a school-based Bulletin Board System (BBS) that would provide staff and students with an internal mail service. Smith was quick to respond and within a matter of weeks the BBS was fully operational. The staff and students were promptly shown how to operate the BBS to communicate with other members of the learning community. Student lists were established, allowing groups of children to work collaboratively on projects such as the school newsletter. The principal used the BBS to post daily reminders to her staff and in turn, her staff used the BBS to reply to these messages.

Cant explains the issues which influenced her decision to adopt a school-based Intranet system:

“Given that one of the three school focuses being information literacy and the shift to resource-based learning , requiring students to be effective users of information, the time had come to confront the following issues:

(Cant, 1997, p20)

 

The Giralang BBS had improved communication between all members of the learning community. The enthusiastic principal, who had realised the potential of a school-based BBS and initiated its development now encouraged Smith to investigate other avenues of network evolution. He decided to incorporate the language of the Internet, Transmission Controlled Protocol (TCP), which would allow the Local Area Network (LAN) to simulate the features of the Internet.

3.2.2.2 Equipment Available at Outset

When Smith first arrived at Giralang Primary the school had 22 Mac LC II (4/40) computers, 2 Mac Classics and a lab of Apple II E computers. All machines were connected to a LAN using LocalTalk and had common access to a shared printer. Smith is quick to point out the reason why Macintosh computers became the logical choice for establishing effective networking at Giralang. His reasons include the built-in LocalTalk capability; which allows for easy and cost effective networking, the Web software available for the platform; which is highly developed and user-friendly, the efficiency of TCP; which allows even the older machines to be integrated onto the Intranet, and the multimedia strengths of the platform; which allows Internet and Intranet users to develop creative and satisfying content.

3.2.2.3 Staff Development Needs

Cant states that the implementation of a school Intranet requires careful planning and that the role of the administrator is vital if the venture is to be successful. “Principals do not have to be technos in order to be innovative in using the Internet/Intranet for teaching and administration but must be willing to empower others, not walk away from its decentralising power...” (Cant, 1997, p21). To empower her staff, Cant dissolved the position of a sole IT coordinator, replacing the role with a team approach toward IT.

Staff were encouraged to use the BBS from early on in its conception. By posting the daily reminders to the BBS, the principal compelled the staff to access and use a computer each day. “From here it was a natural progression in acquiring skills to Email and surf the Internet using Netscape...” (Cant, 1997, p21). To support her staff, Cant ensured school funding was made available to provide professional development to those staff most in need. Additional funding was provided by the University of Canberra who had adopted the school as a model and used its facilities to instruct trainee teachers how to use Intranet technology to enhance their teaching, learning and administration. Cant claims that within a twelve month period (since the conception of the school-wide BBS), every member of staff was computer literate. New staff members were supported by the network of computer literate staff who quickly trained and familiarised them with the Giralang Intranet.

3.2.3 How is the Intranet being used to facilitate student learning?

The evolutionary path of Giralang Intranet was strategically planned to provide more than just an alternate medium for school-wide communication. Students were expected benefit as the Intranet would use the safety and security of the LAN to provide them with improved access and understanding of the resources available on the Internet.

One of the primary uses of the Intranet at Giralang is to host whacked (downloaded) Web sites. As the school has limited access to the Internet, WebWhacking relevant sites increased the speed and reliability with which the children could peruse the information. In this manner, the staff of Giralang Primary are able to supervise and control student access to materials available on the Web itself.

The Giralang Intranet is used to host graphics and information pertaining to current areas of student research. Teachers are able to add items to the growing archive and are therefore able to provide their students with resources appropriate to the current classroom topics. Using Structured Query Language (SQL), Smith has been able to endow the Intranet with a search engine which simplifies the process of graphical and information retrieval. To simplify the retrieval process further still, staff often use the Intranet to guide student research with special question pages and online assignments linking them directly to the appropriate Intranet resources.

Student work samples are also placed on the Giralang Intranet for others to share. Previously, the children have presented their finished product using a paper medium. Paper-based presentations are now over-shadowed by the full colour, multi-media capabilities of Web-based productions. Children at Giralang are shown how to create their own Web pages using a combination of applications ranging from image processors to text editors, the products of which are integrated to form a Web page using a HTML editor such as Claris Home Page (see Figure 3.2).

Figure 3.2: Student HomePage: Sample

Templates and standard forms created in the text editors, Claris Works and Microsoft Word, are also available to students. Smith recognises the time that is saved by providing such documents as well as its contribution to the sharing of information across the school. For example, the Giralang school newsletter (print-based) which is created using Claris Works, has a standard layout which is applied to each edition. Sharing the school newsletter template on the Intranet gives students easy and direct access to the file which they can then download at the click of a button.

3.2.4 How is the Intranet Being Used to Facilitate School Administration?

Although primarily used for school-wide communication, and for students to research and publish their work, the Giralang Intranet plays host to another dimension which allows it to be used as an electronic behavioural management tool. Perhaps the most powerful feature of the Intranet-based, behavioural management tool is the Web-interfaced database which permits teachers to log in (password protected) to query and/or contribute to the student behavioural records using a simple Web browser stationed on any machine connected to the Intranet (Figures 3.3 & 3.4). Teachers are encouraged to record incidents of positive and negative behaviour in both the classroom and playground. Using a FileMaker Pro database, the administrative staff are able to collate the data and consequently gather trends and assess needs at a glance.

In addition to the database, the Giralang Intranet is also used to manage student behaviour by hosting :

Dr Robert Long, of the University of Canberra has observed the progression of the Giralang Intranet and claims the use of the Intranet to facilitate the behaviour modification programme “...increased the positive relationship of staff with individual students” and “...assisted executive staff to assess the tone of the school and developments in various sections of the school life” (http://crilt.canberra.edu.au/Intranets/issues/behaviour.html).

Figure 3.3: Behaviour Management Database, Sample 1

Figure 3.4: Behaviour Management Database, Sample 2

3.2.5 Future Directions for the School

The Giralang Primary Intranet has received much publicity and has been heralded as a paradigm for other schools to follow. Long agrees when he states “Giralang sets forth a model of computer management which is cost effective and increases student access to Internet technology” (http://crilt.canberra.edu.au/Intranets/issues/behaviour.html). Smith has a very clear vision for the future of the Giralang Intranet. Hardware including the purchase or leasing of new workstations and extending the existing network to encompass more isolated areas of the school into the network culture are just two of Smith’s plans for the next phase of development. The staff will require perpetual support guided by a teamwork ethos. Duty statements may be written to attract new staff who are motivated and keen to integrate technology into their teaching role. An annual professional development plan will be sought to keep the staff up-to-date with the ongoing evolution of their Intranet.

3.3 The Second Case Study School: Felsted School

3.3.1 Introduction to Felsted School

Founded in 1564, Felsted School is an independent school situated half-way between London and Cambridge. With an enrolment of 500 students, Felsted avails itself to males and females between the ages of four and eighteen. There is a large population of boarding students at Felsted with up to 80% of the secondary students living on the campus. The home page for Felsted School can be found on the World Wide Web at: http://www.rmplc.co.uk/eduweb/sites/felsted/

Felsted’s claims to fame are numerous. Of particular notoriety is the school-wide network which was first laid in 1980. “Felsted School has one of the largest, oldest and most comprehensively used schools networks in the world. The network was first developed over ten years ago...” (Dawkins, 1995c, p329). Chris Dawkins, Head of Information Technologies at Felsted since that time, has supervised the entire project from its conception through to its existing form.

3.3.2 Historical Development of the Felsted Intranet

To truly assess the scope of the Felsted Intranet, it is appropriate to consider the circumstances from which the network emerged.

3.3.2.1 The Need for an Intranet

Prior to 1980, Felsted School had already established itself amongst the vanguard of schools with a curriculum emphasising the teaching of computer technology. Students who excelled in the area were encouraged to extend their learning by completing projects which enhanced their ability to problem solve and ultimately added further functionality to the school’s computers. Students wrote software to improve operating systems while others investigated the realm of computer networks. In 1980 plans were made to build a network connecting the existing machines with Econet cabling. The Felsted staff and students developed the appropriate materials together by building the necessary network cards and writing their own network primitives.
The Felsted Intranet is considered by Dawkins to be "home-made: being a boarding school operating on a 24-hour 7-day basis where there are many pupils who have become adept at programming and have written many of our applications” (personal communication, August 9, 1998). The concept of building an Intranet into the existing network infrastructure was favoured by the staff as it would serve two valuable outcomes. Closely involving the students in the development process would provide a unique opportunity for them to experience real-life problem solving using the medium of computer technology. Additionally, the presence of the Intranet would serve to improve school-wide communication, helping to forge a networked learning community, bringing the staff and students closer together.

3.3.2.2 Equipment Available at Outset


Unlike Giralang Primary, Felsted School was fortunate to have much of the network infrastructure already in place when the decision to establish an Intranet was made. Rapid progress had been made since the first network cables were laid in 1980. By May 1981 there was over a kilometre of active network, and by 1994 this had extended to more than six kilometres, linking 200 machines in 25 buildings. Originally Econet-based, the network was updated to include Ethernet in 1990.

Dawkins claims that “...during the past 20 years we (Felsted School) have been criticised by some for using out-of-date or non-industry standard machines - an Elliot 803 for four years, Nascom machines for three then BBC machines for thirteen - plus Archimedes machines for the last seven” (personal communication, August 18, 1998). The Felsted Intranet itself was configured in the mid-1980s using BBC computers as client machines connected by a Modular Disc FileServer which was built specifically for the school by a local computer company. As the Intranet expanded, existing machines were integrated, adding further functionality to the Felsted Intranet.

3.3.3 How is the Intranet Being Used to Facilitate Student Learning?

The philosophy behind the Felsted Intranet has not been to teach computing: “...it has instead, been to make so much use of computers throughout all aspects of school life that pupils learn about them” (Dawkins, 1995b, p.1). The staff planned their network believing that “... although computers are used for curriculum purposes, they are much more substantially used outside the classroom and it is through this usage that most computer education takes place” (Dawkins, 1995b, p.1).

The Email facilities on the Felsted Intranet are used widely by both staff and students. Staff frequently send Email to their students for a variety of reasons. Consequently, all students are expected to be able to check their mail account on a regular basis. Dawkins asserts that forced-exposure to network mail alone has taught the children about multi-user systems, networks, passwords, logging in and logging out, saving, loading and printing files, and about the effects of various faults.

In England, timed local calls have made Internet access a costly exercise according to Dawkins. Internet access is particularly slow during the hours of 12pm to 3pm. At Felsted this has meant the introduction of restricted access to the World Wide Web. Students may log onto the Intranet at any time, however, may only connect to the Internet during specified time periods. The Intranet contains a timetable informing the students when they may and may not access the Internet.

“The provision of word processing/DTP facilities to pupils is a major part of the way I try to fulfil our obligation to ‘deliver’ the IT competence that HM Government and our parents expect” (Dawkins, 1995a, p.5). The staff of Felsted School believe that due to the Governmental and parental expectations, students should be required to do a proportion of their school work on a computer. For the most-part, the Felsted students use word processing applications to publish work which would normally be handwritten. Dawkins praises this technique and justifies its potential to assist students who have been identified as dyslexic. “Some of these pupils have never produced a high-quality document in their lives because redrafting by hand may introduce as many errors as it corrects... but a computer can steadily improve a document to perfection... which is good for their self confidence” (Dawkins, 1995a, p.5).

Dawkins recalls his surprise at the amount of social and moral education that developed as a result of the Felsted Intranet. “It was a communal resource that could be enhanced by the responsible or destroyed by the antisocial” (Dawkins, 1995c). Making specific reference to the school noticeboard (Figure 3.5), Dawkins recollects the efforts made by some students to sabotage messages posted by their peers. Although reprimanded for their actions, the presence of the school-wide Chat and mail systems provided “...lots more opportunity for people to be socially responsible... and this was all highly educational on the ethical front” (personal communication, August 10, 1998).

3.3.4 How is the Intranet Being Used to Facilitate School Administration?

One of the most dynamic features of the Felsted Intranet is termed the noticeboard. The noticeboard is a system which allows staff and students to post notices to a teletext server which are then broadcast school-wide. A number of terminals around the school, which have been placed in prominent positions, display the constantly up-dated information. Messages to the teletext server are displayed in one of four areas on the screen. The school principal and deputy have been allocated passwords which allow them to post announcements in the uppermost section. Teachers may post to either the Common Room, Sports or General areas, while students are restricted to posting messages to the unpassworded, General area only. (Figure 3.5)

Figure 3.5: The Felsted Teletext Noticeboard

 

The Felsted Intranet has several security features which enable Dawkins to supervise the entire network from the safety and comfort of his own domicile. The main computer room is monitored by a matchbox-sized, monochrome video camera which is mounted in one corner of the room and connected to an A310 computer equipped with a digitising card. A picture is taken every five minutes and stored on a server which then shares the images with users of the school Intranet. (Figure 3.6).

Figure 3.6: The Felsted Computer Room Surveillance Camera


An additional security feature is facilitated through a program written by one of Felsted’s students. The Door/window system logs the opening and closing of the doors which provide access to the Computer Center (Figure 3.7).

Figure 3.7: The Felsted Door/Window System

A Finger Program was written by one of the student programmers to alleviate the problem of users logging onto the network using the password details of their peers. This system gave each member of staff and each student the ability to check when their account was last used. The data produced by the Finger Program provided valuable information for the system administrators as they were now able to detect and monitor users of the Intranet and Internet facilities (Figure 3.8).

Figure 3.8: The Felsted Finger Program


Databases are a dominating feature on the Felsted Intranet. Archives such as the San/absence system provide teaching staff with fast and easy access to “...check up on the absence/off-ex records for individual students” (Dawkins, 1995a, p.12). The system, which is available on password authorisation from any machine connected to the Intranet, allows staff to report a student’s absence from classes and find out if there is some approved reason for the absence. All of the data is logged and once collated by the school administrative team provides a comprehensive analysis of student absentee trends.

Yet another example of the student programming contribution to the Felsted Intranet is the RP.A4 reporting system. The RP.A4 reporting system allows staff to write their reports online. Alternatively, provision has been made for teachers to access a library of word-processing templates which can be downloaded and completed. Among the template archive are a number of report forms available in a variety of word processing formats.

The Felsted newsletter is available on both the school Intranet and Internet site. Using the mailing facilities of the Intranet staff and students work collaboratively to complete the newsletters. Perhaps the major benefit of producing electronic newsletters is the potential for distribution to a wider audience and unlike their paper-based counterparts can be safely archived and recalled at the click of a button. Each issue is archived on the Felsted school Internet site where parents, alumni and other visitors to the site can be brought up-to-date on the most recent news from the school (Figure 3.9).

Figure 3.9: The Felsted School Newsletter

3.3.5 Future Directions for the School


The Felsted Intranet is currently comprised of many BBC machines, some of which are in excess of ten years old. The BBCs have served the Intranet reliably for many years, however, recent changes in the computer industry have forced Felsted to consider integrating up-dated machinery. The machinery up-grade has not been without its pitfalls. Chris Dawkins states, “... there are many problems still to be solved, but the main one is to make the system run as fast on PC, Macintosh and Archimedes machines as it does on BBCs” (http://www.rmplc.co.uk/eduweb/sites/felsted/english/net.html).

The Felsted network has matured to its current standard courtesy of a vision which saw student computer programmers working collaboratively with staff members to identify the needs of the Intranet, problem solve solutions, and design and install the necessary software. A similar approach in the years to come will further the functionally of the Felsted Intranet.

3.4 Summary


At a first glance, both school Intranets appear very similar to one another. They are, however, decidedly different in their intended purpose. The Giralang Intranet was designed as a mechanism with which to control student Internet access, offering a simulation where the children can experience the features of the WWW in a safe and secure environment. On the other hand, the Felsted Intranet was originally designed to create opportunities for budding student programmers to apply their talents, and as a result improve communication between staff and students.

The complexity of both Intranets is likewise disparate. Being significantly older, the Felsted network is a maze of file servers, switches, hubs, cables and network cards which requires two full-time technicians to maintain. Fortunately, Dawkins, the original pioneer, has remained at Felsted. His knowledge of the Intranet is vital when the need to trouble-shoot system complications or plan for network expansion arises. Considerably less elaborate is the Giralang Intranet which is maintained by a team of teaching-staff. Its simplistic nature allows any member of staff to create and share interactive documents relative to their classroom needs. The Giralang Intranet requires less maintenance than Felsted, yet its performance is indeed worthy of its relative.

At Giralang the staff encourage their students to contribute to the knowledge base of the Intranet by publishing and sharing their work. Student centred projects, galleries of art work and photographs engage the children in online collaborative learning. In comparison, the educational benefits offered by the Felsted school Intranet are not immediately obvious. Even with the facilities for staff to encourage shared learning, their Intranet is not widely used in this capacity. Instead, the Felsted Intranet has become a research and development tool, whereby students may explore the possibilities of network technology, writing suitable scripts and programs aimed at adding functionality to the infrastructure. Most of the student designed Intranet additives have served to improve campus-wide communications or enhance the administrative features.

There are a number of reasons which may explain the distinct differences between each of the two school Intranets:

 

The case studies have served to highlight the manner in which Intranets are being used to enhance communication, teaching and learning, and administration in two educational environments. After comparing the two case study subjects a universal recommendation has emerged. To be of benefit to an educational institution an Intranet need not be of grandiose scale. It need not have expensive hardware nor be comprised of elaborate software. To be successful an Intranet should be user-friendly, accessible from various points throughout the school and supported by adequate professional development.