Administering a school network means selecting a server operating system, and in the K-12 world two heavyweights are fighting it out to see who will dominate this growing market.

Novell has been the traditional leader. A study by CCA Consulting found that in the 1995-96 school year, showed Novell’s NetWare beating out AppleShare, Microsoft’s Windows NT Server, and UNIX.

Today the preference ratios have shifted: Novell’s NetWare has dropped to 54 percent, AppleShare to 30 percent, and UNIX has dwindled to 5 percent. Windows NT, on the other hand, has almost doubled its base Ð capturing nearly half (46 percent) of the K-12 market.

Novell

Novell’s penetration into the educational network administration market is declining, but it’s still pretty deep. NetWare proponents like its directory and replication services, application launcher, and caching and security features.

In the Phoenix (Ariz.) Elementary School District, network technician LaRhea Russell administers a 19-site Novell-based network with more than 30 wide area network (WAN) file servers and nearly 1000 stations.

“There’s only one of me,” Russell said. “In the Novell world, I can manage it. If I had to administer 19 sites with [Windows] NT, I’d never get it to work.”

Novell products work together to simplify network administration. Novell Directory Services (NDS) automates such network tasks as managing and controlling networkwide access to eMail and application software.

The Novell Application Launcher (NAL), a part of ManageWise lets an administrator load new applications for the entire network at one location instead of having to upgrade PCs individually. ManageWise also enables remote monitoring and troubleshooting across the network. Novell IntranetWare simplifies the administration of districtwide internet access. Novell’s BorderManager provides firewall security and speeds up classroom internet access with its FastCache feature.

Novell offers special pricing for schools. Licenses for 250 users for IntraNetWare, BorderManager, and GroupWise cost approximately $995 each. For more information about Novell and its networking products, see the Novell web site.

Windows NT

Ameritech network analyst Christopher Urban was a technology coordinator with the first educational network implementation in the North Chicago Community School District #187. His NOS of choice was Ð and still is Ð Microsoft Windows NT Server. Urban likes that NT works with other Microsoft applications to provide what he calls an “integrated solution.”

“Five years ago I took time out to look at the market and decided NT knew what they were doing,” Urban said. Novell lacks the integration with other Windows-based software offered by NT, and while the Macintosh platform AppleShare is “easy to use,” it’s not really suitable for districtwide use on a mutli-platform network running both Macs and PCs, Urban said.

Other advantages are attributable to NT’s tight integration with a whole range of Microsoft operating system and networking products:

Systems Management Server (SMS) lets users install software, track software licenses, and handle troubleshooting for all networked computers from a central location. Internet Information Server (IIS) allows users to create an account and enable both eMail and internet access at the same time. Proxy-server capability lets users control access to the internet.

Microsoft offers academic pricing for its networking products. Visit the web site or call your local reseller for more information.

new network protocol

School networks come in various guises. “Network” can refer to a instructional group using AppleShare or an administrative local area network (LAN) set up to access student information from a mainframe computer. District-wide networks (commonly called wide area networks, or WANs) can enable communications across geographic and functional boundaries and provide high-speed building access to the internet.

In any of these cases, the network is useful only when it ultimately contributes to student learning. “It’s not about what vendor we should we go with. It’s about ubiquitous access and giving kids whatever they need to become successful,” said network analyst Christopher Urban.

Schools Ð aided and abetted by the government Ð are spending vast amounts of money getting networked. But many are still wondering, “How does networking technology help students become successful?”

Streamlining learning

“The network facilitates the educational process,” said Robert Kenyan, director of technology network administrator of St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, Fla. St. Andrew’s, an independent Episcopal school of 600 students from grades 6-12, runs a 300-device network. The structure consists of seven Compaq file servers, a Cisco router, a Windows NT web and eMail server, and about 150 workstations and printers.

The school has six computer labs: three for the high school and three for the middle school. Each lab has 20 Pentium computers, and a networked computer sits on each teacher’s desk.

The network is like a faster, easier electronic “mimic” of the normal structure of the nonelectronic world, Kenyan said. Like a “real-world” classroom, the network has public and private areas. Every student and teacher has a personal login account that provides access to individual directories, or reserved file storage areas. Just as teachers traditionally have the right to review a student’s notebook, teachers in networked classrooms have the right to access student files, where they can evaluate and comment on a student’s work.

In “public” areas, teachers who want to share information with other teachers may post in a special directory that cannot be accessed by students. In addition to their individual private directories, students also have a public area for posting items that are to be passed on to other students.

The network significantly affects the way teachers structure and execute curriculum, Kenyan said: “The instructional paradigm has shifted. When students can get on a listserv and start discussing a Shakespearean play with people across the country or across the world, you can no longer present educational content as something between the front cover and the back cover of the textbook.

“You can no longer slam the door and present yourself as the “sage on the stage,'” Kenyan said, repeating an oft-heard mantra in education reform. “You have to become the ‘guide on the side.'”

Appropriate use

Across the country schools are having debates about acceptable-use policies, spurred by the increase in networking. Networking means your students could potentially be exposed to the unregulated internet. The debate on Capitol Hill right now is about exactly this issue: What’s the best way to protect the vast numbers of schoolchildren who will have access to the internet through increased government funding?

There are two schools of thought. One, typified by Kenyan’s district, holds that students must learn responsibility in the new multimedia environment, a necessity that teachers can turn into learning opportunities.

“One of the most important things we can teach is responsibility,” Kenyan said. “Students know they shouldn’t bring a copy of Penthouse to class. Why should you have to tell them about accessing inappropriate web sites?”

St. Andrew’s relies on an “appropriate use” internet policy, which the students seem to take seriously. And it appears to be working. “For the most part, students appreciate the fast internet access that is available to them,” Kenyan said. “They don’t want to lose the privilege.”

Others see internet filtering and blocking software as the only surefire way to control what students are able to view on the web. Joe Meadors, district technology coordinator for the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township (Indiana) uses this approach.

“You wouldn’t present traditional printed or audiovisual material in your classroom that you had not read or previewed,” said Meadors. “Turning kids loose on the internet is like taking a field trip to the video store and saying, ‘Here, go in and look at what you want.’ We wouldn’t do that as teachers.”

At Pike, teachers have full internet access. Student access is determined on a building-by-building basis. Teachers in each building select only sites that are age- and curriculum level-appropriate for their students. “This has put our teachers in their comfort zone,” said Meadors,” and upped classroom use of the internet dramatically.”

Whether or not you choose to use filtering software, there are some sound guidelines that will help reduce irresponsible behavior in the classroom. Always have an adult in any room where students are accessing the internet, and pay attention to the layout of the networked classroom.

“Physical design is very important,” said Kenyan. St. Andrew’s configures every computer classroom so that a teacher in the center can view every monitor. “If you put a kid in a little cubbyhole by himself, you’re just asking for him to get himself into trouble,” said Kenyan.