As schools become networked to transfer data between administrative offices and classrooms, many are finding that setting up an intranet–a private, internet-based network–is the best way to offer a secure, consistent, and integrated environment in which to collaborate and communicate information school-wide.
Vista Associates, of Wayland, Mass., offers a simple but powerful tool to set up and administer a school intranet. Called Compass K-12, the product has templates for creating web pages, importing class and student information, and setting end-user privileges.
Compass K-12 is organized into four areas: My Space, Courses, Campus, and Public. “My Space” provides a private area for each user, including a personal home page that can include images and web links; a private storage area for digital documents and files; and automatic eMail notification about new postings in user-selected areas of the intranet.
“Courses” provides a single place for information on course content and activities, including class directories, syllabi, and related information. Assignments can be submitted, graded, and tracked online, and a voting function that automatically tallies results can be used for class surveys or quizzes. Faculty can address eMail to students enrolled in a particular course with a single keystroke.
The “Campus” section is intended to share non course-related information with the rest of the school. School-wide announcements appear instantly in the announcements area, while a calendar section shows events organized by day or month. A discussion section lets students and faculty participate in and start topical discussions, and an online newspaper template lets you publish your school newspaper online as well.
The “Public” section lets you publish and easily update school information to the world wide web for parents and other community members to see without having to learn HTML programming. You can choose Campus data from the calendar or announcements areas to publish with one keystroke, and exemplary student work can be showcased in a Gallery area.
Compass K-12 can be customized to reflect the look and feel of each school. A system of security privileges allows for a secure, structured means for the entire school community to work and learn together. Users can access Compass K-12 with a standard browser and a password.
Compass K-12 runs on Windows NT servers. Pricing is $5 per user per year, but if bought by large school districts, pricing can go down as far as $2 per user per year. This price includes consulting and assistance from Vista Associates.
The latest generation of school administrative software is using the power of the web to give parents real-time access to grades and attendance. One of the best new products in this area is a web-based school management system called PowerSchool, from the Sacramento, Calif., company of the same name.
PowerSchool lets you track student transcripts, report cards, attendance, discipline, and more. With PowerSchool, students can keep up to date on their progress; parents can access current data in real time, 24 hours a day; teachers can record grades and attendance easily and efficiently; and district administrators can have immediate, centralized access to any student’s records, as well as school- and district-wide reports.
As teachers use the cross-platform gradebook to keep grades and take attendance, this information is communicated electronically to the PowerSchool system, where authorized users have access to it. Parents can find out how their children are doing on a continual basis by using the internet or PowerSchool’s automated telephone system. The software can also send electronic progress reports to parents via eMail on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis.
A virtually unlimited number of student fields can be added to the software’s demographics file. Because the system is based on web technology and browser access, every PowerSchool screen is an HTML document that can be modified or customized easily using any common web page editor. And because the system is accessed through a web browser, it supports all major computing platforms for all users equally.
PowerSchool is available for a base price per school of $4,000 to $8,000, depending on the number of schools or students in the district.
Schools using the internet in the classroom face the challenge of keeping students safe from harmful or distracting web sites, while focusing them on relevant material chosen by the teacher. Novell Inc., of Provo, Utah, has introduced a software application designed to do just that. Called Web Lessons, it lets teachers manage the vast resources of the internet by helping them prepare and deliver tailored lessons using specific information from the web.
Web Lessons is Novell’s first product targeted specifically for the education market. A cross-platform, Java-based application, Web Lessons relies upon Novell’s NDS directory technology and BorderManager security management suite to set up user profiles for each lesson and block access to irrelevant web sites.
Through a point-and-click, web-based interface, teachers can develop internet lessons that incorporate specific web pages or sites, while denying access to all other sites except the ones they choose. Teachers can even designate which students have access to what lessons, so they can easily create a variety of lessons designed for different students.
When students log on to the school’s network and choose the appropriate lesson, a main menu shows the lesson goal and provides a list of concepts and related web links for each concept. Students are just a click away from exploring the best the web has to offer, while being kept focused on the lesson at hand.
Web Lessons runs on Novell’s NetWare network operating system and supports teacher workstations with Windows 95 or Mac OS 8.0 or higher. The software is priced at $595 per 500-user, single-server license, or it can be purchased via a School License Agreement of 50 cents per student per year. Novell is offering a special promotional price of $495 per 500-user, single-server license until July 15.
BAIR Filtering System
Another new product designed to manage students’ use of the internet relies on artificial intelligence to block inappropriate sites. The Basic Artificial Intelligence Routine (BAIR) Filtering System, from an Elmira, N.Y., company called Exotrope Inc., is the only filtering solution that can “learn” with each evaluation of a web site, according to its makers.
The BAIR Filtering System consists of a web browser in conjunction with proprietary software that uses artificial intelligence to instantly recognize, evaluate, and block inappropriate content, Exotrope said. When a web page is requested, the software determines whether images or text contained on the site should appear on the computer screen, based on the filtering level–Standard or Ultra–pre-set by the system administrator.
The BAIR System’s artificial intelligence sets it apart from other internet filters, Exotrope said, which place web sites behind firewalls, monitor students’ surfing habits, or otherwise rely on human interaction to prevent access to sites deemed inappropriate. With its proprietary filter, BAIR can even block new pornography sites, “clean” sites that have been hacked into and defiled, and pornographic sites disguised under unassuming names or categories, according to its makers.
The software can be installed on a school district’s network for distribution to all workstations. Initially, the software supports only PC platforms, but a Macintosh version will be available later this summer. For schools, the monthly licensing fee is 10 cents per workstation per day.
One effective way to keep students from either maliciously or inadvertently installing unwanted files, accessing restricted files, or changing system settings is to deploy public access and control software. CybraryN, from the New York company Computers by Design, provides system administrators with state-of-the-art tools to reduce maintenance of Windows-based PCs while controlling students’ access to them.
CybraryN includes multiple time control features that let you switch access to machines on and off, as needed. You can apply the controls to specific users or applications only or to the entire system, and you can set them according to start and end times of the school day or individual lab session. You can also set the controls to shut off access to a computer after a pre-determined time of inactivity has elapsed.
With newly integrated support for both Windows NT and Novell NetWare, CybraryN provides customizable security levels for any number of user groups. Each desktop can be individually configured or grouped into specialty configurations. The software also tracks and monitors computer usage, and it can produce statistical reports on who has been using what applications.
At press time, a site license of CybraryN was available starting at $199.95.