Va. school district safely connect libraries to internet.
Lee County School District, with more than 4,100 students in 13 K-12 schools, is one of the poorest districts in Virginia. Tucked into the westernmost corner of the state, right on the Tennessee border, Lee County has a composite index of 17 percent, mean mg the county is expected to pay only 17 percent of the cost of educating its children.
To cope with rising costs and declining state funding, the district needed an inexpensive source of teaching materials. The solution? Installing a wide area network (WAN) to link its school libraries and setting up a Proxy Server to ensure quick and economical Internet access. As an added bonus, the Proxy Server enables the schools to monitor activity and block access to inappropriate Web sites.
The district overcame its financial hurdles with technical support from Educational Technology, LLC; a WAN connection from Bell Atlantic; a technology grant from Virginia; and creative planning by a committee of parents, teachers and administrators. It obtained the Proxy Server (and Internet access) from Microsoft Corp.
In 1995, just about the time Lee County was looking for ways to connect its schools to the Internet, the state of Virginia allocated the county $350,000 for technological expenditures. There was only one catch: the school had to use the money to automate all school libraries in the district before it could spend funds on other technology, such as Internet access.
According to parent advocate Paul Elswick, a technology consultant at Educational Technology, LLC, the typical library management solution involves installing a local area network (LAN) running K-12 library management software in every school. The problem with this strategy was that two K-7 schools in Lee County have fewer than 100 students. "It's not very cost-effective to put a LAN in small schools that don't have many books to start with," says Elswick.
Instead, the district investigated establishing a WAN that would tie all the schools together. In the past, Bell Atlantic had partnered with Lee County to set tip fully interactive fiberoptic classrooms that connected its two high schools to a community college, enabling an instructor to teach students at all three sites from a single location. Lee County officials determined that a traditional leased-line WAN from the company would exceed their budget. However, when Bell Atlantic installed a public frame-relay WAN for Southwest Virginia, the district signed on as the first customer at a significantly lower cost. Bell Atlantic also installed wiring to connect every building in the county Over a WAN.
Because all the school libraries were to be linked by a WAN, the district needed to find a client/server library tracking system. Officials found the available systems for WANs to be either too difficult to manage or too expensive, so Elswick contacted Alan Hughes, a Microsoft Certified Product Specialist, to develop a client/server library management software system from scratch. Hughes provided the technical expertise, and Lee County media specialists provided the library science background.
In developing the application, Hughes suggested that Lee County make its public-access library catalog a Web page on the Internet and on the district's intranet. That way, the schools could still use their numerous older Personal computers, which couldn't handle client software, to access the school libraries through simple Web browsers. "Any computer that can run a browser can have access to all 13 of the libraries from anywhere in the school system," notes Hughes.
District personnel next had to tackle the matter of setting up Internet connections for all the schools. Prior to the WAN, schools relied on a few dial-up accounts, which could not efficiently accommodate a large number of users. Luckily, a staff member stumbled upon a beta version of the Microsoft Proxy Server. In contrast to the "direct connect" method of hooking desktops to the Internet, the Proxy Server provides a single point of management for all of an organization's Internet connectivity.
"For a great deal less money than the cost of setting up 10 dial-up lines and maintaining them, you could easily put a server into a school, and put in an ISDN line and Proxy Server," Hughes observes. With the Proxy Server installed, Lee County could deliver Internet access to all users at 13 schools through one secure 256K link. Equally important are the Proxy Server monitoring and filtering capabilities, which enable network administrators to block access to inappropriate Web sites.
"To start with, we just monitored what was going on," explains Hughes. Originally the information was logged into a text file and loaded into a database that Hughes reviewed weekly. Then Hughes began to develop a list of IP addresses and domain names to which administrators could deny access. The system uses Hughes' own program, which collects inappropriate site addresses to be filtered out and automatically loads them into the Proxy Server registry every night. Even with the automated filtering, network administrators are vigilant about monitoring use. They have a log-monitoring program that permits them to query by various parameters to help ensure that students do not access other, unregistered inappropriate sites.
Because Proxy Server integrates tightly with the Microsoft Windows NT Server network operating system, it can be centrally managed from a remote site. Lee County officials set up just one IP address along with private
Internet addresses for each of its 324 client computers, This configuration simplifies administration of the WAN and allows administrators to move computers from school to school without having to reconfigure them each time.
The Lee County system averages about 30,000 hits per day. However, on some days during the week the system registers twice that many hits between 7:30 A.M. and 3:30 P.M. Proxy Server stores frequently accessed Internet data on the server where users can bring it up without actually going on the Internet. This way, the district can handle even this high capacity without adding bandwidth to its existing Internet connection. In addition, teachers can prepare for their classes by loading sites into the cache before students arrive to class.
The integration of Proxy with the user authentication feature of Microsoft Windows NT enables network administrators to restrict access by user name or group affiliation. This means the school district can easily restrict access to certain protocols or from certain schools. In an extreme situation, school administrators could turn off student access to the Internet altogether and make it available to the teachers only. Proxy Server also prevents unauthorized users outside the school district from connecting to Lee County's private network. On its intranet, the county runs EduQuest software, which stores student information.
With all these benefits, the cost per student is surprisingly reasonable, Elswick estimates that unlimited Internet access, e-mail, interlibrary access, and a delivery system for school news costs the Lee County School District just a little over a dollar per student per month. Since the project started as a library automation solution, the librarians at all 13 schools collaborated and decided to pool their budgets to make it work.
Ultimately, Lee County expects to place enough computers in every classroom to provide a ratio of four students to one computer. The goal, according to Elswick, is to pull in resources from the best curriculum developers in the country. "We feel as if the Internet is the equalizer, and Microsoft Proxy Server makes it possible to do just about anything here that you can do in a big city."
Microsoft Corp. Redmond, WA (800) 426-9400 www.microsoft.com Write 834 on Inquiry Card
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|Title Annotation:||Technology Tutorial; Infrastructure: Planning and Implementation supplement; WAN used to connect libraries in Lee County, VA|
|Publication:||T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1998|
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