[ Teaching and Learning Centre ]
The Networked School Community:
Starting from scratch
Abstract: Many Australian schools have not started using the Internet. This paper suggests some low cost strategies and a sequence of activities for beginners, based upon experiences with initial start ups at many schools in Perth WA.
How can I initiate my school's use of the Internet? Where do I begin? What do I have to learn? How shall I present the case to my colleagues? What equipment do we need and how do we get an Internet gateway? Where are the sources of help? And many other, similar questions....
This paper gives a brief overview, in the context of "starting from scratch", that is with little previous experience of your own, the usual "next to nothing" budget, and no school plan for the venture. However, if your school is past this stage, and does have an Internet plan implemented, or about to begin, please consider the contribution you could make to this conference's discussions. Case studies, in our experience, provide valuable or even essential assistance for teachers in schools where an Internet development has not yet started.
Although my own working environment is Internet services for university teaching and learning, the suggestions here are for the schools sector. This arises because for over four years the hosts I manage at Murdoch University, [cleo and carmen], have provided community access to the Internet, mainly for school teachers in our geographic region of Perth in Western Australia. The community access program for teachers is a modest contribution to regional dissemination of the Internet. Being confined mainly to providing low cost access via modem, with user induction and support services, its role has been as a "do it yourself" professional development exercise.
If we divide the development of infrastructure for a school's Internet access into two main phases, which relate also to stages in developing techniques, purposes and outcomes, our community access program is primarily a contributor to the first phase:
- First Phase - users of a single modem connection
- Second Phase - connecting a school LAN to an Internet connected host or gateway
Planning for the Internet
How much can you do towards a school's Internet plan, under the first phase of using just one or several modem connections? Our experience in Perth with community access (Atkinson, 1995) suggests that a considerable amount can be achieved, including all of the most fundamental stages. Here is one way of listing what can be done and classifying the stages:
- Professional development - your own. You have to acquire user skills, experience with modems, slip/ppp software and applications such as email handlers and web page readers, and a knowledge of the Internet services best related to your school's context. Without that preparation, how can you progress to stage 2?
- Professional development - all staff. With your own experience secured, and perhaps with several collaborators, the next stage is to disseminate to all of your school's staff. This is a prerequisite for stage 3, in which the various subject groups and activity groups within the school's staff will acquire an "ownership", by virtue of their own experience and by their own preparation for stage 3.
- School plans for curriculum enhancement using Internet access. After the first two stages, this stage may include teachers using Internet access to support lesson preparation, using Internet services as an extension of library activities, followed by some limited trials with classroom based activities and pupil participation.
- School plans for Internet access - the infrastructure of network and computer facilities. This includes local area network, desktop computers and their locations and functions, local host, gateway provider, how to connect to the gateway provider, and how to provide larger scale maintenance and specialist staffing.
- School plans and budgets for equipment, maintenance, gateway provider and training. The first phase, using one to several modem connections, may be very economical with funds and may enable much progress with stages 1 to 4 (though it may cost you dearly in the time you put into it). However, eventually you will have to raise funds to enable the scale-up to the second phase, connecting a school local area network ("LAN") to an Internet gateway. Stages 1 to 4 don't provide you with funds, just a proven and documented basis for chasing funds!
Some examples of what you can do
In Western Australian, schools in both the public and private sectors have had to make individual efforts to develop their Internet strategies, in the absence of effort by central coordinating bodies. This is not necessarily a disadvantage, as a rich variety of techniques and experiences with "phase 1" have emerged. A few are outlined below, and I hope that conference participants will suggest many more:
- Internet into the staff room? Whilst most teacher users start Internet access with their own personal computers and modems at home, the staff room is a location to consider for a school PC or Mac, modem and phone line. It's an effective and relaxed way to gain interest via impromptu demonstrations.
- Take home a laptop. For example, Melville Senior High School in Perth purchased five Windows 95 laptops with modems. One for each of the major subject area groups, these are for limited term home loans to all teachers, and they may be used also from within the School.
- Internet into the school library. The school library should have a key role in disseminating and working up your Internet plans. One or two personal computers, modems and phone lines in the library may be the most cost effective spending you can do in expanding your library "holdings" and teaching about information retrieval. Isn't the Internet's role as the world's online library regarded as the single most powerful driving factor behind the last few years of its expansion?
- When ready, into the classroom .... Usually I say , "first the staff room and the library, then (and only then), the classroom". However, in your schools' context, or if you receive a grant of funds which specifies a classroom activity, the addition of some pilot work with students in the classroom may form an appropriate element in your buildup plans. There are many activities to choose from. In WA Chris Mawson's [Edsite] provides one listing of activities and resources for schools.
- Web pages for your school? Many schools have their own web pages, some prepared by teachers, some by classroom groups. It's a very good "learn as you go" kind of activity. Some examples from WA are listed by ECAWA, and others for WA may be found via echalk or projects in other States, such as [ACTEIN], the ACT's Education Information Network.
- Use regional professional associations. These exist in most States, and here we are fortunate to have a vigorous participation in ECAWA, the Educational Computing Association of Western Australia. ECAWA has its own [web site], maintained by volunteer teachers and hosted by Edith Cowan University. A national list is given by [ACCE], Australian Council for Computers in Education.
- Emailing lists. Our regional emailing list for teachers, [email@example.com], has been running for three years, and serves also as ECAWA's list. It chatters and gossips on about many topics - "how to prevent the theft of mouse balls", "how to prepare an Internet plan", what's on at ECAWA's next do, etc....! It provides an easy avenue for "personal networking" and sharing experiences.
- Relationships with the small business sector. The trend towards the small business sector as a provider of Internet gateways for connecting school LANs, as well as providing individual modem user access, is firmly established in WA. Pages we maintain on cleo provide one entry point to [lists of service providers].
- Second Phase - a school LAN. Whilst this topic is beyond our scope here, some strategies have been outlined by Rehn and Atkinson (1996) and case study inputs by conference participants would be welcome.
Atkinson, R. (1995). Internet access for schools via cleo.murdoch.edu.au. In R. Oliver and M. Wild (Eds), Learning without limits. Proceedings of the Australian Computers in Education Conference 1995, Perth, 10-13 July, Vol.1, 99-109. Perth: ECAWA. http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/pubs/confs/atkinson-acec95.html
Rehn, G. and Atkinson, R. (1996). Remote access to the Internet. In McBeath, C. & Atkinson, R. (eds), The learning superhighway. New world? New worries?, 345-354. Proceedings of the Third Interactive Multimedia Symposium. Perth: Promaco Conventions.
|Text and html author: Dr Roger Atkinson is Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology, in the Teaching and Learning Centre (previously Academic Services Unit), at Murdoch University, Murdoch WA 6150, Australia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone +61 8 9360 6840 fax +61 8 9310 4929.
His main work is in techniques and systems for using the Internet and computer mediated learning in tertiary education. He manages the hosts cleo and carmen providing web server, list server and experimental services. Sites on cleo include ASET for the Australian Society for Educational Technology, echalk for WA schools, and trdev-aus for the vocational education and training sector.
Please cite as: Atkinson, R. (1997). The Networked School Community: Starting from scratch. Australian Council for Educational Administration Virtual Conference 16-30 July. http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/pubs/confs/atkinson-acea97.html
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