intranet solution

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What is an Intranet? The Internet is the world’s largest collection of computer networks—and this collective computing power offered by the Internet is indeed a powerful tool. Taking this concept on a smaller level, an intranet is an attempt to harness the resources of a smaller network, to share information, and to have an entry point for gathering and sharing information. Intranets are popular today in businesses and offices of various sizes as an extension from email as a communication tool. The intranet model can be used in schools for many of the same reasons, in the guise of the familiar web page format....

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  1. bandwidth C r e a t i n g a n ethernet https:// Intranet web editors HTML Solution protocols platform configuration javascript gigabit presented by John G. Hendron Webmaster, Goochland County Public Schools; Instructor of Technology, Goochland High School What is an Intranet? The Internet is the world’s largest collection of computer networks—and this collective computing power offered by the Internet is indeed a powerful tool.Taking this concept on a smaller level, an intranet is an attempt to harness the resources of a smaller network, to share information, and to have an entry point for gathering and sharing information. Intranets are popular today in businesses and offices of various sizes as an My Lab: Hardware extension from email as a communication tool. The intranet model can be used in At Goochland High School we schools for many of the same reasons, in the guise of the familiar web page format. have several different labs, but my lab is a 25 iMac lab with a How much does having an intranet cost? G4 server running AppleShare IP This is the surprising answer: in many cases, very little. Intranet services can be set and MacManager. Students log up using existing hardware and software. For large organizations, a dedicated server into these machines with a should be used, but in smaller organizations, one dedicated PC for serving pages is all password, and all their that is required, along with the appropriate software and networking. documents and applications are presented on the desktop along with a “hand-in,” or drop box for Why did you create an intranet at Goochland High School? turning in assignments. The Creating an intranet was in part an extension of my curriculum at GHS. First, I am school’s current network consists the principal computer teacher at the high school and making and maintaining a web of several hubs and network server keeps up my skills—some of the very same skills that are taught in our advanced switches, and students in the web publishing/digital publishing courses. In addition, it was a matter of using the classroom share an HP Laserjet. technology already there to its full potential, realizing what time could be saved by using The intranet proper is technology. Lastly, the intranet was created, and is used, as a digital medium for students transparent, and is served up to work on. Having a server for web page viewing, the sharing of design projects, and the using Microsoft Internet serving of worksheets and assignments turn the technology into an educational experi- Explorer 5 for the MacOS. ence. My Lab: Software What challenges have you faced? Adobe Photoshop Two challenges have presented themselves through the set-up of this service. The Adobe Illustrator first problem was getting people involved—teachers and administrators.The quality of Adobe PageMaker the system increases when more information is made available electronically, more BBEdit people make use of the service, etc. Currently, one teacher in addition to me has used the Adobe PageMill intranet resource this year. AppleWorks MS Office The second problem was a technical issue, in setting up the server for FTP access, Microsoft Internet Explorer so students could easily update web pages themselves. In the interim, I circumvented the AppleShare IP & MacManager problems by updating the student web directories myself using our already established MacOS 9.0.4 lab networking. Network Range What is one the key benefits of using this technology in your The intranet/MacManager classroom? server has a dedicated IP address Automation. Students have a place to go, a place to turn to, that is ready for them as on our local-area network and soon as they come in. Links to the Internet are there, a click away. Assignments are there. can be accessed throughout the school, and even in county Students who forget their worksheets or materials are not placed at a severe disadvan- offices 1.5 miles away. tage: copies of assignments and worksheets are served up, online.The act of sharing is also automated. Students can share their projects—web pages, graphics, etc., through this digital stream.This automated process of learning also has a side benefit—students are crafting skills towards using the web and hypertext-based technologies. page 1
  2. Approaching Paperless Nirvana One of my goals in using intranet-based technology was to eliminate the need for paper in the classroom.This was not a very attainable goal, and so I refocused the technol- ogy to reduce, as much as possible, the need for paper handouts, worksheets, etc. One simple fact to keep in mind: students, and the populace in general, are used to, and like, paper. People still enjoy holding a newspaper on Sunday mornings, some people still prefer magazines over web “zines,” and the Gutenberg-inspired book is still a mainstay in education and in American life.Therefore, we cannot absolutely rid ourselves of the paper in our lives, but we can use technology to save paper, and get students adjusted to life without paper. Using my own intranet, I’ve achieved this goal in the following way: •online testing using the FileMaker Pro database application •instructions for assignments, webquests, etc. in HTML files •use of hyperlinks in local webpages to lead students to answers, multimedia, and other instructional material on the Internet Paperless Nirvana? We can’t yet achieve the totally •use of Adobe Acrobat technology to create worksheets that can be completed paperless classroom, but we electronically can take steps to approach this With the use of Adobe Acrobat, the intranet concept goes one step further in goal. These include the use of realizing a paperless, or near-paperless environment. Adobe Acrobat files (.pdf) are a several different technologies, popular, high-resolution, multi-platform document that you many times see on the web for all of which can be a part of downloading—for product manuals, financial reports, etc. With the full Acrobat applica- your intranet solution: tion suite, the user can create forms—and for the educator worksheets—that can be • Adobe Acrobat documents “filled out” right on the computer. Students can then save these documents and hand • HTML links and forms them in electronically, or print-out a completed copy of the document. • HTML pages for instructions • online testing using The educator can take previously-made worksheets and tests, and easily convert FileMaker Pro software them into Acrobat forms, so there is no need to go back and regenerate previously used material in a new format. Students can download a worksheet into their web browser program, search for answers on the Internet, fill in these answers on the worksheet, and turn the entire completed worksheet back into the instructor—all without printing, a Save Time book, or getting up from their seat. Adopt the technologies available that make use of Other Paperless Solutions material you have already While Acrobat is the most versatile solution for “going paperless,” there are other generated on the computer. technologies available that can be used in conjunction with an intranet setup. One such technology is HTML itself, when used with the tag. Similar to the techniques Learn to adopt software you used with Acrobat, students can answer questions using a web page-based form, and print already own towards making out the complete sheet, or submit the form data to the instructor via email. For those not paperless versions of comfortable with programming in HTML, there are several good web authoring programs worksheets, tests, handouts, etc. on the market today, many of which only require very basic HTML knowledge. Since our school already used FileMaker Pro for other database tasks, including our online lesson planner client designed by Xperts, Inc., it was a natural choice in building an automatic testing environment. Demonstrated last year at TechFest 2000, I showed attendees of my presentation how to set up FileMaker Pro as a teacher with questions and multiple-choice answers. By setting passwords and creating scripts, the teacher can automate the database, have students fill-in database fields with their answers, then let the database program “grade” the test, and report the results to the teacher.The database then compiles a printable version, complete with student vs. correct answers, and is printed for the student to review. Having FileMaker Pro databases available on the intranet for students to download and “take” was a big time saver this past year. Setting up different versions of the same test is a simple task, and guarantees students are not sharing answers.This system allows students to progress at their own rate, and even review answers, and navigate around the test—much in the same way we navigate the web. page 2
  3. Student Participation Setting up an intranet shouldn’t be a one-person task. Use interested and able stu- dents to assit in the process of generating content and multimedia. Solicit the assistance of other educators in joining your digital revolution, and remember that the quality of your intranet depends almost 100% on the quality of information you serve. Chances are when others see what a valuable resource you have created, they too will join-in towards making it even better. At my school, I wanted to involve my students in the creation of the intranet, espe- cially so since I do teach HTML and a digital (web) publishing course. Using HTML, Cascad- ing Style Sheets, and Javascript technologies we have dedicated pages of the server to complete student creations. Digital publishing students, for instance, have created a “Digital Portfolio,” an online gallery of their ongoing projects done in HTML with frames. Examples of their projects include: • KPT 6 Goo Quicktime movies • Movie Poster projects (done using Adobe Photoshop) Web Authoring Software • graphically-based websites using Adobe ImageReady If you’re not up to coding in HTML in a text editor, several • Photoshop photograph treatments (Quickmask, duotone, gradient masking) great software applications are • Type Squares (font/Adobe Illustrator project) out today to create killer webpages. These include: • Adobe PageMill The ability to let students “publish” their own work online was a powerful means of • Claris HomePage motivation. Students could browse other students’ projects; other faculty and administra- • Macromedia Dreamweaver tion could peruse as well. Many of the pitfalls of web publishing (keeping files together in • Adobe GoLive directories, importing graphics, creating external and local links) are fully realized when • Microsoft Front Page one publishes remotely on a server. Having an intranet service for students to use was a real-world application of their developing skills. You can even create simple web pages using non-traditional Student Pages software titles, including: My students used BBEdit, a popular Mac-based text application to generate HTML and •Adobe PageMaker other web documents.Then students could FTP these files to their server directory, or turn •Adobe FrameMaker them in using our standard set-up with MacManager/AppleShareIP. I then included a page •Microsoft Office (Word, Excel) on the intranet with links to the student names, to their directory. That way, students would •FileMaker Pro not have the burden of remembering an already long URL to get to their pages.This page •Appleworks 6 also made it possible for students in other classes to easily surf about the student projects. •Corel Word Perfect My advanced students also work on the high school’s web pages.We keep a mock, Look for HTML export functions working directory of the pages found on the county web server on our intranet for testing in other, and upcoming before the final upload.This way, students can double-check their links, make sure graphics software releases. load, and get a rough-idea how quickly their pages will load. page 3
  4. What do I need? Let’s say you’re sold on the idea of starting up an intranet at you school—where do you start? You need the hardware and software necessary to create and serve these hypertext pages... but what will you need? You first need the software to make your webpages. Some of the software you might use is listed on the sidebar on page 3. Next, you’ll probably want to add graphics to your pages, and there are several good clip-art collections available today—try the Corel offerings, theArt Explosion series, or any number of high-quality photographs offered by companies like PhotoDisc.You can even find oodles of free web-graphics online: use a search engine and look for “free web graphics.” Many are pretty high quality, and some even move and wiggle at you. What makes a ‘server’? You need a computer that is especially set-up, or configured, to serve these great pages you want to deliver. While for large audiences you can purchase servers, complete with the special software you’ll need, you may first want to try things out using an Starting an Intranet ordinary PC (Mac or Windows) running some web-publishing software. To start an intranet you’ll need: On a Macintosh, for instance, I’d connect to my network via Ethernet, and set up the •web publishing software appropriate TCP/IP settings so I had a permanent IP address on my network. This does not •web serving software need to be a ‘real’ IP address, because I don’t want the whole world to see what I am •a dedicated machine for publishing, just my school or division. storing and serving the pages, graphics, sounds, movies, etc. Next, I’d set up Personal Web Sharing (MacOS 8.6 and up) and designate a dedicated folder as my ‘intranet’ folder. Setup your homepage as “index.html” and you’re almost ready In addition, consider using to start. Before you do, figure out your web address.You can find your IP number in the the same setup, if possible, as Personal Web Sharing setup, or by going into the TCP/IP control panel. We’ve bookmarked an inhouse email server. all of our lab computers at school to automatically open to our intranet homepage at: AppleShareIP includes email, printer serving, and file http://10.105.17.5/intranet/ sharing in addition to FTP and HTTP. You’re right! It isn’t as pretty as your usual domain name address on the web (www.yahoo.com), but I didn’t have to configure a domain name server, either. While we What’s the difference use a heftier http server than Apple’s Personal Web Sharing, the end result is the same... between a web-server you’re serving up web pages on your own local area network. and an intranet- If you have AppleShareIP installed at your school, all you need to do is determine server? what folder will be your “web folder” using the Admin tool suite. We’ve set ours up as Nothing, really. Both serve “intranet” since we share the server for MacManager lab tasks, and a separate “student” webpages to computers folder for our students’ pages. AppleShare IP is powerful enough as a web server to speaking the hypertext include some remote administrative tools so server settings can be made from anywhere transfer protocol (HTTP). The within the school. only difference is how your network is set up. Intranets But I use Windows! serve to computers on a local Free web-serving “miniserver” software is available for Windows, but if you’re area network, and web interested in serving to a larger audience, you may want to invest in a software package servers answer to requests designed for Windows NT that’s a regular web-server client. It operates in exactly the across the Internet. same way. Your network, however, is configured differently, and restricts access to your LAN depending on how your routers and network are setup. For small audiences, how- ever, consider using an older PC with a networking capability and see how performance rates. One Final Word on Servers... Before buying anything too expensive—talk to your supplier about your needs, many times they can point you in the right direction. Also keep in mind the OS of your server and the OS of your clients need not be the same—you can serve Macs with a Unix or Linux server, Windows PCs with a Mac server, or any combination thereof. page 4
  5. Stay Consistent! Use web page creation techniques that maintain a consistent look between pages. Use similar graphics, colors, and other design choices as much as possible on all of your pages. Try using Headers, (horizontal rules) or other graphics, and tags to format the page so it’s easy to scan and find information quickly. Your students will thank you. Making Your Pages I make my pages using a text editor called Alpha, however any web publishing program (GoLive, Dreamweaver, Front Page, etc.) will work all the same. I introduce variety into the opening “home” page by putting a “quote of the day” that appears, by random, each time the webpage is loaded.This can be done with javaScript. I also strive to make the web pages well designed as good models for my students who design their own web pages. Note how the lighter color in the middle table draws the eye: you look inward towards the most important information. While not visible on the paper handout, links used are the standard blue, and are easy to find. Cues that the user has selected a link include a color change. In the scheme used here, a bit of Cascading Style Sheet language was used to achieve the effect. Finally, like a good web page should be designed, include header or footer (address) information on the page in case it is printed.This could be the URL, copyright, author, etc. Note how each of my pages is consistent looking, at least from the standpoint of the major pages: (picture opposite on page 6) Note too the use of color and font size when dividing up your webpage into easy to navigate sections. Fancy graphics aren’t necessary for clear, easy to use presentation. Use () header tags to divide up sections of the web page with titles. page 5
  6. Use the HTML Features of Office Software Microsoft Office, Corel Word Perfect, and FileMaker Pro all offer output in HTML format. Usually it’s not the best HTML output on earth, but it makes quick work of generating reports like a grade chart. Be sure to label these documents with a “last updated” date so visitors to your pages know how recent the information is. Content vs. Organization Even if your content is not consistent, your layout and organization should be. Lead people to a section, where they can find the appropriate link. Keep your titles for pages that link simple and to the point. The content of this page is not consistent. On a new day, with a new assign- ment, students can look forward to additions or deletions depending on our unit of study. Grade reports, however, are a mainstay, and the picture below shows an example of a grade report. I use Microsoft Excel to record grades and use its built-in HTML functions to generate the actual page you see below: page 6
  7. Student-Recognized Benefits Students at our school have reacted favorably to having an intranet as part of the classroom environment. Students appreciate having access to information such as handouts, grades, etc. online. In addition, with daily use with such a system, they’re developing the skills of electronic retrieval and searching. Students who study web page design have the added benefit of having a medium to test their pages before possible publication on the Internet. The picture below demonstrates my ability to provide instructional material to students, without the media of paper, a workbook, or textbook. And whethor or not the students enjoy this accessibility, it tends to save time and energy when many students are using the material. Internet Power Having the resource of the Internet at hand is advantageous. In the example opposite, students can visit resources on the web without worrying about the keying-in of hyperlinks. Using a web “worksheet,” students can follow a pre- defined set of instructional goals using any number of different links in any subject area. page 7
  8. Web Usability Making a webpage, nowadays, is relatively easy. With any popular productivity software, you can usually export your document in some form of HTML, which in its primal form, is a good idea for business and educational applications. However, the HTML of these “on-the-fly” generated files is quite crude, and many times ignores the functionality and structure that make up the elegance of HTML. Programs like AppleWorks, Microsoft Word, or Corel WordPerfect also do not allow you to make pages with great usability. Usability is a big catch word in the industry now-a-days, as more and more people become accustomed to using Internet-related technologies.While intranets, Usability? by defintion, can get away with breaking many usability rules, due to the fact that you Usability is an authentic know the users and their hardware limitations, a great intranet collection will follow study that aims at finding several usability standards. These include: what makes something (like intranet or web use) easy • clear identity of location within a site or network (easier) to use. Since the • consistent use of interface controls: location, interactivity, color and appearance Internet and its related • use of width-limiting procedures for easy in reading and legibility (tables) • use of browser- or system- specific technologies where applicable technologies center around • effective, necessary uses of graphics, used and formatted consistently our ability to locate, • consistent use of mechanisms and behaviors (rollovers, Internet links, title= organize, and consume “...” tags, etc. information, usability is • design sense and guidelines directly connected to how easy it is for you and your user to find the information In the “real-world,” businesses can spend a lot of resources testing their sites for you have to provide. usability. However, in an arena where budgets are tight, time is precious, and kids are involved, a few simple reminders, like those above, will assist you in creating more One of the big names today usable hypertext pages. Specifically, this is how I have created consistent pages, when in usability is Jakob Nielsen, I can: who maintains a site on the web at: http:// • create a template for your pages: edit the template each time you create a new page, www.useit.com/ Mr. and never overwrite the template. In each copy of the template, change the template contents to fit the required content for your page Nielsen’s website is boring to • use graphics sparingly, but make them useful, to-the-point, and use context-sensitive look at, but drives home his thumbnails when appropriate. I use graphics on the intranet pages only for titles, and for points of usability. His special presentations on the title page. On a webpage my students worked on, we used column published each context-sensitive thumbnails: not only are images cropped, but they are also resized. month is a worthwhile read • consistency is easy with the use of an external style sheet. While style sheets still for anyone creating haven’t caught on with the browsers, delivering their full-potential of features, they still meaningful hypertext do a fair job at making your content look consistent, in much the same way I do with the program used to create this document (Adobe Pagemaker). content for public OR • people—including students—don’t enjoy reading text on-screen.There are many private (intranet) use... reasons to explain this, none of them too conclusive... one of the big complaints during testing, however, is the ease of legibility and the surface area of the screen. CRTs flicker, and if running at a low-refresh rate, can tax the eyes after exposure—even short-term exposure. Add to this medium-quality resolution (72-96 DPI), and people get tired quickly reading a CRT. While 200-300 DPI screens are expected to be mainstream by 2005, there are steps you can take in the meantime to develop user-friendly information on screen: • limit how many words go across the page (9-12 is a good range) • use colors with high contrast (text vs. background) • use fonts with clean lines (Verdana is excellent,Trebuchet, Arial, are not bad; Avenir, Franklin Gothic, and Fruitger too are good but less popular) • control or adjust font-size: show your users how to adjust the size of their text, and indicate text size using the “px” unit in style sheets (pt is more common, but less accurate across platforms, displays, etc.) • edit material for web use: typical articles, stories, and information we read in print is poorly suited towards the web. Your average user of hypertext technology approaches the machine with a different set of expectations.When writing, focus on being concise, use bulleted lists where applicable, and use headings to assist in scanning.Avoid pages that are overly long, and divide-up pages based on headings, where logical breaks fit. Edited February, 2001 ©2001 by John G. Hendron page 8 available online in March 2001 at http://www.glnd.k12.va.us/ > Teacher Resources
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