The World Wide Web
at Somerset College

Bill Taylor : Computer System Manager, Somerset College:
: Phone 61 75 304100, fax 61 75 303208: Email:

Updates of this document may be found at:

Keywords: K-12,Education,WWW

Glossary of abbreviations used in this document


Somerset College is an independent K-12 school on the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia. Development of information technology for administration, reference and curricular use has a high priority. In 1990 I investigated the then innovative concept of introducing Laptop computers for widespread student use, this involved visits to pioneering primary and secondary schools in this regard. I learnt that such a programme would impose very high overall costs to the school community and large infrastructure and maintenance costs directly on the school, for the benefit of access to relatively low level creative tools such as word processors, simple databases, spreadsheets and programming languages. I formed the opinion that the cost outweighed the benefit. A large part of the school technology infrastructure would be devoted to battery charging, security, computer first aid and maintenance as necessities, relegating network access to school information sources as a secondary priority.

I thought that the computer's niche in the information revolution would be as an information source and retrieval tool, the creative tools (word processors etc) were the devices whereby students would manipulate the information. I determined that my priority for the use of computers in education was Information access and then, information manipulation. This priority seemed to be the reverse of a practical implementation of the laptop scenario. I resolved to find an economic alternative which matched my priorities.


In 1991 Somerset introduced a dial up access service for the school community, called HomeLink. The factors leading to this service included: From small beginnings the service has grown in usage, there have been "learning opportunities" for families in regard to buying and setting up equipment. I get at least five phone calls a week asking advice and I recommend that a modem should have greater priority than a CD player since it can give access to much more information.

As an adjunct to direct dialling of the school, I manage accounts for our students on the Nexus system, which added access to the Internet to its services in late 1994. Nexus has its own information and mail system, as well as cooperative projects for students. The advantage and drawback of Nexus is that it allows only text terminal access, this means that a cheaper modem and computer are adequate, but that navigation is more difficult, especially on the internet.

HomeLink seems in retrospect to have been an obvious step to take, probably its main achievement has been to raise the consciousness and experience of our school community in regard to the information age. They are slightly better informed and equipped to enable them to cope with the impact of the information revolution on society. Extending HomeLink to include Internet, and specifically WWW access seems to be the next "obvious" step.

Onto The Net

Prior to mid 1994 the only realistic chance a school had for access to the internet was through a University. Happily, some Universities were planning pilot programmes to link schools to the internet, but possibilities for access have now broadened to allow access, via commercial service providers, to society in general.

Early in 1995, a Local Internet service provider "OntheNet" started operations on the Gold Coast. This has enabled us to introduce World Wide Web Access from campus according to our own requirements and therefore faster than through a coordinated effort with others. A local provider also makes internet connectivity more economical for families. Subsequently two other commercial providers have opened and another is about to.

"Policy is the art of making the best of what is possible, Technology is the art of discovering what is possible"

My "Policy" is the schools defacto policy on internet access. It has developed as I learn what is possible and how to implement it. That is why this paper is in the first person, so far Somerset's web presence is a one man show, and despite the fact that that man is me I do not think that this continues to be a good idea.

My initial WWW priority was to establish a connection to the internet for as many computers on our networks as I could, this proved more involved than I had anticipated and there were two false starts.

The resolution of this issue... so far: The second priority was to establish a Somerset set of pages, I had thought that we would need to establish our own Unix server to do this, but my very fast learning curve led me to establish our pages on 21/2/95 on our service providers hardware. Authoring the pages in HTML and setting them up on the server proved a relatively easy task.

The third priority was to establish the technical capability to access the Web via HomeLink. Although it would be preferable if families had their own accounts a, dial through (our router and later our server) the school to the internet is also possible for families who have Farallon's Timbuktu software on their Macintosh or Nortons PCAnywhere on their IBM compatible. A direct PPP connection to the internet via our router is also possible. We are not permitting interent access for HomeLink users via either of these systems yet, pending policy on providing such access and negotiations with our service provider. The main reason that the capability was developed was "because it was possible", the second reason is to permit staff access from their homes.

There is a philosophical reason for considering NOT providing dial through service to the internet for families in general. Our school is in the business preparing students for the wider world, they are gradually given more responsibility and eventually are entirely responsible for themselves, notably after that fateful night at the end of year 12. From a "marketing" perspective the success of our operation depends on the perception of the community of the satisfaction of the customers who all eventually leave us, and not on keeping customers dependent on us as is the case with many other businesses. Paralleling this ethos in spirit if not chronology:

  1. The school provides facilities to experience information services in many forms
  2. HomeLink provides external connection to school information managed by the school.
  3. Nexus provides a connection to external resources managed by the school.
  4. The final step is personal connection to external resources completely independent of the school.
The internet with its community popularity, incredible scope and opportunities for business is the ideal end game of the process.

Towards deeper entanglement in the Web

There was a particular reason for my race to get network access and web pages up, this was our Celebration of Literature festival, held at the school from March 30 to April 2. This festival was to have 2 (eventually 3) Internet tutorials, which I had decided should be as "hands on" as possible. In addition to this, the presenters included Douglas Adams, of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fame, he turned out to be an enthusiastic and expert supporter of the internet, as is Barry Jones, Karl Kruszelnicki of Sydney University, Professor Bill Caelli of QUT and Professor Tommy Thomas of Bond University. Indeed the sessions involving these people all had an internet component or were entirely about the internet. This was not entirely planned! The literature festival proved how much community interest there is in the Internet and generated more.

I attended Ausweb95 (the only representative from any educational institution in the range K-12!). This was an eye opener to the extensive level of current and proposed Web usage by business, tertiary education, government and councils and very valuable for contacts. Next year, Ausweb96 will be held at Jupiter's Casino on the Gold Coast, our school will be providing pre conference tutorial sessions and there will be a K-12 thread. This opportunity should not be missed by K-12 educators.

The fourth priority has been much coloured by these experiences and my wish to fund increasingly sophisticated internet capabilities. We have completed the first session of WWW training courses, developed and presented by me.

The courses cover
  1. Internet history and issues
  2. Browsing the web
  3. Creating Web pages
  4. Multimedia on the web
A fifth priority is to establish our own server, so that: The servers being considered are:

Internal issues with the Web

Establishing a position for Web Access within the school

"Policy is a reaction to wide ranging behaviour.": The World Wide Web and the internet should be an underlying information resource for the school first and an adjunct to particular curricula second.

The internet is too pervasive and too general to be identified as a province for the computing subject area, indeed it makes cross curricula studies within subjects much easier. For example, our first course project for the use of the internet is from the Mathematics department, where they are seeking information and statistics on health implications of smoking.

Students have been using the world wide web along with our internal networked information sources for personal research for some time, now the worth of this access is beginning to be reflected in its inclusion in specific course material.

How to get the Web into the curriculum

This has been tackled overtly by offering inservice courses, but more effectively by the individual research of students. "I got that from the Web" is becoming a more familiar reference, and with that, student and staff consciousness of the information resources available on our internal network is being boosted.

It is my experience that adults will often only try to adopt a new process if they can see an advantage in it. Children are less harried by and more familiar with confronting new concepts and change, because they normally interact with novelty in all spheres of their lives every day, the process is called "growing up".

"Cold" inservicing for staff is usually ineffective and always inefficient, for it has no relevance. Developing a general consciousness of the medium is a far better starting point, inservice only provides confidence and expertise when the area of skills, in this case use of digital information sources, is already in the service of the individuals concerned. In most endeavours there is little choice but to use the "cold" inservice approach, the community has no mania for Patrick White or Pythagoras theorem. With the internet specifically and digitised information in general this is far from the case, every radio station every television channel, every newspaper resonates with a rising chatter about the information revolution.

An effective way to achieve web consciousness in staff is to encourage the enthusiastic telling of anecdotes by students and to encourage individual students to source their material from the World Wide Web. Thus the method spreads amongst the students and from them to their teachers. This approach is slow to start since there are no focused goals, indeed the best initial goal for anyone is something of interest to them, be it the Simpsons or basketball or the skiing conditions. Once the process is familiar and the value of the resource realised in a particular instance, the resource is enthusiastically grasped by the peer group for wider use.

In summary: Let the children play then eventually as students they will submit URL's as references in their assignments, this will tweak the interest in staff, which will eventually result in specific curricula use of the World Wide Web. At Somerset, from a "cold" start this process has taken less than 4 months in one instance, and is on the way to fruition in others. This process is proving to be pervasive and effective as it sponsors, the spread of innovation by enthusiastic staff.

Establishing a documentation standard

Being able to perform a task is empowering, subsequent to that getting someone else to do it is an exercise of (a different) power. On the other hand having someone else perform a task because you can't is dis-empowering in regard to the task. I therefore think that staff should be encouraged to learn how to produce documentation themselves, be it course material or web pages. At Somerset many staff can and do use computers to produce their own documents.

From an operational point of view there is a particular issue, as more staff choose to prepare their own documents: getting them to adhere to a document standard. This is more than just what a document looks like, it also includes how it is produced and stored. This issue is a pressing one in the normal operation of a school (more so at a university), but is of particular importance to me, if others are going to be able to easily publish web pages. I do not suggest that HTML should be the standard. I am suggesting that exclusive use of style sheets be mandatory so as to enable automatic translation to HTML or cross platform formats. I would wish to aim for the SGML standard eventually. In regard to the World Wide Web, the ability for staff to translate and transfer documents to Web pages on the internet is empowering. A document standard will help enable this process.

Policy Generation

My approach to instilling technological eptness and maturity into the school has been helping people to help themselves as opposed to doing things directly for people, (although this is essential in the early stage): "If you give a man a fish he is fed once, if you teach him to fish he has the means to feed himself (and others) for life". Although this a hard road initially and the lead time has been long there has recently been, a very satisfying, marked jump in the number of staff taking the inititative and responsibilty for assessing and fullfilling their computing needs. The technological background noise on campus is at a level where its value to individuals is occasionally and increasingly obvious... the physical model for this method is called "stochastic resonance" : You can get a semblance of a desired signal above a threshold level by actually adding a small amount of random noise.

Given widespread personal technological maturity, we need to manage the responsibilities, in this case associated, with our internet presence: Policy needs to be made (as usual after the technological possibilities are perceived) Relating to:

Quo Vadis?

At the outset of this paper I noted that I thought that the computer is now primarily an information gathering tool, with manipulation of information increasingly relegated to a supporting function. Another major paradigm is that of a communication tool, indeed this is what the internet evolved into soon after its inception as a bomb proof computer networking system. The information revolution is currently resolving into the promise of an information and communication portal and processor for the "nu sphere", an information layer around the world. Similar to the Agriculture layer which freed most of us from the basic responsibilities of feeding ourselves and the Industrial layer which freed most of us from the bounds and responsibilities of our physical capabilities. As with those successful revolutions, (the mythology one failed) our basic social substrate is thickened, increasing our separation from personal dependency on nature. At once we get a broader horizon and loose the basic skills which each layer automatically supports, for example hunting and making a fire or caring for crops and horses are the professional province of a decreasing proportion of humanity even in the third world, and there is a much noted decline in the proportion involved in manufacturing as the "nu sphere" develops. I believe that this envelopment is occurring quickly and within the immediate conscious time sense of people.

First world countries are being rapidly wired for broadband access, mostly one way, in the guise of cable TV. The very much two way, egalitarian, internet is also rocketing in popular acceptance in the guise of the World Wide Web. The melding of the web into the multi mega bit broadband system is not far off, and it will be readily available to most city based Australians for an increasingly decreasing price. In 1995, we have computers that can handle television too, they are already in department stores and in the lower end of product ranges. TV capability will become a neo standard feature as have CD players. The idiosyncrasies of modems and ISDN will dissolve into the broadband ether, much as the imperative of understanding the telephone system in order to use it has faded into the technical substrate of society.

With the advent of the World Wide Web, computer education is at a levelling off point and is beginning to diffuse. It started in the 80's as a marginal curiosity, a wonderfully creative tool for logical pursuits, now it is a ubiquitous optional course with similar stature to social sciences. Attitudes are maturing as computer technology is integrated across the curriculum, with the timely side effect of encouraging and facilitating cooperative learning, transgressing subject borders and requiring teachers to be coaches rather than instructors. I believe that even now this innovative role for computer education is changing to a supportive one, playing a temporary bridging role, acting as a source of experience to what will soon be a fundamental expectation of society.

Computer courses are evolving and integrating into non technical courses such as media studies and publishing, the computer seen as both a tool and as a field of study. Indeed the threshold for acceptance of this technology has long since been passed, schools are no longer essential for the sponsoring of computer usage. Particular courses won't need particular computing components, just as they do not need particular components for using videos. Computerised information and communication sources will be as common place in classrooms, the personal possessions of students as a calculator, a phone or television. By the turn of the century I think that this end game will be over, in 2001 you might be buying breakfast cereals to get the free "Windows for Weet-Bix" chip.

Looking back from a hypothetical (Sydney) Olympian view, (well maybe a few years later than that) I think that the major impact of computers on society will be seen as the democratising agent for the information world the nub of the means for getting the information you want rather than receiving the information you have been sent. For education I think the role will be seen as having been a tool of reformation, dissolving subject barriers and facilitating cooperative learning and realistic scenarios. It will have been a rubicon for teachers too. We tell students that it will be the norm for them to change careers 6 to 8 times in their working lives, and that a basic survival tool will be their ability and willingness to retrain themselves... therefore a basic skill for teachers in the future, and that includes teachers that are present, is precisely that same ability.


The Internet has sustained and massive media coverage. It is possible that commerce on the web can bypass national monetary systems and information on the web can bypass national (and organisational) censorship arrangements. It takes fundamental power from nations, and gives it to multinational organisations and to individuals, indeed it is a brave new world. It looks like the Web or Information super highway is going to be increasingly important and is here to stay, an information layer around the world. Educationalists and families will need to embrace this change.

Somerset is in the forefront of K-12 Web development, at least in Queensland, our lead won't last long. How effective our web services are depends on teachers, students and parents finding it useful and seeking to educate themselves accordingly. The school has a major role in promoting and nurturing this process.

This document was created on 7 May 1995
last modified on 20 August 1995
and is written by