The Information System
at Somerset College
in 1996


This paper puts the position of the information system of Somerset College with emphasis on our World Wide Web activities. It addresses issues of infrastructure, services, policy, usage and initiatives. The paper will be developed throughout 1996. The paper should be viewed in conjunction with the 1995 version.

This paper was published on 18 March 1996 and is still in its original form.

Keywords: K-12,Education,WWW,Remote Access,Remote Control,Policy,Censorship


Author: Bill Taylor : Manager Information Systems, Somerset College:
: Phone 61 7 55 304100, fax 61 7 55 303208: Email:

Updates of this document may be found at: and the original '95 version at


Somerset seems to have been the first school in Queensland and maybe Australia to have the internet networked into the school. This initiative followed the introduction of the HomeLink system in 1991. HomeLink is a dial in service for staff and students. HomeLink will be altered and enhanced this year to take advantage of our internet connection.

Status Quo

Carbon based: The school does not spend a lot of money on computers compared to similar schools. The bulk of the system is run entirely by me, I have no assistant. My responsibilities include help desk, maintenance, repairs, network and information system design, system analysis and writing of code including the school administration system, pleading for funds and all aspects of their disbursement, planning the future, supervising of computer rooms at lunch and after school, assisting staff and inservicing...oh yes and in complete charge of our web presence. It is far too much for one person, this has various repercussions the relevant one being that information services do not get adequately marketed. I feel most comfortable with advertising what we can do not what we will be able to do soon: "Have the product before you sell it", sounds alarmingly old fashioned doesn't it!

Silicon et al based: The Network I support consists of about 150 computers spread throughout the campus, 90 in three secondary computer labs, 1 or 2 in all classes from pre school to year 7. Three machines the library and many in staff offices and work areas. The majority of computers range from Mac Pluses to Power Macs, one laboratory has Dos and Windows machines as does the library and a separate research area. The system is served by one Netware and two AppleShare servers with networked compact disc players and five laser printers. Other systems include the Library (Pick) system and Accounts (DG) which run separately with dumb serial terminals and no networking. The bookshop has a 3 workstation Netware Lite system and the new engineering science lab has a Windows NT server and 12 pentium workstations. The fastest networking we have is thin ethernet.

Our internet connection is a permanent ISDN link via a local service provider Onthenet who are helpful and knowledgeable. We have 5 dial in lines 1 for AppleTalk remote access, 1 for PCAnywhere and 4 for ppp dial in ... I know that adds up to 6, but the PCanywhere service is being phased out. At the moment we do not have a web server on site, but I have tested a Linux and a Macintosh solution and have ordered a Macintosh web and file server.

The Future

There is a plan to integrate all administration systems but inadequate funding will make this very difficult. Optical fibre with hubs sprouting RJ45 will be installed new buildings are completed next year but upgraded workstations may have to wait. Although it would be good to buy an administration system, I am rather appalled at the cost of these products and on more careful assessment their palpable inadequacy for the enterprise they are intended to model, namely Somerset College. We may have to continue developing our home grown system, perhaps on the back of a particular commercial system. One decision which has been made is that we will use SQL with a client server RDBMS. I am using a test version of "Butler" RDBMS which providing and testing a template for the administration system, a working example will go a long way to help senior management visualise problems and possibilities.

Our web services will be edited by staff moving documents around on the Macintosh server, at the moment I accept, files, convert them to HTML and mount them, this is not an onerous duty. My current plan for delegating the development our web presence is:

HomeLink has changed so that it is accessed exclusively from the internet. This change is due to increasing usage and the the high profile advent of the World Wide Web in society and the rather low cost for service. It is no longer an issue of expense or expertise that precludes families from getting onto the web. Nearly everyone has an adequate home computer, modems and internet offers are being included as standard features of computer packages and are already becoming a delete option as CD players have become. So I expect that families will buy an internet account and encourage them to do so. We can offer much more access via this method than by providing our own modem bank.

HomeLink via the internet uses Farallon's Timbuktu Pro software to enable remote control of Macs and Windows machines on our network via TCP/IP, Obviously there need to be safeguards here for access, copyright and to protect the integrity of the machines. The access security is provided by the need for a user name and password, regular password changes and a usage log. Copyright by restrictions on file copying and usual network security. Maintaining the integrity of the machines has been adequately established using an auto reboot system extension and MacPrefect software on Macs and commands in the Progman.ini and control.ini files on the Windows machines.

We offer staff free access to HomeLink and the internet via our four dial in lines which are accessed via one number. We could take the next step and become a service provider for our school community, but that "we", is "I" and I don't have the time to run a monitoring, billing and guaranteed service: More pointedly it is literally not our business to be an internet service provider rather an Education Service Provider, so such we will be, using the internet to do it.

Software licensing issues have been adequately resolved in most cases during our past experience with HomeLink, most vendors are developing policies on remote access, some throw the problem in the too hard basket and some need to be guided away from initial knee jerk reactions. Fortunately there is a distinct move towards maturity, another legacy of the advent of the web. There is a lot of software around and we can afford not to use specific titles if the licensing is not suitable for our needs. With remote control rather than remote access, the issue is a fair bit clearer as the software is in the RAM of the machine at school, only the screen display is transported off campus.

I hope that this year I will be able to add some variety to our web presence. The problem is that although staff are using the web they are not contributing to it. Last year I designed and ran courses on browsing and authoring, these were poorly attended by staff, most disappointing. I am hoping that my plan for delegation of responsibilities for the web pages will be adapted and implemented. A strong push for staff web awareness comes from the students who are using the internet as a research and resource for their work.

Our own web presence is the first stage in developing a Queensland curriculum resource on the web , plenty of information is out there but it is not organised with respect to the needs of Queensland students. There is a huge amount of curriculum specific information within schools: policies, methods, philosophies, research and actual classroom stuff.

The provision of this education service is a project of a consortium of five schools: The Southport School, St. Hildas, All Saints Anglican School, Trinity Lutheran College and ourselves. The first stage has been to get each of us networked, onto the net. The second stage, which needs a bit of a push right now, is to produce a web index and eventually provide a dedicated manager for the system, I think the manager is essential as committees are okay for forming a consensus but the best thing they actually do... is lunch.

The most generally valuable long term goal of this coherent educational resource could be to provide a forum for sponsoring students work and experiences and links with the world. I think ultimately education along with society will be literally global and that it should be our role to help facilitate this.

Policy and Practice

The policy regarding our web presence is to delegate responsibility for the pages to those responsible for the information.

Student access to the web if free and unrestricted. Our policy on censorship is practised and tested: We are ambivalent about the ethics of filtering out sites, nor is it of any practical value since there are so many home computers accessing the internet. Mostly, we wish to remove the link between the messenger and the message. It is not the technology or the access which is the problem, it is certain content. In short we do not differentiate between the bringing of a naughty thing to school via the internet or a school bag. On the other hand if we were to claim that we monitored traffic and failed in perhaps some unforeseen way to do so, then we may be legally liable (It has happened, to Prodigy services, a large communications network).

Girls use the web and computers less than boys. There is a lot of variety in the usage by students in general, from none to manic. I note that girls don't generally play with the computers, their usage tends to be more purposeful than boys, yet there are about the same number of "purposeful" boy users as girls. Everyone has the opportunity to use the information system. Personally I do not subscribe to "affirmative action", positive discrimination of one group over the other, means negative discrimination of the other over the one. I would advise the purveyors of such rhetoric as "the end justifies the means" to take a long hard look at history. Our clients have been born and grown in a society where there is a fundamental acceptance of the principal of equality.

On the issue of isolation from the real world due to manic use of computers, children are wont to be consumed by fads as are adults, football is a good example of a socially encouraged mania. "Computer mania" is rarely permanent and may actually lead to discovery of talent or a career. I am dubious of the term "real world", it is a personal construct of ones experience, peer group, hopes and dreams. From my perspective the information revolution is sweeping like a tidal wave over society, those who don't surf it are in my opinion failing to live in the real world and it is they who will find their skills less relevant.

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