Conference to introduce results from the 100-School Networking Project (Phase II)
Theme meeting

Using the Internet at a Small Mountain School
—Developing a Community Network—

Masakuni Watanabe, Abukuma Area Collaboration Project
(Education Agency of Fukushima Prefecture)

1. Introduction

Katsurao Junior High School is located in a remote region in the central Abukuma highlands. The school began using a networking system for educational purposes since the start of its participation in the 100-School Networking Project. This junior high school has established and conducted research on a network with the help of people not associated with the school.

We would like to report on the present state of the Abukuma Area Collaboration Project, and on some of its problems. This project began to network schools in the Abukuma region and to promote collaboration between local schools and the local community, with Katsurao Junior High School as the nucleus.

This project was designated as an "area collaboration project" in the CEC-initiative program of part of the 100-School Networking Project (Phase II) in 1997, and was launched to promote Internet use in the community.

2. The network environment at Katsurao Junior High School

2.1. Improving equipment and increasing use

The 100-School Networking Project provided only a server and a client computer. To give students better access, we established an in-school LAN ourselves and purchased more client computers, with the result that computer use rose among teachers and students.

2.2. Extending a human network

Active Internet use creates new demands for a networking environment. School staff and volunteers (people from the community related to the network) gathered every month to discuss establishing a network to satisfy the needs of students and teachers. The system continued to improve, based on requests from ordinary users and lessons learned from our problems. Our hard work paid off, motivating students and teachers to use the networks even more.

3. Using networks to study

3.1. Benefits of using the Internet

Students became more enthusiastic about studying after the Internet was introduced, and were more eager and independent in gathering information they needed and in communicating with people living outside the community.

3.2. Need for a regional intranet

Because these regions share a common culture and geographic features, we believe that connecting in-school intranets between neighboring areas will promote communication, and create a community in which students can study together.

In this virtual community, students are able to correspond with students from other schools and to share information via the regional intranet, as shown in the Figure on the right.

4. Establish a system for area collaboration

4.1. Conditions of a system

An easy-to-operate networking system for needs to be established for schools. We try to create a system meeting the following conditions:

1. Establish a LAN, server, and client computers within forty-eight hours.

2. Computers used by students and teachers use can be set up in similarly, and should be immediately available for use after connection to an in-school LAN.

3. Server and routers should have the capacity for remote control and maintenance.

We dubbed such an in-school LAN a "Net day pack," and have examined and tested the following points:

a. Networking area schools.

b. A central computer to establish an in-school intranet.

c. A local server to establish an inter-school intranet.

4.2. Regional Intranet

Our In-school LAN is operated with a private IP address, and is connected to NOCLAN, which is operated through routers with an global IP address. Routers connecting each school LAN have provided routing information for each one and for NOC's network, creating a complete intranet.

1. To control security, an NOC system administrator needs to worry only about the server for outside the region.

2. Unsuitable information can be filtered through the NOC http proxy server.

3. By using different servers, users can choose the network to which they want to send information.

4. Each school's system administrator needs to worry only about the school's own server.

4.3. Structure of an in-school server

In schools, teachers and students use ordinary personal computers running Windows or the Mac OS. User interfaces should be in the metaphor provided by these operating, to permit easy network use. Networking systems often have many difficult setup procedures unfamiliar to users. The following functions are useful in supporting users of an in-school networking system:

a. User interfaces should be provided in the operating systems' metaphor.

b. The computer/network connection should be as simple as possible.

c. All services should be accessible using one ID.

4.4. Testing the Net Day Pack

We tested the relative ease of establishing a networking system using a regional intranet and an in-school server. So far, we have tried this at three schools in Fukushima Prefecture (Ogisawa Elementary School, Miharu Junior High School, and Katsurao Elementary School) confirming that it is possible to establish a network within forty-eight hours. I would like to discuss the test outlines.

We finished setting up the server the day before we started. On the first day, we prepared the tools required to build a network, with teachers and community volunteers all working together.
Work schedule

a. Held meeting to go over procedures and to prepare teachers and volunteers.

b. Checked school facilities and did some basic prep work to establish an in-school LAN.

c. Set up server and routers.

d. Established a LAN in the teacher's room.

e. Informed teachers how to use the network in the teacher's room.

5. Methods of supporting network use

Now that we've talked about the test of establishing an in-school networking system as a part of our area collaboration, let's discuss some support issues.

Installing Ethernet cables between community schools does not, in itself, make networks ready for educational use. An important aspect of area collaboration is frequent communication, both by using mailing lists and in person. Since the people participating in this particular area collaboration project came from Fukushima Prefecture and neighboring prefectures, frequent face-to-face meetings are difficult. We made up for this by using mailing lists. We also created opportunities for members to gather on Net Day and in seminars to exchange ideas and information and to discuss problems.

As a result of our experiences, the Abukuma Area Collaboration Network Study Group ins confident in proposing the following methods of supporting community network use:

1. Establish a mailing list allowing daily exchange of ideas, problems, and information.

2. Hold lectures, seminars, and social gatherings on a regular basis for people throughout the community.

3. Make changes in the system to satisfy requests from schools.

6. Goals for the future

Some people may think that establishing a networking system on Net Day is not part of a school's responsibility. But doing so gives schools (normally sharply separated from society) a chance to associate with the outside world.

Since the proposal of the Net Day Pack, equipment for in-school networks has improved. The next phase of the area collaboration project should examine how networks can be used to deepen and support children's study. In the establishment of community networking systems, educators and technical experts have an important role in promoting computer literacy and in transferring the appropriate technology to the community.

Below are the Goals of the Abukuma Area Collaboration Network Study Group:

a. Establish a curriculum for seminars.

b. Write a manual on requirements for sponsoring Net Day.

c. Create a list of solutions for problems, by collecting real-world cases and measures used to solve them.

d. Discuss how to run the networks by cooperating with volunteers in the community.

e. Increase computer literacy, and transfer the technology needed to the community.


The Abukuma Area Collaboration Network Study Group
Activity procedures
Katsurao Village Katsurao Junior High School
Katsurao Village Katsurao Elementary School
Miharu Town's Ogisawa Elementary School
Miharu Town's Miharu Junior High School

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