ERIC Identifier: ED316249
Publication Date: 1989-12-00
Author: Reinhold, Fran
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information Resources Syracuse NY.
Use of Local Area Networks in Schools. ERIC Digest.
"The days of the standalone computer are drawing to a close. Networks will
dominate the educational technology scene into the 1990s."
So goes the prevailing wisdom in many educational technology circles
throughout the country. And, judging from the numbers, that wisdom just may be
right. According to Quality Education Data's 1987-88 survey of the 173 largest
school districts, 64% were networking, and 36% of those not networking planned
to use the technology by 1990 (1988, p. 46).
THE ADVANTAGE OF NETWORKS
Why are networked computers
making greater inroads into schools than ever before? The answers are many and
varied, but most educators agree that networks offer them the following
*They eliminate the handling of floppy disks.
*They cut down on computer printouts, making it possible for students' work
to be viewed on-screen, sent to teachers' workstations, or even channeled into
*They support management programs that give teachers detailed reports on a
student's progress, even pointing out areas where improvement is necessary.
*They allow several students in a class to use one program at the same time,
or to work on different programs or different parts of the same program at the
*They eliminate the need to buy several copies of one software program,
thereby often reducing costs.
LANS:HOW THEY WORK
A local area network, or LAN, is a data
communications network, covering a limited geographical area, like a school.
LANs can connect a large number of electronic devices, including computers, dumb
terminals, tape drives, modems, file servers, and various printers.
Most LANs in schools, especially for curriculum use at the K-8 level, consist
of a roomful of computers connected to a file server, such as a Mac Plus with a
hard disk that acts as a large storage center for all software. The file server
also controls the flow of information, such as software, messages, or homework,
between central storage centers and each computer, and also between computers
Connecting and communicating is made possible by (1) a network interface card
at each computer, file server, etc., (2) a cable connection between these
components, (3) a network controller, and (4) a network-access method.
AVAILABILITY OF NETWORK SOFTWARE
In the past, one drawback
to networking was the lack of software to run on the network. Today, almost all
the major software companies offer network software, though not all of their
programs are networkable. Furthermore, site licenses for some programs, like
word processors, are not cheaper than individual copies because the company
charges a network and a per user fee. Site licenses themselves still present
some problems for educators who shy away from what they consider to be confusing
legal or technical details. But early lamentations over software inadequacy are
dying down as publishers scurry to satisfy the voracious appetite for
HOW TWO SCHOOL DISTRICTS ARE USING LANS
Island Park School
District, Nassau County, New York has three labs. One is a full lab for students
in grades K-3, designed to concentrate on reinforcing basic skills. In the upper
school, there are another two labs. One is for grades 4-8 and focuses on
teaching and skills reinforcement, as well as keyboarding and word processing.
The other is in the library and is open for "creative uses." All labs have 50
Apple IIe's or GS's and a Corvus network. According to Dr. Erich J. Stegmeier,
assistant superintendent, "We couldn't function without the networks. It would
take 1,000 diskettes to handle all our software and disk needs."
Plano School District, Plano, Texas is a large district (28,000 students)
emcompassing 21 elementary schools. Each school has two labs, and each lab has
30 computers and one file server. Bill Adkins, director of instructional
technology, says "We began networking in order to pull student information from
each of the student stations and communicate from machine to machine. Our goal
is to have, by 1992, a network that will channel everything a student does into
one core electronic gradebook." Another goal of the Plano program is to tie
courseware into curriculum objectives and make it possible to automatically
track student progress towards these objectives.
EIGHT TIPS FOR BUYING A NETWORK
1. Ease of use. Teachers
and students have to be able to send and receive software, messages and
schoolwork easily. Management programs should be easy to use.
2. Compatibility. Most computer manufacturers now produce their own networks,
so compatibility shouldn't be a problem. Increasingly, however, other companies
are selling LANs, mostly for IBMs or clones. These might be cheaper or more
3. RAM use. How much random access memory does the network need for each
computer? With the minimum amount, you should still be able to run all your
essential programs and more.
4. Size, distance, and expandibility. How many computers can the network
accommodate, and can it be expanded? Although it may seem unlikely now, you may
want to add more computers in the future. In addition, discuss closely with the
manufacturer how you intend to use the network. Placing computers far apart can
affect the network's efficiency.
5. Security. If you need security, how does it work? Does the network provide
the security you need while still allowing you to run the programs you need?
6. Maintenance. Unfortunately, too many districts leave maintenance to their
computer coordinators or even teachers. Ask the manufacturer about management
contracts. It may be cheaper to train a few technicians to service networks.
7. Bandwidth, speed, throughput; interfaces and gateways. These are technical
words which apply to the kinds of information you plan to send (text, pictures,
graphs) over the network. Have the manufacturer demonstrate how well the network
8. Ease of installation. Installation might come with the package, or it may
be easy enough to do yourself. Some LANS, however, require extensive wiring or
software installation. If you're not prepared to manage this, pay the
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Ebersole, Dennis C. (1987, February).
Local area networks and the learning lab of the future. COLLEGIATE
MICROCOMPUTER, 5(1), 49-54.
McCarthy, Robert. (1988, January). The network story: What's available/How
they're used. ELECTRONIC LEARNING, 7(4), 24-30.
Piele, Philip K. (1985). LOCAL AREA NETWORKS IN EDUCATION: OVERVIEW,
APPLICATIONS, AND CURRENT LIMITATIONS. Eugene, OR: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management. ED254895.
Quality Education Data. (1988). MICROCOMPUTER AND VCR USAGE IN SCHOOLS
1982-1988 (2nd edition). Denver, CO: Author.
Vernot, David. (1989, March). Get the whole story before you plug into to
computer network. EXECUTIVE EDUCATOR, 11(3), 21-23.
Zakariya, Sally Banks. (1985, March). Plug into a school computer network and
share the power. EXECUTIVE EDUCATOR, 7(3), 25-27.
digest is a condensed version of the original article, "Educators Explore the
Lay of the LAN," by Fran Reinhold, New York City-based freelance writer and
former associate editor of ELECTRONIC LEARNING. The original article appeared in
ELECTRONIC LEARNING, 8(5), March 1989. Reprinted with permission of the