Chapter 3: Knowing What You Have|
There are people in your organization with experience or an interest in the use of computers who can help you.
What Networking Capabilities Do You Have?
Many education organizationshave networks consisting of hardware, software and communications links that make it easy for people to share information electronically.
Only a few years ago, if you mentioned the word "network," it's likely that only the three major television networks would come to mind. Today, a network has a whole new meaning, especially for computer users. Yet, there similarities between a TV network and a computer network in that both are comprised of affiliates (users) who share information over a common infrastructure. Moreso, both types of networks have the goal of ensuring that information is transmitted and shared as quickly and efficiently as possible and among as many people as needed.
Many schools, districts, institutions, libraries, and education agencies have established in-house connections between computers. Some have provided mechanisms by which persons working in an organization can connect with computers outside of the organization. Often individuals establish their own linkages to networks such as the Internet by purchasing software and using a commercial service (i.e., a company that will connect you to a network so that your computer can exchange information with other computers). More frequently, in the education environment, a school will connect through a district, county or state service. A college or university department might connect through a central entity within the organization as well.
Understanding How Networking Works
The smallest networks are Local Area Networks (LANs) in which 2 to 500 or more computers are connected within a small geographic area, often a single building or classroom. Larger networks called Wide Area Networks (WANs) connect the LANs together. They may use telephone lines, dedicated cables, radio waves or other media to link computers that can be thousands of miles apart.
See Figure 3.1 to view a sample district network design.
The geometric configuration of the computers is called the topology of the network. The standards and rules by which the computers communicate on a network are called protocols. Information is stored in networks in two basic configurations:
A Note About the Internet
The most popular application available via the Internet is the World Wide Web (WWW). It is the primary navigation tool for using the Internet. More often than not, when people say they are "online" they mean that they are connected to the Internet. Education organizations can connect to the Internet via one computer or many. A single computer might use a regular telephone line to connect to the Internet through an Internet Service Provider (ISP) (such as America On Line, Earthlink, etc.). A school or office might connect numerous computers together into a LAN, as described above, and then connect those computers to a hub/switch and on to the router, which in turn is connected to the wire (or cable, or satellite) that is connected to the ISP.
It is not very efficient for an organization to have numerous computers using modems to connect to the Internet over telephone lines. Rather, it is preferable to connect to the Internet over a "digital" line that is dedicated to organizational use. A digital line allows more than one computer to access the Internet at any time. The number of computers that can access the Internet at one time is limited only by the size of the wire connecting the site to the ISP. In terms of installing digital lines in a K-12 education environment, the Federal government currently provides funds through the E-rate discount program (discussed later) which is intended to defray up to 90% of associated costs.
Developing an Inventory of Networking Capabilities