Versatile Remote Access Servers Let Cleveland Educators Stay Connected

These days, more than ever, schools of all sizes face the need to link telecommuters, traveling employees, students and remote offices to local area networks (LANs) with all the functionality and ease-of-use of a direct network connection. In an era where the physical boundaries of work continue to disappear, educators are recognizing the value of dial-in access to the full range of applications on a campus network, from sharing files to keeping tabs on finances. Students, raised around cellular phones and satellite TV, almost expect technology to extend learning beyond the classroom. Many youngsters already routinely surf the Internet, where they can search entire encyclopedias, publish their own newsletter or correspond with others worldwide. Resistant to Change But some schools have still not implemented remote access solutions for their community, perhaps afraid of the costs or training involved. Network administrators may pull their hair out just by the thought of installing, configuring and maintaining new servers and client software. When officials at Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools in Cleveland, Ohio, introduced remote access capabilities to their faculty in early 1995 they found that such fears are greatly exaggerated. The district currently uses three remote access servers from Shiva Corp. (Framingham, MA) for three different functions. The LanRover/PLUS units support Ethernet or Token Ring networks in a modular eight-slot form factor. The scaleable product accommodates both analog and digital users and allows simple upgrades as needs change. The first LanRover delivers dial-in access for faculty to the Heights High School LAN. Steve Titchenal, media specialist, developed the district's Web site. "We have everything on there from back issues of our school newspaper to links to the CLEVNET online library system to information for parents and alumni." The high school previously used its LanRover to dial out to the Internet, but it now relies on ISDN service provided by a local NASA facility. When he's away from his office, Titchenal dials into the LAN to check e-mail or connect to the Home Pages for Apple and other technology firms, where he finds up-to-date pricing and troubleshooting tips. "It's been a tremendous technical support asset." Teachers Share Resources Cleveland Heights' second LanRover enables teachers at any of the 14 schools to dial-in to a curriculum database of lesson plans and other pertinent information. The district received a grant from the state of Ohio to distribute among faculty 25 Apple PowerBooks with built-in modems. Participants in the CORE grant project received training on how to create lesson plans that met objectives for all five core subject areas. Teachers work on their lesson plans from their PowerBooks, sharing the results with colleagues nationwide. Teachers can dial-in to a curriculum database of lesson plans. The curriculum database is linked to an online catalog of 4,000 videos, so anyone can quickly track down the materials that correlate to lesson plans. "When the teachers started doing this, they were just amazed," recalls Kay Coss, coordinator of educational resources. Coss hopes that additional funds from a ballot initiative this fall will permit the district to expand the CORE project. Representatives from the district have presented their work at various educational conferences, with enthusiastic feedback from audiences. Administrators Go Online Just acquired this summer, the third LanRover offers dial-in access for administration and staff at the Board of Education offices to a mainframe and Novell server containing personnel, attendance and financial data. Administrators also can log onto their desktop computer from home or the road; Shiva software includes authentication and dial-back features to reduce security risks. In addition, under the firm's technology protection package, replacement units will be shipped to the district in 24-48 hours should a serious problem arise. Marc Brown, electronic specialist, says Cleveland Heights once tried another manufacturer's remote access solution, only to send it back in frustration. In contrast, the LanRover was up and running in a couple of hours. "And we didn't have to read a stack of manuals."

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.