Kentucky Department of Education Makes Department of Education Makes Internet Access More Accessible

Recently, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) committed to providing its students and teachers with the quickest access possible to the Internet materials relevant to their educational level and interests. To that end, Kentucky Education Technology System (KETS) is funding the installation of Microsoft Proxy Server software in every school and district office in the state.

This move will enable the department to create local, regional and state electronic Web site libraries and to use the tracking, reporting, firewall and filtering capabilities in Proxy Server to help manage the sites' student access. In addition, Proxy Server will help schools comply with a recently passed Kentucky state law that requires every school to use the latest available technology to make it more difficult for students and adults to access non-instructional Internet sites.

According to David Couch, Kentucky Associate Commissioner for Education, Proxy Server was chosen to do much more than simply filter out unwanted sites. Its Active Intelligent Caching feature enables Proxy Server to automatically determine the most frequently used sites and preload that content into the cache, where it's instantly available for class lessons at the time the teachers and students need it. It will also enable teachers to download other content from the Internet to the local school ahead of time, so they don't have to worry about whether the Internet connection is up or the site is available when they start their lessons. As a result, each school will be able to create its own reliable electronic library of approved materials that are instantly available for class use and instruction.

When school customers request materials, Proxy Server first looks on the local school proxy workstation or file server. If the materials are not available at that location, it looks to the district office. If the district proxy server d'esn't have the materials, MS Proxy Server searches the proxy servers at the state level. Only if that final search comes up empty will the user be routed to the Internet. This entire process is quick and transparent to end-users.

Supporting Acceptable Use and School-Level Decision-making

Choosing Proxy Server as part of its Internet strategy supports KDE's two primary goals. First, it makes it as easy as possible for teachers to access information reliably, while preventing teachers and students from accessing non-instructional sites. Second, it supports KDE's strong commitment to keeping decisions about which materials users have access to at the school level.

KDE has established a clear acceptable use policy, which every staff member and every student must sign before gaining access to computer resources. This policy governs the use of all school computer resources in the state and clearly specifies the types of Internet sites and electronic communications that are acceptable and the consequences for violating the policy.

In Kentucky, as in most states, each school makes decisions about library books and textbooks. Proxy Server caching makes it easy for each school to build its own electronic library. That means frequently used magazines, reports and other materials can be kept on the school's proxy server for access by any of the teachers or students. The school technology coordinator can also create detailed user and group permission lists for materials - to keep students from accessing teachers' saved Internet Web sites, for example. Plus, Active Intelligent Caching in Proxy Server assures that materials are always up to date and readily available. And more than one teacher can use the same materials at the same time, without having to download them separately.

Record Speed, Economical Price

In addition to reliability, Proxy Server has increased access speed dramatically. "For the average person, even an adult, it takes about 10 seconds before they start getting antsy waiting for a site to load," Couch says. "Proxy brings the site right down to the school level and it's always there so it takes only about 4 to 15 seconds."

Because most of the activity is between desktop computers and the proxy server at each school, users are able to achieve this level of performance with only a 56KB connection to the Internet. "We've found that on average we need 50 percent less bandwidth with Proxy Server," Couch notes. "We're finding that instead of having to automatically upgrade the schools to T1 lines to increase Internet response rates they can just put in a 56KB line and save $5,000 to $6,000 per year per school, while tremendously improving response rates for students and teachers."

Tracking Use for Better Control

By tracking the most popular instructional Web sites, Proxy Server can help administrators make sure that that data is cached on the local school proxy server. This tracking can also help school and district technology coordinators discover unacceptable sites to filter out and identify users who have violated the school acceptable use policy. "We've found that the best temptation reducer is to track where people go, for how long, and every step they take to get there," Couch notes. "People know that those logs are monitored so they stay on task. We've found that it's more effective in preventing them from going to non-instructional sites than trying to come up with a list of all the sites that people can't go to."

In the schools that have already installed Proxy Server, the deterrence factor appears to be working. People who have happened onto a non-instructional site are going to the administrators and letting them know ahead of time in anticipation of that visit showing up on the log. "Proxy Server really offers the ideal combination of caching and access control," says Couch. Teachers can do everything with the Internet they could do before Proxy Server, only now they can do it better."

Contact Information:
Microsoft Corp.
Redmond, WA

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.