IT News

Television and internet production technology conceptMr David Rose

New England Girls’ School and St John’s enjoys a campus wide data network featuring about 60 wireless access points, a web filtering system and enough data and speed to satisfy student’s and staff current educational and recreational needs.

Presently, access to the web is via two fibre-optic NBN links and a dedicated ISP cable.
Data is channelled across the campus by a fibre-optic backbone, then through gigabit capable switches and Cat 5e cabling to wireless base stations and data ports.

Every classroom has a wireless base station, or in low use areas, is well and truly covered by the reception “footprint”. In White and Kirkwood boarding houses, wireless coverage is concentrated in recreational areas and top floors, where retro-fitting of networking been possible. In Saumarez House, every study bedroom has its own data port and the School issues two metre data cables to reach from these to the built in desk modules.

Students are allocated 1700 Mb per month at full speed, while download file sizes are restricted. Once this quota is used, access speed is “shaped” to a slower but nevertheless usable rate – 192Kbps – so websites and email may still be accessed but movies will not stream satisfactorily. This quota will be revised upwards for the new year, particularly for boarders, and the technology is constantly under review for improvement and expansion.

The IT Help Desk offers an update service whereby large system updates may be downloaded and installed without impacting on the student’s quota.

Compared to home internet access, NEGS would sit midway between city based super fast and slow and flakey remote rural services, at least until the NBN has fully rolled out nationally and access costs have levelled out across all access technologies.

Access to the school network is managed by a proxy server. Users enter a username and password on their device – laptop, telephone or tablet, or any combination of – to be permitted to join the network. The proxy server identifies the user and matches them to a group based on school year or role, for example “Year 7”, “Staff” or “Boarding Staff”.

Each group is assigned access and time privileges appropriate to its role in the school. Such a group policy may open or close access at particular times of the day, certain websites may be blocked during the week and opened at weekends, or blocked entirely. Social media is blocked during the school day for example.

Access across all groups is filtered by three levels of “threat” such as “Violence”, “Pornography”, “Criminal Skills”, “Hate Speech”. New websites are compared to filter lists maintained offshore to allow or deny access. The system also stores the “history” for each user for several months.
Students and staff may request exceptions to be allowed if a blocked website is incorrectly filtered or is necessary for a legitimate purpose.

These filters and controls form part of the School’s Duty Of Care to take reasonable steps to protect students (and staff) from undesirable material, but also, to deter time wasting or inappropriate access during class time. A user’s history can be useful if an incident occurs, for example, proving that access to an undesirable site was accidental.

Having to manage an allocated data quota is a valuable life skill as well.
Unfortunately, this protection and management can be compromised by a user using a dedicated wireless modem or smartphone as a hotspot.
Almost invariably, this bypassing is done to access recreational services such as social media, messaging and movie streaming at restricted times. If a school network data allocation is used up quickly, hot spotting may be used to access educational stuff, however no student is entirely blocked from the school network in this event.

Ultimately the message is, that if a family is paying excessive data bills for their student’s private data access through a smartphone or modem, the need should be questioned, at least with the NEGS IT Help Desk, Year Advisor or House Mother.

Added to this are the standing rules regarding mobile ‘phone use in school time and prep, strategies which are designed to deflect distraction during academic time. Multiple handsets or SIMM cards do not support these attempt to keep teenage minds focussed on the task at hand.

NEGS IT is happy to assist with any issues in this area at it@negs.nsw.edu.au