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ABC of ICT

Pete Roythorne tackles the internet, intranet and extranet

Do you know the difference between an internet, intranet and extranet? If not, read on... Essentially, an intranet is a collection of resources, much like the internet.

However, unlike the internet, access to these resources is restricted. In terms of a school this would mean only the computers on campus and connected to the school network would be able to access the intranet. This is because intranets are not connected to any public network.

Intranets are based on the same technology as the internet, so they are viewed using a standard web-browser, in fact it's almost impossible to tell the difference. An intranet can also act as an access point to the internet, including links to specific websites. Internally-generated content, with links to specific internet sites that support key curriculum topic areas and links to chosen search engines, are common examples of this.

If you want to give parents access to your intranet, which many schools do, then you have to connect to the public network. Strictly speaking, once you do this it is no longer an intranet, but an extranet. It is still a closed system, but you are allowing access to key people not on your campus.

So why have an intranet site? A school intranet can provide useful material for students, without them needing to access the internet. This could include examples of work, course notes, homework diaries, timetables and general learning resources. Different year groups or departments can all have their own homepages within an intranet, and these could give access to specific software applications, documents and any other electronic resources.

For teachers, information such as timetables, policy documents, professional development resources, links, staff meeting schedules and schemes of work can all be stored on the intranet.

The third group to be considered is parents. The sort of content they can be offered includes details of parents' meetings, homework diaries, test results and their child's attendance record. However, you will incur an extra security issue here.

Creating an effective intranet is all about planning and management. If everyone is clear from the outset about the purpose of the intranet and how it will operate, then it stands a far greater chance of being a useful resource.

Any subsequent development will also need to be taken into account, as the intranet will cease to be a useful tool if it's not kept relevant by regular updates. Therefore, it is important to address issues, such as who will be involved, how it will be updated and when and how will content be added.

A properly maintained intranet can be a vital asset to any school with an eye on the future of learning.

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