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Free hosting service for schools and colleges

Discussion in 'Computing and ICT' started by andypooz, Jun 7, 2011.

  1. I hope I might have something for September that might interest those of you who are interested in creating web spaces for your students.
    I am a FE ICT teacher (although my background is secondary) and I'm also studying for an MSc in Internet Apps Development. After recent issues related to web hosting for students at my college I have decided to create a free hosting service for schools for my major MSc project.
    The idea is to create a web-based service where teachers can sign up their school and add class lists (in a format like xls) and the system creates separate folders on the server for each class->student. Usernames and password would be created for each student on-the-fly that allow students to log in and upload folders/files in an ftp-like interface (without the need for a local client). Then each student would have their own website address (the following links don't work):
    http://school.domain.com/class/student eg. http://stjohns.achost.com/10C/debbie
    Teachers would be able to administer students accounts, and certain security measures could be put in place to prevent access from outside the school (if required- by IP) and password protect sites from public view (if required- by htaccess) and also locking accounts to prevent late submission of coursework (if required). Also the idea is to have a facility to allow teachers to download a local copy of the class' work to a CD for exams board/ moderator submission, etc.
    It's an ambitious project but I'm already underway, I've got a long summer to fill and the logistics figured out in my head. At this stage I'd be interested in hearing from school staff who might be interested in such a service. I have an arrangement to trial the system at my current college, but I'd be interested in hearing from people for the following things:
    • General indications of interest, especially in trialling and providing feedback on its use.
    • Anyone with security/privacy/DPA/technical concerns to such a thing
    • As well as teachers, I'd love to hear from network managers, as it will take some effort to get such a system working consistently in the minefield that are LA/School firewalls. I want network managers to be happy and not to have to compromise their security measures.
    • Also, exam board representatives about their requirements and initiatives as far as online coursework goes.
    For absolutely any comments or more details please don't hesistate to contact me on andy@websitesfast.co.uk
     
  2. BTW My name is Andy Hickey. I am a teacher at a college in North London and studying at Middlesex University, so I'd be especially interested in getting trialling schools within easy reach, but interest from all areas will be very welcome.
     
  3. Well done on your initiative! A couple of points from me though:
    1) Security will obviously be a big concern from schools, will the files be encrypted on the server or will just the directory be password protected?
    2) Disallowing pupils to run any scripts etc but maintain usability and viewing of work
    3) Speed of internet connection plays a huge part in some schools, which is why we don't much trust the cloud. Obviously if the internet's down in school their files are inaccessible.
    4) Our school already runs HAP+ w/ a VLE for file storage (but not in the web domain way you're talking about)
    I like your "overall management" idea though for teachers to see pupils' work and can see this would appeal to lots of school and they'd go for it.
    ------------------
    A bit of background from me - I've got a cPanel licence (they also do a free education licence to schools) and have WHM set up through a VPS linked to a school domain. We use the WHM interface to add GCSE ICT / A Level users accounts and monitor them through there (AWStats, logs, the usual shared hosting provider systems). It helps that I've ran shared hosting services previously - but you may want to look at some of these features to embed in your system?
     
  4. Thanks for your feedback, I have more questions I'm afraid, if you have time.
    1) When people talk about encrypting web pages, they are usually referring to javascript, is that what you meant? Password protecting the folders through htaccess on the server is probably more secure and effective in preventing the outside world viewing the material, unless I'm missing the point. I want this measure to be optional, as many schools may want their work to be shared openly.
    In terms of editing/uploading, each student would only have access to their directory by signing into the site.
    2) I don't want to be too restrictive about scripts. Javascript, activex and java applets are everywhere and a lot of the packages used by schools (eg. WebPlus) use these for a lot of their trickery. My idea was to allow pretty much any html/css/images/video and simple client-side scripts, but no databases/serverside stuff. It'll still be the job of the school/LA firewall to screen out nasties. I'd love to know more about your concerns, script-wise? Is it the school network you're trying to protect from the world or protect the world from your code-kiddie students?
    3) Yes, the internet connections are a tricky one. But I guess if schools don't trust the cloud with their work then they won't be inclined to be looking for web hosting in any event. I reckon perceptions will change. Having unreliable internet connections just isn't acceptable these days. Encouraging whole class groups to upload their work may put a strain on the school bandwidth though, which is why I was interested in hearing from network managers.
    4) Yes, I think many schools have remote access to files and VLEs. My system isn't intended as a relacement for that, certainly not.
    It's your final point that most interests me.
    Using cPanel is the only previous way of managing these types of activities, and one sadly I'm familiar with. This project was designed to provide an alternative to that. At the moment, I'm setting up sub-domains for schools, adding folders and manually setting up ftp accounts for each student, then handing out the details. As webmaster I can browse all folders and cancel/lock ftp accounts, but it's all very fiddly. I wanted to replicate all these functions and more through a web interface within the site. I want to provide teachers with a more streamlined way of performing all of these tasks such as
    • Latest file uploads/activity logs
    • Files sizes, etc
    • Traffic logs
    but in a simplified form more user friendly, and instantly definable to individual students. It would also benefit from not having all the 1000 other things in cPanel that a teacher will probably never use. I've always thought cPanel is great for general hosting admin (It's what I use), but a pain for teachers trying to administer a class of students.
    Thank you so much for being the first person to repond (and positively!). If you were able to provide more details I'd really appreciate it.
    Andy
     
  5. Hi again,

    Your answer to 4) sorts out my concerns in 1). If your system was replicating a file store like HAP does to provide all their work I was asking if the uploaded files would be encrypted and stored. This isn't needed in your setup.

    2) It was PHP / other server side scripting I was getting at, so disallowing that solves this security issue.

    3) This all depends on the school's internal and external connections. For many (most?) schools this will be no problem but for some it's a pain. I wouldn't necessarily consider the latter schools your target audience though anyway.
    I'm sure Plesk has a similar admin panel to WHM's.. and there must be some Open Source ones too. I've just found cPanel on every shared hosting I've ever been with and transitioned across to my own accordingly.
    You could get PHP to create the FTP accounts automatically for you through system() with a CSV file etc, and set the permissions through that?

    Does it need to be live? I'd just run a cron every 15 minutes and dump the latest info into a text file and view from that?

    I'd be tempted to drop something like Piwik into your software (as your product isn't going to sold) and let it handle the stats, but that's just me.

    I completely agree with you that the majority of teachers would find cPanel clunky with far too many features. Looking at the huge side menu of my WHM interface now I think I only use 8 or 9 of the +100 options....
     
  6. evilmonkey

    evilmonkey New commenter

    Andy,
    This seems like a great idea, low maintenance on the teacher side, vs the ability for pupils to see their work on the 'real' internet. The idea of it being built specifically for teachers also leads to the specific security issues we are concerned with being dealt with centrally.
    I am in SE London, so slightly local, but would definitely be interested in trialling bits for you.
     
  7. No worries. I look forward to seeing you results!
    On a related note, is your FE college paying or part paying for the masters? I've always fancied an MSc in Internet Apps Development.....!
     
  8. I'm afraid not. I wasn'taware such colleges existed in 2011. I'll keep you posted
     

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