School Internet Manager Over Networks (SIMON) is a software tool, exclusively for use on Macintosh computers, that is designed to provide access to, and management of, Internet information for teachers and students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. By eliminating the requirement for advanced system services typically provided by proxy seravers (the computer tools of choice for access to the Internet), SIMON, which is available free on a NASA web site, has eliminated the related need for costly hardware servicing and system administration. Indeed, after installation, SIMON can maximize the overall utility of a user's local-area network (LAN), retrieve Internet information, and organize and present information to students. SIMON is not unique in the industry: several programs now commercially available perform a subset of functions that SIMON also performs. However, inasmuch as SIMON is uniquely tailored to the public-school milieu, it uses equipment commonly available to public schools, thereby reducing costs and serving as a more user-friendly product, relative to the other programs.

In these days of restricted funding, it is hardly surprising that public school systems are often short of money. Unfortunately, proxy servers, which are typically used as Internet-access tools, are available only on computers that are capable of hosting advanced system services (e.g., UNIX™ or Windows NT™). These systems are usually not financially viable for public school systems. Moreover, because proxy servers also demand a high degree of hardware support and system administration, the public school environment is not suited to these either.

SIMON overcomes these obstacles to access to the Internet. It does this by enabling the users for which it is uniquely tailored — public school systems — to use their own computers to retrieve Internet information, even when their computers are not directly connected to the Internet. More specifically, SIMON enables the users' system browsers to interact with mini-servers running on the users' own computers. Information requests are thus sent from a user's mini-server to the SIMON master server running on the computer connected to the Internet. By using the SIMON master server in this fashion, to funnel requests and distribute data across a LAN, teachers can control the content of the information and use stored library information to retrieve information even when the information is requested numerous times. Moreover SIMON is able to discriminate among users, recognizing two groups: teachers, who have special system privileges, and students. Teachers submit queries, which are answered with existing library documents and/or directly from Internet sources, and create the presentation documents, which are on file in the library. Students have access only to documents filed in the library. This arrangement enables teachers to manage materials used in the classroom and enables students to perform research and analyze information by use of Internet-based techniques.

As an Internet-access software tool, SIMON has few peers. Although it runs only on Macintosh computers, this one restriction is far outweighed by its benefits. SIMON features numerous search and retrieval functions (off-line searching, off-line browsing of search results, and downloading of web sites), lesson-building functions (off-line browsing of web sites, a lesson builder with web-page selector, and a lesson editor), and lesson-library-management functions (an off-line lesson library, automatic or manual lesson addition, and lesson-sharing utilities). By virtue of these advantages, as well as ease of installation and use, SIMON will surely serve as a tool of the future— one that can satisfy a primary need in grades kindergarten through 12. Already used by the Department of Education, the user-friendly SIMON can be used in the development of curricula as well as to restrict access to the Internet.

This work was done by Robert O. Shelton of Johnson Space Center, Stephanie Smith of Lincom Corp., and Dat Truong and Terry Hodgson of Space Applications International Corp. For further information, access MSC-22898

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2000 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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