NCES Internet Demonstration Project: Client/Server Application SetProject: Group develops standards and processes for using the Internet to transfer, store and retrieve education data.
Jan Volkoff, California Department of Education
In 1993, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) made a resolution to begin a series of interstate Internet Demonstration Projects designed to "develop standards, protocols, and processes to demonstrate the usefulness of the Internet for the transfer, storage, and retrieval of education data." One of the demonstration projects initiated through this resolution aims at developing a client/server application set to support the needs of education related to the collection and dissemination of information. California, along with NCES, New York, Arizona, Washington, and Wyoming, will be participating. This 18-month project encompasses the K-12, postsecondary, and library segments of education.
The project is being led by Denis Martin of NYSERNet, the network system for New York state. Kathleen Barfield of the Far West Laboratory will act as the contact and coordinator of the three segments (K-12, postsecondary, library) for California. Bill Padia, Director of the Research, Evaluation, and Technology Division (RETD) of the California Department of Education (CDE) will facilitate the coordination for the K-12 segment.
PHASESThe project will include three phases: (1) requirements and analysis; (2) coding; and (3) testing and implementation. The process of development includes structured opportunities for participation by other states, NCES, and other federal agencies during both the requirements and testing and implementation phases. The project is currently in Phase Two. Phase Three is scheduled to begin in the Fall of 1995.
- 1. Phase One: Requirements Gathering and Analysis (by 6th month)
Requirements were gathered from New York state, NCES, and other states. A specifications document was then developed from which the application set is being built. This phase also included analysis of alternatives to meet the specifications.
Requirements from other states were gathered in two ways. First, a general input survey was made available to all SEAs describing the scope of the proposed application and providing an opportunity for written submission. Second, the development team conducted on-site interviews with six project participants. These participants will be involved in all development and testing.
- 2. Phase Two: Coding (by 12th month)
Source code for a UNIX based server, Macintosh, and Windows based clients is being developed. All development of coding will be conducted by NYSERNet.
- 3. Phase Three: Testing and Implementation (by 18th month)
- Testing and implementation will cover an alpha period and a beta period. During the alpha period, NYSERNet will install, configure, and test the server and client source code in New York state. During the beta period, NCES and the other states (with support from NYSERNet) will install, configure, and test the server and client source code.
EXPECTED NEEDS/OUTCOMESThe following describes the basic assumptions and functions of the envisioned software:
- 1. Data Collection
- States/NCES collect data from constituents in a number of ways:
1) A file format and data elements are specified in writing by the collector, and the submitter finds a way to generate the electronic file in that format.
2) The collector distributes a program (which may have an associated data file) that the submitter runs on a personal computer and follows the instructions contained in that executable program to key in and generate the data targeted for collection via this instrument. These types of programs can be referred to as "data entry assistants" (DEAs). The characteristics they share include:
3) The collector distributes a paper form that is completed by the submitter and then returned for key entry at some centralized point.
- they are distributed and supported by the collector;
- they execute in a standalone mode on a PC or Mac; and
- they generate an electronic file that is then transmitted to the collector.
- It will be unacceptable for the project to propose one standard method for data collection. That is, whatever the project builds should address the data collection needs, assumed to fall into one of these three methods described above.
- TCP/IP as a common denominator will provide the "standardization" component of the data collection process while at the same time provide the flexibility in how the data is collected.
- Collectors of data need a way of providing status reports on the overall data collection efforts.
B. Server Capabilities
The server will be configurable to present the client program with a list of data reports required by the collector. The user will start the client, point it at the server and be presented with a screen listing out the data collection requirements. The server configuration will allow for a data collection "method" to be associated with each item. For example, if Form 123X is currently collected via a data entry assistant (DEA) type program and the collector wishes to continue this approach, the server will allow for attachment of this DEA tool which will be transferred via TCP/IP to the client program which can then (either immediately or at some later time) execute the standalone DEA to generate an output file to be transmitted back to the server via the client/server interaction.
The server will also be configurable to be able to define submitters. This will provide a mechanism for inventory of data collected and status reports.
At this point, it is anticipated that the client/server set would support the three methods of data collection:
- 1) the collector specifies a file format defining all the data elements, their sequence and layout;
- 2) the collector distributes an electronic DEA type tool which produces an electronic file; and
- 3) the collector provides an on-line data entry form to be completed by the submitter.
Some of the issues to be addressed during this development project include authentication/security on the network and methods of transmission. For example, there is an active debate currently underway on how to transmit electronic data interchange (EDI) objects via the Internet. One of the proposed solutions is to use multipurpose Internet email extensions (MIME) for this support.
D. NYSERNet Role
NYSERNet does not plan on doing data collection for anyone involved in this project. It will support project participants as they collect data using the methods supported via the client/server set. However, it is up to the project participants to determine how much testing they wish to do and what data will be collected during this process.
- 2. Data Dissemination
It is assumed that one of the impetus factors behind this effort is making data that is collected available in a timely and efficient way. The client/server application set will support this.
B. Server Capabilities
The server will be configurable to provide the user a list of data available and options for retrieving and/or viewing that data. The options at this point are anticipated to include retrieval of an entire data base file in some specified format (e.g., ASCII, comma delimited) and alternatively via an "on-line" query.
The disseminator of data will be able to download files onto his/her data server and control how users get the file. The ties between the data collection system and the data dissemination system will need to be worked out but will provide the key to a fully functioning "data machine."