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Sept. 22, 2007

New version of BILL to be implemented soon

by Emily Hsiao, Online Managing Editor
The Blair Information and Learning Locus (BILL), a replacement to the now defunct Blair Education Network (BEN), will be implemented in the next few weeks, according to network administrator Peter Hammond. BILL will include discussion forums, student schedules, email and task lists among its features.

Edline replaced BEN as a consequence of MCPS's requirement that all county middle and high schools use the Online Achievement and Reporting System (OARS) for the 2007-2008 school year. OARS combines Pinnacle, an electronic grade book, with Edline, an online program that allows students and parents to track a student's school progress.
The current version of BILL only allows students to check their e-mail. 

<i>Screenshot courtesy of Will Shepherdson.</i>
The current version of BILL only allows students to check their e-mail. Screenshot courtesy of Will Shepherdson.


Edline, however, does not provide all of BEN's unique features. Thus, Blair's system operators a group of students who manage all of Blair's servers such as Binx, the homepage and BEN under the supervision of Hammond met last spring to start planning BILL. "We began devising a system that would supplement Edline with features that would have been lost had BEN been shut down and no replacement created," system operator Will Shepherdson, a junior, said.

BEN, Edline and BILL

Currently, BILL is only a temporary web-mail client that provides Blazers with access to old BEN emails. It is based on the program RoundCube that Shepherdson modified to work with the Binx and BEN email system. Once the official BILL is finished, it will replace the temporary BILL and include several features the Edline lacks.

While Edline provides an interface to view updates on grades at home, BEN permitted teachers to create discussion forums, allowed users to look up other users' schedules, displayed new feeds from Silver Chips Online and Blair Network Communications (BNC) and provided integrated e-mails. Blair's system operators are trying to incorporate many of those functions onto BILL.

Shepherdson started working on the code for the official BILL over the summer. According to Shepherdson, the finished version of BILL will allow students to check their school email, hold discussions on class forums, search for other peoples' schedules and create a task list of items that need to be completed. The task list is a completely new feature that allows the user to add items to a list and drag them up or down to change the order of the tasks. In addition, forums have been redone to simplify the procedure for posting and viewing topics.
Soon students will be able to log onto BILL and see this homepage. 

<i>Screenshot courtesy of Will Shepherdson.</i>
Soon students will be able to log onto BILL and see this homepage. Screenshot courtesy of Will Shepherdson.


The official BILL will be implemented within the next few weeks, according to Shepherdson and Hammond. With the help of system operators Josh Snyder, Joseph Lynch and Jitu Das, all juniors, Shepherdson is adding finishing touches, such as friends lists and accounts for everyone. The operators also need to add schedules onto BILL and check that all accounts, passwords and BILL features are working before BILL can be made public.

A learning experience

Aside from just providing extra functionality, BILL also gives back some of the control Blair's system operators lost when BEN was shut down.

Blair's system operators feel they have fewer learning opportunities without BEN. "Although our jobs would be easier without BEN, Edline doesn't provide any of the experience that BEN provides in managing a large scale system," Shepherdson said. "With Edline, we don't have the power to do anything."

Another change is that the system operators and Hammond will have more difficulties fixing glitches on Edline than they did on BEN. "Edline is a completely packaged product whose code we don't have any access to," Hammond said, "while with BEN, we had the software that made it work."

BEN is gone, but BILL will soon be available to provide the systems operators with the experience they have been lacking. "With BEN, we had a chance to manage the system," Shepherdson said. "For example, we could create the users, help them if they had problems, etcetera. Hopefully we will get that sort of experience through BILL."

BEN's story

BEN served the Blair community for the past nine years. It began as a project called "CAPOnline" in the spring of 1997. CAP student Ben Krefting, class of 1998, came up with the idea to create a web-based system for educational collaboration for the CAP program at Blair. Magnet student David Moore, class of 1999, wrote the code for Krefting and had a system running for CAP students in the 1997-1998 school year.

CAPOnline became so popular with both teachers and students that Moore continued to modify the code and add features such as email and special administrative functions. In June 1998, Moore began writing the code to create a similar system to CAPOnline for the whole school. Blair implemented this new system, which Moore named BEN, in the fall of 1998. Since then, Blair's system operators have continuously run BEN until June 2007, when the system was shut down and replaced by Edline and BILL.

For more information on the history of BEN, please visit this website.



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  • wooooooo on September 23, 2007 at 1:37 PM
    It will be so great. U know what Edline sucks. But when does Bill start to work?
  • Coolest Guy Ever on September 24, 2007 at 8:03 PM
    Nice Job Emily! You worked really hard on this and it shows. Well done.
  • anon on September 24, 2007 at 9:21 PM
    How much longer?
  • Emily Hsiao (View Email) on September 28, 2007 at 9:45 PM
    I'm sorry but Mr. Hammond and Will couldn't give me a definite date so I guess we all just have to wait patiently. But Will told me it should be up pretty soon, maybe any day now.
  • annoyed student on October 4, 2007 at 8:15 PM
    I am infuriated with the county on the choice to replace BEN with Edline. I did a little searching and I found that it costs about 3 dollars per student account per year. With about 3000 students, that is about 9000 dollars extra a year. Why spend that kind of money on something that has not only less features, but a less-than-friendly user interface?
  • Joe Lynch (View Email) on October 5, 2007 at 10:47 PM
    Just an update, Bill was brought up a couple of days ago, and if you go to:

    https://bill.mbhs.edu/

    and click on the BILLv2 link, you should be able to log on (the link is towards the bottom of the text).
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