It's no secret that the combination of young people and computers can equal aimless Web surfing. In the classroom, teachers incorporating computers into their lessons need to make sure students are using technology in productive ways. To do this, many schools have turned to classroom management systems. Does your district need to invest in this technology? Are your teachers ready to embrace it? Read on.
1- What are classroom management systems?
Much like the video surveillance system in your local convenience store, classroom management systems provide educators with a bird's eye view of their students' computer screens, enabling teachers to have total management over their classroom environment. Teachers can even select one screen to view in greater detail. If a student is surfing the Web or playing solitaire when he should be studying algebra, a teacher can use the software to block certain applications, take control of the student's machine, and force the pupil to pay attention by sending the appropriate screen or lesson to that student's computer. Teachers can also use the software to lock down a student machine — a way to keep students focused during lectures or screen demonstrations.
Classroom management systems have other functions, too. Teachers can use them to administer tests, distribute or collect files, or magnify part of a featured screen to highlight a lesson. The system can also be used as a real-time assessment tool, empowering teachers to monitor progress and quickly assess how well students understand concepts as they are taught. Based on what they see, educators can determine whether to adjust their lessons and linger on a challenging topic or move forward. Finally, teachers can use classroom management solutions to send students private instant messages or take control of student computers with their own machines, just as if the educators were seated next to them.
2- What are the benefits to this approach?
DyKnow Monitor runs on Windows XP or 2000 machines.
Classroom management systems come in handy for a variety of reasons. First and foremost is keeping students in a one-to-one computing environment on task. With classroom management, teachers know exactly what every student is working on. Many products, including SynchronEyes from SMART Technologies, NetOp School from Cross Tec Corp., DyKnow Monitor from DyKnow, Vision6 from GenevaLogic, and LanSchool, offer teachers the ability to view as many as 32 thumbnails of every student computer from one screen, a great way to make sure every student is literally on the same page. Having this control enables teachers to focus on teaching, not worrying about babysitting students to make sure they're using technology the way they're supposed to.
Apple Remote Desktop 3 lets educators and network administrators troubleshoot student machines remotely.
Classroom management systems can also empower teachers to help students who are having trouble with a particular program or application. With solutions such as Apple Remote Desktop from Apple and NetSupport School from NetSupport, teachers or network administrators can seize control of student machines remotely and troubleshoot glitches without having to waste time removing the student's computer from the learning environment. Less time shuttling computers between the classroom and the lab means more time students can spend using the computers to learn. Of course, there's a cost savings as well: Without having to physically touch every computer in need of repair, districts can keep maintenance costs down.
Finally, teachers who like to deliver lessons in presentation format can use classroom management software to broadcast slides and other images to every student computer simultaneously, eliminating the need for a digital projector. With the help of this feature, teachers essentially reverse functionality of the system, sending the image from their screen out to the screens of every computer in the classroom. Once the broadcast feature is enabled, teachers simply scroll through a PowerPoint presentation or lesson and students will see everything they do. Some systems even let teachers record presentations this way and send them out over the Internet in real time — a distance learning capability that (at least in theory) enables students out sick to follow along at home.
3- Sounds neat. But how do the systems work?
Classroom management systems sound more complicated than they are. Behind the scenes, the solutions revolve around software that is installed on both teacher and student machines. For security purposes, administrators configure the student software to interact only with the teacher's computer and other computers in the classroom. Most programs identify computers by readings known as Media Access Control (MAC) addresses, the unique serial numbers burned into Ethernet and Token Ring adapters that identify individual network cards. The files to run classroom management systems usually take up less than 5 MB of disk space.
4- Are these programs easy to install and maintain?
Installing a classroom management system isn't as easy as firing up Earthlink or AOL, but most of the systems are pretty self-explanatory. Many software packages come on CDs that technology coordinators can use to upload the program onto teacher and student machines. Other products are available for download over the Internet, making installation even easier. All of the existing classroom management products are fairly straightforward; if on-screen instructions don't do the trick, each product comes with a physical instruction booklet as well. Some products even include the option of "pushing" setup files to student machines, where they populate themselves automatically. This feature saves setup time on the front end, but frequently student machines need to be manually configured anyway.
With most classroom management systems, maintenance is a cinch. Network administrators can download program updates from vendors onto a teacher machine and control the entire upgrade process from there. Every time students log on to the system, the teacher's computer will push updates out to the class. With many products, this happens automatically, without students even knowing. For others, all students need to do to update their files is click a button.
5- Can students work around classroom management controls?
Most classroom management software comes with what vendors call hardening code, special lines of programming designed to deter student hackers from altering the system. Still, no system is perfect. Some vendors have reported that savvy young users devise strategies to disable the classroom management approach on their machines. One popular method is to delete executable files, the very files that keep the software running. Another is to download rogue Web browsers that are not monitored by the classroom management software. Finally, students resort to unplugging the Ethernet card, essentially cutting off their computer from the rest of the class.
One way to cut down on the ease with which students can sever an Ethernet connection is to run the system over wireless. In a wireless environment, connection to the Internet is persistent, meaning it is not severed by unplugging a simple wire. While it is more difficult for students to disable wireless cards, it is not impossible. The bottom line is that no classroom management system is hack-proof, and teachers using classroom management solutions should still monitor student behavior the old-fashioned way.
6- What are other drawbacks to classroom management systems?
On paper, classroom management systems are a great tool. In reality, however, some teachers report that they are difficult to master, especially considering that several market-leading products have so many different features. School administrators add that they have had some trouble convincing teachers to integrate classroom management technology into their classrooms — especially for those accustomed to monitoring student behavior on their own.
Other districts find classroom management technology too invasive, making teachers too reliant on technology to keep control of their classes. These districts prefer student response systems because they are easier to monitor and revolve around one function (assessment) instead of many. The systems also are cheaper — student response systems generally cost $400 per classroom, while classroom management technology starts at about $750 per class. Determining which technology is best for your district should be a question of cost, functionality, and need.
Matt Villano is a California-based freelance writer who specializes in educational technology.
Pick Her Brain
One technologist speaks out about the benefits of classroom management.
Kim Shelton is director of instructional technology at Clear Creek Independent School District, a 35,000-student district in League City, Texas. In 2005 the district rolled out SynchronEyes from SMART Technologies. Shelton explains that Clear Creek is now using the software in some interesting and innovative ways:
"We use it in our libraries. There are a number of spots in the libraries where you can't see what students are doing. This gives teachers the ability to keep tabs on [the students]," she says. "While the computers are scattered throughout the library, SynchronEyes lets them see if there are any problems or issues. If a student is having a problem or needs help with something, teachers can respond even before the students ask. Of course, if students are procrastinating or playing games, teachers can see this too and step in before it's too late. Another area in which we're using the software is in collaboration. This way, in addition to teachers keeping an eye on students, students can push files back and forth in a safe environment without having to worry about someone stealing or corrupting their file."
- Identify a need for classroom management systems — if your school doesn't have computers in every classroom, the technology may not be right for you.
- Purchase a product that's easy to install, maintain, and understand.
- Remember that no system is hack-proof; teachers still need to monitor student behavior the old-fashioned way.
- Empower educators with know-how to incorporate classroom management into their day-to-day teaching activities.