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Using Software to Manage Student Computer Use
By: Jenni Hilton

As the use of computers and the Internet in schools grows, so does the need for managing the learning process in networked classrooms.

In a computer setting, whether the class is a technology or science class, a teacher must devise a lesson plan according to the curriculum. They must also decide the best way to instruct students so they understand and retain the content. Teachers face a challenging task of managing students using computers in a lab or multi-PC classroom to make sure that they are learning and spending time on their assigned tasks.

In addition to instructing students on computers, teachers must monitor students as they work on the computers, answer any questions, and possibly quiz or test them on lesson comprehension. In the limited class lab times, these tasks can be daunting for a teacher trying to cover all the necessary items required for the lesson.

Pressure is also on for teachers to provide their students, also known as the “Net Generation,” with compelling and interactive lessons designed to keep their students’ attention. Since the Net Generation has grown up with and are accustomed to technology including computer video games, cell phones, iPods and all the rest, they are quickly bored with traditional lessons. They are visual learners; multitaskers with divided attention spans that thrive in the face of technology and, who, at times, are more knowledgeable on computers than the teachers.

How does one manage and control a computer class when students can see you, but you can’t see what they are doing? A few years ago, a teacher would probably have used an overhead projector. After the initial lesson was completed, the teacher then walked around and manually monitored students working on their computers for progress and questions.

Now there is a solution that gives teachers central control of their class and computer lab. Computer lab instructional software offers teachers an easier way to instruct, monitor, collaborate, test and support students in networked classrooms.

With instructional software, a teacher can improve the efficiency of the teaching process by centrally instructing students on their computer, keep students on task by monitoring application and Web usage, improve support through online help and chat requests, and save time by using an automated lesson plan suite and timer to test the class and show instant results within the allotted class time period.

Teachers can also design interactive lesson plans incorporating the Internet and multimedia to keep students’ attention and encourage class collaboration on projects. Tap into your students’ individual learning styles by offering visual, audio and hands-on projects in the computer lab.

Some basic features that instruction and monitoring software packages have include:

Show Screen
Use the Show feature to display your screen to individual or selected students within the classroom.

Monitor Mode
Display a thumbnail view of all connected student workstations for monitoring students while they work on assigned tasks.

Help Requests
Students can send messages to the teacher’s computer requesting assistance. If they are shy and want to ask in private, this is a nice option. The teacher can instantly connect to and work interactively with that student without interrupting the rest of the class.

Open a discussion that all or select students can enter their comments in and be viewed by the rest of the class. Chat is ideal for conducting class forums. Also, in the Pew Internet Study, teens prefer text messaging to talking on the phone with their peers. This feature can be used as a motivational tool as a reward for completing a lesson.

Enhance your presentation and understanding of curriculum with whiteboard and annotation tools.

Show Video
Display a video to any selected student workstations to enhance learning. The background of the student screen is blanked and locked to ensure maximum attention.

File Distribution/Transfer
Send out and collect coursework automatically for later grading.

Power Management
Save time preparing for class in advance of the lab time by powering up/down student workstations over the LAN.

Blank Student Screens
Make sure that students are looking at you and not at their monitors. Keyboard and mouse lock options are also valuable tools to ensure full student attention.

In addition, advanced computer management features may be offered such as:

Group Leader
Recognizing that all students work at a different pace, encourage group work where a nominated student can act as a group leader with computer control and assist other students with coursework.

Student Register
Take an automatic class roll to track student attendance.

Web Control
Identify all Web sites running on student PCs. Approve or restrict Web sites and direct all students to a Web site for an Internet lesson. Keep a record of student Internet activity for the duration of the lesson.

Application Control
Control and restrict application usage of your students. To ensure maximum attention, a specific application can be opened on all or selected student PCs. Keep a record of software usage for the duration of the lesson.

Lesson Plans/Lesson Timer
Create automated predefined lesson plans for a substitute teacher or for your class in advance. Make sure your material is covered appropriately in the limited time allotted for the computer lab class.

Student Testing
Design interactive tests and quizzes with text, picture, audio and video questions. Once the test has been completed in the preset time, results are automatically collated and made available to the teacher.

Instant Surveys
Discover whether your students have understood the class by conducting an instant survey with results displayed in real time.

As instructors manage a few computers in the class or an entire computer lab, the challenge is on to make technology an integral part of the learning process. Keeping students on task and the classroom in control through computer lab software allows teachers to focus on what is really important--student comprehension of the assigned curriculum.

Computer lab software also allows for teachers and students to be creative and embrace technology in new and exciting ways. With resources available to educators through the Internet as well as the computer, there has not been a better time to make learning a collaborative and interactive effort.

Never before have students so easily been able to work on projects with schools all over the world. Pen pals have become digital through e-mail, blogs, IM, chat rooms and cell phones. The sky is the limit for creating compelling technology projects, and with instructional software, you can ensure that your students remain safe and work within the boundaries set in the classroom.

The education industry in the United States invests billions of dollars annually to purchase and upgrade school computers and infrastructure. At times, the educators ordering these resources do not properly consider instructional needs.

As schools continue to invest in technology for instructional needs, access to computer lab management software can make an enormous difference in the classroom. Given the total amount of money invested in technology and the relative benefits of computer lab software, the cost of such a solution is minimal.

Technology teams need to educate others in the buying process, such as administrators and board members, about the benefits of instructional tools so solutions like computer lab software can be made more widely available to educators providing technology instruction in their labs or classrooms.

Jenni Hilton is the marketing and public relations manager of NetSupport, Inc., www.netsupportschool.com, which provides educational software solutions for better management of computers across a school network.

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