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The future at our fingertips

A plethora of innovative systems are available which can help manage physical and virtual study spaces in schools. Digital discipline need not be their only objective, however, as Damon Jones reports

Information Technology’s capacity to inspire changes in educational culture is undeniable. Within the UK, advocates for digital education spent, according to Nesta’s 2012 ‘Decoding Learning’ report, over £1bn on digital technology between 2007-2012. Yet, despite the potential of these systems, the organisation argued that this investment had delivered no demonstrable improvements in outcomes. “No technology has an impact on learning in its own right; impact depends on how it is used,” they concluded. Perhaps one challenge inhibiting effective

utilisation is classroom culture. Faced with the temptations of listless browsing and ‘click bait’, students may veer ‘off task’ – creating a challenge for system administrators, who need to grant students the latitude to explore, but retain a degree of control over their web access. “Without appropriate management and

control tools in place, it is very easy for students to misuse the technology they have access to in the classroom,” argues Nick Smeltzer, Director of IT Services at Warrington Collegiate, an educator located in north Cheshire. “Equally, teachers who are maybe at a disadvantage in terms of their own technical ability need to ensure

and lesson planning options”. He believes that it is vital such software remains truly contemporary, especially due to the rise of ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) learning at numerous schools. Endorsing this approach places obligations on educators to adopt relevant teaching methods, while sustaining compatibility with an evolving mix of desktop and mobile technologies. Some of these platforms include the increasingly popular Chromebook, alongside iPads, Android tablets and Kindle Fire. One of the system’s stalwart features, PC monitoring,

nevertheless remains crucial to “enabling teachers to deliver effective, focused computer-led lessons,” says Lovesey. By allowing a teacher’s PC screen to display a thumbnail of each student’s desktop, the system allows educators to scrutinise learning activities in real time – and ascertain which websites or applications are being used. To ensure that only endorsed content is viewed, approved and restricted website lists can be employed to orient browsing, and a ‘Safe Search’ facility is available to guarantee a risk-free browsing experience. Simultaneously, the platform also functions as a communications channel, allowing teachers to initiate text chats, send messages or take control of student machines. If they feel they are being bullied or need assistance, pupils can also communicate subtly with a teacher, by issuing a ‘silent’ request for help. “The terms ‘Big Brother’ and ‘spying’ are often used

by students with reference to this type of software, but we’ve taken steps to ensure they are aware of the benefits of NetSupport School,” relates Lovesey. “We provide a ‘Student Information Bar’ at the top of each


that their teaching is effective in these environments. One of my first objectives was to introduce classroom management software in order to give teachers the tools they needed to be able to monitor what the computers were being used for and to help them conduct their lessons in a productive and safe manner.” However, implementing the requisite ‘control’

requires deft handling, to ensure acceptance amongst the student body. “Traditionally, this type of software can sometimes be perceived as a spying tool, as it can monitor and block internet use, amongst other features,” observes Chris Lovesey, Marketing Manager at Peterborough based NetSupport, a firm which has been developing educational software solutions for 25 years, and has a current worldwide installation base in excess of 12 million systems. The company offers a classroom management system titled NetSupport School which, he explains, has now evolved from a security solution into “much more of a teaching aid”. According to Lovesey, it now provides “a number of unique assessment tools, revision aids

ABOVE: The recently introduced Progresso system

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