Educators now have more options for gaining control over students’ mobile devices, helping them ensure students stay on task during lessons or testing

Mobile device management companies have begun adding classroom-based controls as well.

The lines are blurring between mobile device management (MDM) and classroom management software, as both now offer some classroom-level control over students’ mobile devices.

That’s good news for educators who are looking for more control over what students can access on their iPads, Chromebooks, and Android tablets during class—an ability that will be particularly useful for online testing.

When MDM software first emerged, it gave administrators an easy way to push out applications to tablets, smart phones, and other mobile devices, while keeping track of the contents and location of each device. Now, MDM providers have begun adding classroom-based controls as well.

Meanwhile, providers of traditional classroom management software—programs that allow teachers to see their students’ computer screens and freeze, control, or broadcast screens remotely—have begun releasing versions that work with iPads, Chromebooks, and Android devices, too.

The result is that educators now have more options for gaining control over student devices, helping them make sure their students stay on task during digital lessons or testing.

MDM software provider AirWatch earlier this year announced what it calls “Teacher Tools” to help teachers manage their students’ mobile device use.

Features include “All Eyes Up Front,” which freezes devices during whole-class instruction to remove distractions; “Single Application Mode,” which locks a student or a group of students into a certain application for a specified amount of time; and “Clear Passcode,” which enables teachers to clear and reset a student’s passcode without having to look up the device serial number.

“We developed Teacher Tools to help ensure mobile devices become a powerful resource for educators, instead of a hurdle for teachers,” said Preston Winn, director of business development for education.

The Teacher Tools functionality will be available this spring for managing iOS devices. Control of Android devices will be available this fall, AirWatch said.

JAMF Software, which specializes in Apple management tools, already enables teachers to control students’ iPad activity with its Casper suite of MDM software. A component of the suite, Casper Focus, allows teachers to handle routine device management tasks that normally would be time-consuming for IT departments, such as resetting passcodes, distributing eBooks, and preparing devices for online exams.

(Next page: More details about Casper Focus—and how classroom management software now offers some control over mobile devices as well)

With Casper Focus, teachers can focus students on a single app, guide classes through apps, or temporarily restrict students to a single app on their iPad. If the classroom is equipped with an Apple TV, teachers can display from their own device or prompt a student to display from his or her iPad. And if a student forgets his passcode, the teacher can reset it without disrupting the lesson.

The most chaotic times during a class period are the transitions from one activity to another, said Dave Saltmarsh, a former educator and IT administrator who is now field marketing manager for JAMF. He said JAMF designed Casper Focus to “answer those pain points.”

Teachers are often reluctant to use quiz apps with iPads, because these aren’t secure, Saltmarsh added; students can leave the app and go somewhere else on their device. But Casper Focus “lets you ensure that kids are locked into the assessment,” he said—and teachers can do this right from their classroom, without involving IT administrators.

Using classroom management software with mobile devices

Makers of classroom management software have released apps that extend some of their functionality to mobile devices as well, though not all features of their software work on all platforms. For example, Apple so far has not allowed providers of classroom management software to send an image of a student’s iPad screen to the teacher’s console.

NetSupport has upgraded its NetSupport School software to support iOS, Android, Kindle, and Chromebook devices. With the latest version of NetSupport School, teachers can broadcast their screen to students’ devices, broadcast messages to specific students, and launch chats and student surveys, said marketing coordinator Allison Hedges—regardless of what devices their students are using.

If students are using Android devices or Chromebooks, teachers also can view thumbnail images of students’ screens, launch websites or applications on student devices, and lock down or “blank” students’ screens—but as of press time, these features were not yet available for iOS devices, Hedges said.

The latest version of Stoneware’s LanSchool software also supports some features for iOS and Android devices, such as the ability for teachers to broadcast their screen to students’ devices.

Students must have the LanSchool Student app on their device to allow this functionality. The iOS version of this app includes a built-in browser that allows schools to limit their students’ web use by “whitelisting” and/or “blacklisting” websites, but the Android version lacked this capability as of press time, said marketing manager Greg Tan.

Netop’s Vision software enables teachers to share their screen with any student device, but locking student iPads or Android tablets is not available yet.

“A lot of classroom management products are trying to take the exact feature set that worked in PC classrooms and labs and overlay it onto iPads. That’s not what educators want,” said Cindy Banks, director of marketing for Netop. “What teachers want are the tools that help them teach effectively in the new paradigm—they need specific tools to fit the technology.”

Even companies not traditionally known for MDM or classroom management software have developed programs that give teachers some level of control over their students’ mobile device use.

For instance, Samsung has developed software that enables teachers to control students’ Galaxy Note tablets as part of its Samsung School solution. And Promethean’s ClassFlow software, which was designed to facilitate teaching with technology, enables some degree of teacher control over student devices as well.

Follow Editorial Director Dennis Pierce on Twitter: @eSN_Dennis.

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