Free classroom-management software available

In this economic climate, it isn’t always possible to get funding for even very inexpensive and essential software.
In this economic climate, it isn’t always possible to get funding for even very inexpensive and essential software.

In what could be the first steps in a movement sure to please educators and IT administrators alike, two makers of classroom-management software programs are offering “light,” or scaled-down, versions of their most popular products free of charge.

On Aug. 26, Netop introduced MyVision Basic and MyVision Free. A few days later, LanSchool Technologies LLC introduced the latest version of its LanSchool software, v7.4, as well as LanSchool Lite–a free version of LanSchool.

According to Suzanne Balter, global education solutions manager for Netop, the company wants all teachers to have access to some degree of classroom-management software so they can maximize the use of technology to improve student learning.

“In this difficult economic climate, it isn’t always possible to get funding for even very inexpensive and essential software, so we want to do our part to ensure that teachers will have the most essential tool they need for teaching with computers–the ability to supervise their students’ work,” said Balter.

There are a few differences between the MyVision Basic and Free versions. For example, with Free, teachers can only supervise their students’ computer use; with Basic, teachers can supervise computer use, clear students’ screens, project demonstrations to their desktops, and turn internet access on or off with a button. Both versions, however, let teachers set up and manage multiple classrooms and arrange the layout of these classrooms on the teacher’s computer screen to match the classrooms’ physical layout.

Although Free isn’t as complete as Basic, it still gives teachers several tools for classroom management. With Free, teachers can see a thumbnail view of every computer screen in a networked classroom (there is no limit on the number of computers that can be supported with either the Free or Basic version), or they can call up a full-screen view of any student’s computer.

“This enables teachers to see what students are doing while they work on computers, monitor web browsing, assess student progress, identify students who need extra help, and improve classroom time on task,” explained Balter. “MyVision Free provides a subset of the features in MyVision Basic and may be seamlessly upgraded at any time.”

A one-year subscription to the Basic version costs $199, which covers one teacher and an unlimited number of students.

Both the Basic and Free versions of MyVision are still in beta testing, but they are available for downloading at http://www.netop/ and include a free subscription to Basic that is valid through December 2009. A one-year subscription for Basic will be available in the U.S. in late 2009, Netop said–and for educators who download the beta version of Basic and purchase a one-year subscription before Dec. 31, the price will be $149.

To download Free, teachers must first download the free trial of Basic, and then after 30 days the subscription will revert to Free, unless the user chooses to buy a subscription.

Basic and Free work with Windows 2000, XP, and Vista, as well as Mac OS X 10.5, and more operating systems will be available going forward, such as Windows 7, Netop said.

“There are some web components to the software, but for the most part MyVision will install these if they are not already there,” said Balter. “The teacher does need to have administrative rights in order to be able to install MyVision on his or her student computers and set up classrooms.” More details are available here.

The company says its long-term goal is to offer a “continuum of classroom-management software solutions that will let schools mix and match feature sets to meet their varying needs and budgets.”

But teachers don’t just have one free option. LanSchool also now offers a free version of its software–LanSchool Lite v7.4.

According to Ben Cahoon, vice president of LanSchool, it’s notable that so few teachers actually use classroom-management software.

“We started this market in 1986, and it has been surprising to us that 50 percent of teachers are not aware this type of software exists. We are hoping to provide real value to schools in a Lite version, with the hope that many of those schools will want the other features that are possible in the full version,” explained Cahoon.

Although the software is called Lite, it still offers teachers many tools for free. For example, teachers, principals, and tech coordinators can monitor up to 3,000 student computers with real-time thumbnail views of students’ screens, as well as a “details” view (which displays in column format). Users can see the current application that is open and the most recently visited web site for each machine; monitor warnings and critical battery status; and watch a student’s screen in full view.

As with MyVision Free, thumbnail views can be arranged to represent the class, and users can create class groupings of computers. In addition, students can ask questions electronically to the teacher. But users can’t control students’ computers remotely unless they buy the full version of LanSchool, which costs $199 per classroom, per year, or $599 per classroom for a three-year license that includes updates and supports.

Individual teachers can download Lite, and all that is required is valid school contact information and a school eMail address that can be verified, LanSchool says.

According to the company, the download is 12 megabytes, and the install only takes a few clicks. For a lab of 30 computers, this would take about 10 minutes; LanSchool does not require Java, .Net, or any other frameworks, which makes for a short download time, the company says.

Lite supports any combination of computers running Windows 98, 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 2003 and 2008 Terminal Server, Citrix, NComputing X and L series, and Mac OS X versions 10.4 and 10.5. The only exception is the Lite teacher console for the Mac, which will only run on Intel-based Mac hardware running OS X 10.5 or higher.

The sagging economy might have something to do with each company’s decision to offer a scaled-down version of its software free of charge–but so might the threat of open-source software.

For example, Intelligent Teaching and Learning with Computers, or iTALC, is a free, open-source classroom management tool that lets users monitor other computers on the network and also control these machines remotely.

According to its web site, iTALC has been designed for use in schools, meaning teachers can see what’s going on in computer labs by using the “overview mode,” take snapshots of students’ screens, remotely control computers to support and help other people, show a demonstration (either in full-screen mode or in a window view), lock student workstations, send text messages to students, power on/off and reboot computers remotely, remotely log on and off, and do a remote execution of arbitrary commands or scripts.

iTALC is optimized for usage on multi-core systems and supports Linux and Windows 2000 and XP systems.


MyVision Basic and Free

LanSchool v7.4 and Lite


Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Building a Cost-Effective Digital Classroom resource center. If today’s students are to compete in an increasingly global economy, schools will need much more than textbooks and traditional pencil-and-paper approaches to succeed. Students need the benefit of technology-rich classrooms to give them marketable skills that they will use throughout their professional lives. Go to: Building a Cost-Effective Digital Classroom

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