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Mobile Learning | Feature

Giving Teachers Control of MDM

New software is helping migrate mobile device management from the IT department to the classroom.

Mobile devices give students instant access to interactive online learning resources, but they also create classroom management challenges for teachers, who can struggle to keep students engaged in the task at hand. Many districts with BYOD or 1-to-1 initiatives have implemented enterprise mobile device management (MDM) tools, such as those from AirWatch, CoSoSys, MaaS360, Lightspeed Systems and MobiControl. IT departments typically employ these products across a district or school and use them to enforce security policies, track and locate devices, and monitor and manage mobile apps. While the IT department is usually in control of enterprise MDM, some tools also give teachers the ability to monitor students' online activities, restrict access to specific online resources and even reset device pass codes. We interviewed tech leaders at three districts to find out how they are moving MDM into the classroom.

Helping Teachers Focus on Teaching
Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater, FL, became a BYOD school in the 2011-2012 school year. Students were required to bring their own laptops. The school didn't have the resources to provide any technical support for the devices, and teachers had to do their best to manage devices in the classroom. Jeffrey Hutto, technical implementation coordinator for the school, said, "This is our third year, and we've realized that the amount of time and energy required for our teachers to manage that process is excessive." According to Hutto, students were spending class time checking their scores on ESPN, playing games and shopping online. "It was getting to a completely ridiculous level," he said, "so we needed to stifle that as much as we could."

The school considered restricting Internet access at the network level, but Hutto said, "Anytime you create more security on the network side, you start blocking access to good things that we actually need our students to access." The school decided to implement a classroom management tool that would give teachers control over the laptops. After an extensive evaluation process, Hutto selected NetSupport School because it supported test proctoring, so teachers could lock down student devices when administering online tests. NetSupport School also supports iPads, which the school plans to implement in the coming years — not to mention that its per-device pricing model was more economical for the school than the per-classroom or per-teacher licenses offered by competitors. NetSupport School will also enable Hutto to provide remote technical support and deploy applications to student devices.

The school is just starting the process of implementing NetSupport School and plans to have it in place for the beginning of the upcoming school year, but the response to the plan has been overwhelmingly positive. "I literally had one teacher jumping up and down with his hands over his head like we had won the Super Bowl," said Hutto. "The teachers are very encouraged about what this is going to do for them. They're looking forward to not having to worry about some of these classroom details, so they can just focus on teaching."

Monitoring a Variety of Devices
Brockport Central School District (NY) supports almost 2,800 student devices, including more than 1,350 classroom PCs, 500 Dell tablets, 390 iPads, 375 netbooks and laptops on carts, another 200 laptops and 80 iPod Touches. Like their counterparts at Calvary Christian High School, teachers at Brockport Central were having trouble managing students' online activities in the classroom. About eight years ago, the district started using a classroom management tool called Netop School, which was succeeded by Netop Vision Pro a couple of years ago. The new version manages tablets as well as computers. Wayne Rickman, technical administrator for the district, said, "When they came out with Vision Pro, they simplified it and made it easier for teachers to use. It was more icon-based, and now they can access almost everything from one main window."

The teachers at Brockport Central School District use Netop to monitor and manage mobile devices in the classroom. For example, in a fifth-grade classroom where the students are working in stations, the teacher can carry her tablet with her as she moves from group to group and keep tabs on the activities of all of the kids at the various stations. Rickman described it as "an extra pair of eyes for the teacher."

But according to Rickman, the teachers use Netop even more for whole-class demonstrations, either from the teacher's computer or a student's computer. For example, in a technology class when a student has a question about dropping a component into another component, the teacher can display that student's screen on the Smart Board and demonstrate the explanation to the whole class.

Rickman concluded that the teachers love it, but the students aren't quite as enthusiastic. "When they use it for monitoring kids that are going out onto Web sites, a lot of them don't like it because that's what they use to bust them, and there's nothing they can do about it because they can't block it." Said Rickman. On the other hand, he said, students do enjoy the demonstration functionality, particularly if the teacher uses it to show their work to the entire class.

Keeping Students on Task
Hopkins Public Schools (MN) uses iPads in grades K-12. According to John Wetter, technical services manager for the district, the tablets are intended to encourage student creativity and exploration, but teachers need an MDM tool to help guide the learning. Before implementing iPads, the district had been using Casper Suite, a device-management solution for Mac OS and iOS, to track its inventory and the students assigned to each device, so when the district decided to implement a classroom management tool, Casper Focus was the natural choice, said Wetter, "because we already had the infrastructure in place."

According to Wetter, teachers use Casper Focus differently depending on the age group. At the elementary level, he said, "Casper Focus allows them to have that ability to focus the students into a specific task that they're working on. They do a lot of small group work, so if there are 24 kids in a class the teacher's going to break them up into three groups of eight students working on different projects and the teacher can focus each group on an iPad app that's specific to what that group is doing."

At the junior-high and high-school level, teachers use Casper Focus at the beginning of class to point students to a particular book or app that they'll be using. "They can walk the kids through it without worrying about students being distracted or doing things that are off-task," said Wetter. "And then they can just release the focus transparently to allow the kids to use their iPads for the task at hand, but again giving them that creativity and exploration that the iPad enables in the classroom."

NetSupport School, Netop Vision Pro and Casper Focus are only three classroom MDM tools available on the market. Others include AirWatch Teacher Tools, a companion to AirWatch MDM; LanSchool from Stoneware; and Smart Sync from Smart Tech, the makers of Smart Boards. Some support a wide variety of devices and platforms, while others are more specialized.

No matter what software a district chooses, Wetter said, "The number one benefit is really classroom management — making sure that the teacher knows that students are on task when they need to be on task. It's about the teacher being able to manage the iPads without IT intervention."

You can see more great feature articles in the latest issue of our monthly digital edition.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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