Community College Implements Screen Sharing System
In February 1998, as Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, Colo. was planning its instructional network migration from Novell to Windows NT, the IT staff was faced with a problem. The school was using Novell-based software in all its computerized classrooms to broadcast faculty desktops to student screens. The faculty used this tool extensively, and no migration could be carried out successfully without it or a similar product. A check with the manufacturers of the broadcasting software revealed that the company was not offering versions of their product that would function in a TCP/IP network running under Windows NT.
"With more than 800 desktops to roll out over a very short period of time, the solution had to be simple to implement and cost-effective," remarks Cyrille Parent, Assistant Director of Learning Technologies. A thorough search on the Internet and in several computer magazines revealed few feasible options. "Most of the systems we came across were hardware-based, awkward to implement and expensive," says Parent. These hardware-based solutions also require all workstations to be wired with serial cables to connect them with the instructor's computer.
Fulfilling Faculty Needs
With more than 40 computerized classrooms, the solution had to be software-based, be able to run on the existing network (which was partly switched Ethernet and partly 10Base2 at the time), and support cloning software for deployment. While searching on the Internet, the migration team finally came across a product called NetSupport School (NSS). After downloading an evaluation version, Pikes Peak Community College began testing with version 3 of NSS. "The setup for both the faculty piece and the student piece was amazingly straightforward and simple. We were up in no time," says Gina Di Tullio, an IT professional and part of the migration team at Pikes Peak.
"The demonstrations we set up for faculty were very well received. Not only were all the features they wanted available, but the software package went beyond their expectations," notes Parent. "It provides them with the ability to scan the students' screens at regular intervals, to show a student's screen to the whole class, and to share or take control of a student's keyboard and mouse from their desktop." The software also allows students to request the instructor's help from their machine via a chat window.
The IT staff's concerns were also met, since the student client software was easy to install and the Tutor program (NetSupport School's name for the instructor component of the client) was simple to configure. The Tutor program scans the network for all available clients. Each instructor's Tutor program was configured to filter their classroom's workstations. "The Tutor program configuration is so simple that it takes less than two minutes to configure," says Di Tullio.
Putting it to Work
For more than two years now, Pikes Peak Community College has been using NetSupport School, regularly updating the product as new versions became available. "Version 4 is better than ever," declares Parent. "It's loaded with lots of new features, like the ability to group your students, send them files and get to a C prompt on their machine."
The PPCC faculty use it on a daily basis to show their screens to students in classrooms where ceiling-mounted projection units are not yet available and the 27" TV in the front of the classroom is simply not up to the task. "Using NetSupport is essential when clarifying some of the more obscure aspects of using Windows or Microsoft Office," explains Tom Barron, a professor of computer science at Pikes Peak. "The software lets me show physical examples in a real-time environment, yet allows me to immediately return control of the computers to the students so they can practice what was just demonstrated."
Teachers find that NetSupport School offers them numerous presentation options. They are able to share information with their students without having to make copies and overheads. Another benefit of this is that students no longer have to strain to see a single monitor or projection in the front of the room. The software is also used in the school's computer labs where the screen-scanning function is very helpful to monitor students' activities. These kinds of capabilities can create a better classroom environment for students and teachers alike.
Cyrille Parent is the Assistant Director of Learning Technologies at Pikes Peak Community College.
This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.