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School Computer Lab Management Software

Updated Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Also see my article on this topic: "Computer Lab Management Software."

Software Choices

Teaching in a school computer lab can be a lot easier with screen sharing / screen locking software. If you teach in a Windows lab, both of these products are worth examining:

All programs allow a teacher to lock student workstations during instructional moments and share a single computer screen with everyone in the lab. NetOp includes a file transfer and a chat feature which are handy, and lets you open a program on all workstations simulateously from a single teacher workstation. Vision does not have the chat feature, but has much more robust screen sharing features, with the ability to "mark up" a shared screen (a la 'John Madden') with a variety of highlight colors, arrows, and other shapes. Vision is also about half the price of NetOp for a lab of 25-30 computers. Timbuktu software (from Netopia) does offer powerful remote control and screen sharing capabilities, but a teacher can't initiate these actions from a single workstation: it is necessary for students to initiate screen sharing also. In a school lab environment, that is not desirable, so I do not recommend Timbuktu for the instructional needs described here. If you know of another software solution that should be included here, please contact me with this online form.

Also consider the free Virtual Network Computing solution from AT&T.

If you teach in a Macintosh lab, you will love:

  • Apple Network Assistant (for sale from Apple, supports more OS versions than Macintosh Manager)
  • Macintosh Manager (FREE from Apple, requires OS X or Appleshare IP 6.x, works best on newer Macs, like iMac labs)
  • A Macintosh version of SynchronEyes is under development but not yet available as of this date.

ANAT has incredible features that Windows users have to just dream about, thanks to the DOS foundation of Windows 95/98/2000/NT. Single files, applications, and folders can be copied to client workstations with drag and drop ease via ANAT. It also includes robust screen sharing / locking capabilities, remote control capability, and a bunch more I don't have time to mention here. I really wish a vendor could create a product like this for Windows computers, but the sad reality seems to be that thanks to DOS underpinnings (registry settings and a bunch of other complicated stuff), it is basically impossible to do. :(

Smartstuff used to sell a licensed version of ANAT that was bundled with Foolproof, their desktop security solution. This is no longer available. Smartstuff is bundling Altiris Vision and LabExpert with Foolproof for Windows, however. (updated 3/29/00)

This comment from another teacher who has tested various lab management software tools may be helpful: "I read your article about school lab management software. I have previewed all the software listed in your article. Thank you for the great resource. I am very familiar with Network Assistant (and love it!)as you know it is an Apple product and the lab at my new school is W2K. None of the software I previewed is as good as Network Assistant. NetOp is very expensive and the Altiris products are too complicated for regular classroom teachers. Neither do everything I want. I really did not like Sycroneyes. Do you know of ANY other school appropiate lab magement software? Anything you can suggest would be great. thank you for your help." Eleanor Haynes


NetOp SchoolNetOp School: Recommended Install Setup

The information below is for an older version of NetOp (v. 2.5). Try this Google Search for netop school tutorial for more up to date resources.

 

My school (Rush Elementary in Lubbock ISD, Texas) has purchased NetOp School for our Windows lab, and has used a version of ANAT in our Macintosh lab (licensed and resold by Smartstuff as part of Foolproof) for 2 years now. If you are trying to set up NetOp School in your own lab, these recommended installation instructions may help. This describes the way I have successfully installed NetOp School in a lab of 20 Dell GXi (233 mHz) computers running Win95 and 2 Dell GX1 (500 mHz) running Win98. (BTW, these screenshots were taken using SnagIt shareware.)

Outline

  1. Install the Software
  2. Configure a Student Computer
  3. Configure the Teacher Computer
  4. Misc Notes

1. Install the Software

  • Use the CD to install the NetOp software. The installation code you use at installation time determines whether the student or teacher version is installed.
  • Unlike the demo version, which can install both the teacher and student version on a single worksation, with the purchased version you have to choose which version you want. A computer is either a student client or the teacher workstation.

2. Configure a Student computer

  1. From the START menu, choose PROGRAMS and the NETOP folder. Run the application STUDENT.
  2. From the CONFIGURATION MENU choose MAINTENANCE PASSWORD.maintenance password
  3. Set a password and require it for making program changes or exiting the program.
  4. From the CONFIGURATION MENU choose PROGRAM OPTIONS. Under the GENERAL tab, check the boxes as shown in this screen shot: program options: general
  5. Click the PC NAME tab and check the boxes accordingly: PC Name settings
  6. Click the HELP REQUEST tab and click the ADD box. Help Request settings You may not teach students to use this feature (since it is probably easier for them to raise their hand and you walk over to them), but it does add a small lifesaver icon in the system tray (lower right corner of the screen) which lets you know NetOp is running. This is helpful if you choose "Stealth mode" as recommended above.
  7. Click the SCHOOL tab and type the name you want to assign to your computer lab. THIS MUST BE THE SAME ON ALL YOUR COMPUTERS FOR NETOP TO WORK!School options
  8. Click OK to save these settings.
  9. Click JOIN CLASS. Join Class
  10. Minimize the NetOp Student icon, and it will disappear (run in stealth mode).Minimize
  11. At this point, I recommend you use "Ghost" software or other imaging/cloning software to create a drive image for your lab. Use the image to "clone" all the other student workstations to match this student's. That way you don't have to repeat all these steps on every single student workstation in your lab.

3. Configure a Teacher Computer

  1. From the START menu, choose PROGRAMS and the NETOP folder. Run the application TEACHER.
  2. From the CONFIGURATION menu, choose PROGRAM OPTIONS: Program Options
  3. Set up the seven tabs as follows, using your name (of course!) under "Teacher Name." Remember the CLASSROOM NAME must be exactly the same as the name you used previously setting up a student workstation.ClassroomGive Demoremotecontrolmonitorattentionhotkeyscommunication
  4. To get the students' attention, you have two choices: show a text message or a graphic saved in "bitmap" format. I chose to create a 800 x 600 bitmap graphic and save it on our Novell server in a folder all users have read access to. When students are logged on, this image is displayed on their computer when I click the "Attention" button. If I want to use a different bitmap image, I can just replace the image on the server with a different one (saved with the same name) and I don't have to change any NetOp settings.

4. Misc Notes

  1. It takes awhile for all the computers in my lab to display the "Get Attention" message, but they all show up eventually. This speed is variable depending on the speed of your network and how much activity is on it at the time.
  2. The most valuable features of NetOp in my opinion are:
    1. The ability to freeze student screens so they can't keep working / ignore you while you're trying to give a classwide instruction. (This is also very handy when you are teaching teachers!)
    2. The ability to share your screen with students. Even if you have a TV or projection device, it is really more convenient to show students a technique on their own screen which they can clearly see. You can demonstrate something everyone seems to be having trouble with in the middle of a lesson, and you're guaranteed that if students are looking at their computer monitor, they are seeing what you're showing. This is SUPER!
  3. The chat feature is a useful incentive for class behavior: set a goal for you class in their current lesson, and if they achieve it allow them to spend the last 3-5 minutes of class doing a class chat. If someone makes inappropriate comment, you can shut down the chat, eleminate them from your list of selected workstations using the shift key, and then resume the chat.
  4. Using a Win98 machine to control Win95 machines, sometimes the buttons at the top of the NetOp Teacher program are distorted until I select a workstation to manage. Then the buttons appear normally. Not sure what causes this, but I guess it is the Win98 controlling Win95 situation. I didn't have this problem when I used the demo version and used a Win95 machine as the teacher computer.
  5. When I used the demo program, I intermittantly had a problem in which I couldn't select all the lab workstations to control them. An error message about older clients being installed was displayed, even though all the machines had the same version installed. Again I am not sure what caused this problem, and the NetOp tech support folks weren't much help. So far this has not happened with the licensed version.
  6. Download a demo of NetOp from their website and give it a try. Altiris also offers a demo of Vision, although you can only install it on 3 computers. The NetOp demo can be installed on your entire lab and is time expiring. You will need a codeword to expand the zipped file on their website, which the company will email you.

Do you have an experience, opinion, or perspective to share about NetOp, ANAT, or another lab management tool? Please send it to me!


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