Controlling Students

Last fall I went to ITEC11 in Des Moines. I was challenged by educational reformers like Gary Stager and Steve Hargadon.

I also enjoyed perusing the exhibits. One of the many sellers was LanSchool Classroom Management Software. I was mildly interested because I do want to have good classroom management and I want to host a safe digital environment in my classroom.

However, at the same time I was repulsed. I had just been listening to radical and exciting educators telling that we can be lifelong learners together with our students. We can give them ownership of their learning. They can be creators and contributors. When I saw LanSchool demonstrated, I couldn’t help but think this was a serious disconnect. Many of us teachers were excited to take to heart the exciting innovations we heard at the keynote address. However, we then walked into the very next room and were able to undo everything Stager and Hargadon told us if we bought the right management software to “control” our students.

I realized then that not all schools embracing 1 to 1 technology for their students are also embracing the type of learning of which Stager and Hargadon spoke.

When I came back to my school I did not tell anyone about the software. In fact, by this morning, I had forgotten all about the LanSchool Classroom Management Software, but today I received an email that reminded me of the software I had rejected.

Here is part of the email that came:

Want a tool that grabs your student’s attention? Choose the one that some students fear but every teacher loves.

LanSchool Classroom Management Software lets you run your computer-assisted classroom like a pro. Blank computer screens. Show your computer to the class. Drop kids off the Internet. Get their attention like never before.

OK, so I read their email and it reminded me of my polarized thoughts. Right before the email, I had had my first class. Students had come in with their laptops. They, like me, are tempted to multi-task. They like to get logged in right away, and I try not to tell them too often to close their computers. Sometimes I do–for prayer, when I’m giving directions, when someone is sharing, etc.

Would I want to be able to blank out their screens? Do I want to nip in the bud any hint of online chatting (note passing)? Do I want to make sure they make no digital mistakes in my classroom?

Or do I want my class to be a place where they can make some mistakes? If not in my classroom, where? Do I want to inspire them to be geniuses–creating and producing? “We don’t have time for chatting now, unless you are talking about the work you are doing. We need to contribute and share our genius. We are changing the world!” I’m heard to say.

We have to leave some room for them to learn good digital citizenship by making occasional mistakes. It’s a bit messy in my room these days.

Yes, it may be handy to blank a screen once in awhile, but if I always do it for them, would they even know they need to learn to blank their own screens sometimes? Do I want their learning under my control? (I shudder to consider what any of us would think if a speaker blanked our computer screen so we would “pay attention” in a class, conference, or PD meeting.)

I work hard to make my classroom student-centered, why would I want to take control of their computers? I want them to take control of their own computers and their own learning!

And so, after reading the email and even venturing a look at their three-minute video, I find myself once again dismissing the idea of LanSchool software, as I did in October.

What do you think? Does your 1 to 1 school use a computer management software?

If not, do you think you’d like one?

I hope you’ll share your experiences with or without it.

My guess is that One Laptop per Child schools don't need management software.

Images Haiti Classroom and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia from One Laptop per Child, shared with CC Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

8 thoughts on “Controlling Students

  1. Hi Denise-
    You’ve brought up some great points in this post! While you clearly understand why classroom management products exist, you’re also struggling with the “big brother” concept of tracking all of your students’ moves and not allowing them to learn through experience and by making the occasional mistake. The language in the email campaign you received is frightening – it implicates the educator as the ultimate, omniscient police officer bearing down on his/her students. This does not have to be an automatic response to technology in the classroom, nor does it need to be a one-size-fits-all approach to classroom management. I’d encourage you to think about your own students and your classroom – you probably rarely discipline them all at the same time, every day. This is the intention of full-blown, authoritarian software solutions such as the one you’re speaking about. We’re all tempted to multi-task, and I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t always taking notes while I was in class in college. But often times if I was sidetracked on my laptop, it was because I was being spoken AT instead of actively engaged in discussions and conversations. Playing solitaire never would have worked in my English classes because I would have missed so many of my classmates’ valuable comments, and I knew it, so I stayed on track with my computer in front of me. The most important thought to remember in regard to EdTech is: what are your teaching and learning goals? If a learning goal is to lock your students down and confine them to spreadsheets and word processing docs, a product such as this would be valuable to your classroom. If your learning goal is to actively engage your students and encourage collaboration and participation, you don’t need to blank all of your students’ screens and block their Internet browsing. Hopefully, they’re creating content ON the Internet! What do you think? I’ll look forward to hearing some more of your thoughts.

    1. Abbey,
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful and engaging comments. Yes, I do struggle with the “big brother” concept and the authoritative police officer. Police officers have important jobs, but one of them is not to inspire us to be life long learners. What place do authoritarians have in a classroom? None that promote learning.

      Well, my learning goals are definitely centered around the active engagement, collaboration and participation that you mention. I won’t be blanking my students’ screens. Check out how they are contributing online here at our class room blog

      Thanks again for visiting!

  2. I have had teachers in my district ask if we have software available that would allow them to do just this. I have had conversations with a few of them where they have uttered phrases stating that they would love to have the ability to make the student screens go black, or take control of a screen, or drop them from the internet.

    This may sound crass, or condescending, but that truly isn’t my intention. If we provide engaging, authentic learning opportunities for kids with a clear purpose and a place for student autonomy, that will clear up a majority of the “management” issues teachers see in their classrooms with regard to the technology.

    Also, it is vital for some teachers to be willing to give up at least some of the control they have held over the learning in their classrooms. If we are dead-set on being a controller in the room, the one thing that will certainly suffer is the learning.

    1. Devin,
      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting, and especially thank you for the leadership you bring to your school, where you challenge and equip educators to “provide engaging, authentic learning opportunities…” It’s true this will eliminate many management issues. As Abbey said above, “…if I was sidetracked on my laptop [in college], it was because I was being spoken AT instead of actively engaged in discussions and conversations.”

      I do believe we should have classroom management skills, and I also believe we cannot CONTROL anyone. As you said, if we try, learning suffers.

  3. Blanking their computer screens is sort of like duct taping their mouths… it sure would make class “easy” for a teacher, but it sure isn’t the way I want to treat my students.


  4. Dear Denise,

    I love your post, and am so glad that you wrestled with this idea. If you are promoting a teacher-centric classroom, then management systems like this are fabulous. If you are promoting a learning-centric classroom, then there is not a need for this management software.

    Learning-centered classrooms are not easy, but it’s absolutely the best for our students. I love I “see” in your classroom based on your blogs.

    To answer your question, our one-to-one school does not have management software like this, nor would I ever want one. The last thing I want is a teach stationary at his/her computer … I want the teachers with the students, moving amongst them… Here’s a glimpse into the one-to-one that I see.

    Thank you so much for this well written post.

    Kind regards,

  5. Tracy,
    Thank you for your response to my questions. I am not surprised that you don’t use classroom management software! I love the post about your 1 to 1 math classes. The students are lucky to be surrounded by teachers willing to let go of the control so their students can learn.

    Thanks again for stopping by and leaving a comment linked to a great resource so others can see your teachers in action.


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