Introduction: Classroom management software skills are a prerequisite to good teaching. When tablets are introduced into the classroom, it is critical that the teacher is equipped with skills to manage the students use of these devices. Lack of management skills will doom these efforts to either insignificance, frustration, or a backlash against technology.
1) Start small, and then grow. Teachers need to feel in the driver’s seat, and the students need to know that use in the classroom is a privilege and not a right. So, at the very start, the tablets may only be used by a few students at once. If you’re doing several small groups, for example, one student may be the recorder of ideas, and you only have a handful of laptop-using students to monitor instead of everyone. Praise their good use, attack their mis-deeds. Circle the room as much as possible, and any sudden closing of lids or quickly closing a web browser is a sure sign of guilt. If being used in small groups, a mis-use is grounds for “no longer being the recorder” that day or week.
2) When you first begin using tablets in class, make sure it’s a focused assignment all kids are doing at once, and that you have time to actively circulate as they do the assignment (such as writing a paragraph about something, or visiting a specific website for information). If you can really circulate and shape the use of the class the first couple of times the tablets are used, you’ll be setting a good future example.
3) Create a culture of good use. This means that good academic uses by individual students should be praised, but mis-uses should be acknowledged and possibly affect everyone’s use. If several people can’t manage to use the tablets correctly on Tuesday, then perhaps non-laptop projects should be done by everyone for a few days. Assign a paper to be done longhand, for example, for everyone if you need to. The point here is that the classroom needs to respect and use the computer as a tool, and not a toy. Taking away the benefits of the tool can be strong motivator for improving the classroom culture.
4) Have strategies for gaining or refocusing student attention. For example, lids down or "half mast." When you are talking and you don’t want “half” of the kids attention, make sure that all computer lids are put down. Make everyone wait until all lids are down, and they are to stay down until you say so. I wish our administrators would do this in meetings. In order to avoid hibernating the tablets, you can use the "half mast" command in which the lids are only put down half-way so the machine remains on. The lids need to be below the line of sight to the students eyes. If kids in this position sneak their access to the machine, the teacher can easily close the lid on them (hibernating the machine means they lose some time as a consequence). Have a “Hands Up Pop Quiz” -- When completing a task which students are required to use their laptop in class ask the student to all raise their hands. Walk around and check the screens to be sure students are on task. The students which are on task receive an extra credit grade towards their quiz average.
5) Teach good “note-taking with tablets .” Note-taking is a skill that deserves instruction. Tablets can make note-taking easier. As an approach to teaching the process of note-taking, present a detailed lecture in class and allow the students to use their tablets to take notes. Have a quiz later in the week and allow for “Open Notes” on the quiz. Students will learn quickly the importance of good note taking skills and the importance of being on task when taking notes on their tablets. As another instructional strategy, consider collecting (electronically) your students' notes, in order to evaluate their skill at this task.
6) Technological monitoring and filtering solutions are not perfect. Many teachers would like to use Screen Monitoring software to see all the kids’ screens during a class and not have to walk around the room. Internet Filtering software helps block inappropriate content, but is nowhere near perfect. These software solutions are never 100% and the teacher must circulate in the classroom. Some schools use Apple Remote Desktop 3, and can “record” a classroom of student screens for a teacher to analyze afterwards; but for real-time management, such tools can slow down the natural discourse. "Non-virtual proximity control" ;) is a good idea!
7) Don’t forget your established classroom management skills. We’ve been amazed by career teachers who seemed to “give up” on years of established classroom management routines as soon as the kids have computers. All the same tools work for managing kids—the computers simply need to be put and kept in their place and used as you want them used.
8) Consider using internet logging software so you can show kids how the software records logs of all software and websites visited, and their times, as proof of conduct. This is a great deterrent if made obvious to everyone and one or two clear cases are known to everyone.
9) Be realistic. Students need time and instruction to develop maturity with the use of tablets as tools. They’ve had years to use computers as toys, and they aren’t going to transition to using them as tools overnight. Hold students accountable for following the rules, but understand that the process takes time.
10) Victory is different for different kids. Some kids will blow you way with innovative uses and processes and results. Other kids will have more basic achievements. Some will really struggle. Try to find ways to celebrate all sorts of different successes. One of my favorites is to share a screenshot of a student’s desktop who has really organized his/her work in a clear, logically manner. I’ve seen students use over a hundred stickies, grouped by color for different projects and needs, to organize notes and work. Pretty brilliant, and I was happy to share it. Such celebrations build the culture, and also enable students more ownership in the process.
11) Catch them being good! Be sure to move around the classroom when teaching, and make note of the use of the laptop computers in class. Highlight the proper behavior and point out where laptop behavior should be modified.
12) When a teacher goes into lecture mode:
- Teach good note-taking skills! See: Note Taking Skills
- Have teachers experiment with there being a class scribe who takes notes and then shares them with the class. This person could be different every day. Obviously only this person would need to have their computer open during a lecture.
- Encourage teachers to break periods up into lecture, discussion, hands-on, etc. sections. Only allow laptop use during the hands-on sections.
- One good classroom management trick that teachers have developed for hands-on work is tell kids to turn their desks so the teacher can see their computer screens from wherever the teacher is located. This takes a couple of minutes, and the teacher can then just scan the room to see what everyone is doing. Works like a charm.
Comments from ISED 5/09 (from Thomas Daccord)
- Keep the subject moving. If the activity and conversation are moving fast
enough and the material is engaging and challenging enough, students won't have time to mess around. Of course, some students might not be able to keep up. Use this one carefully, and think about whether the primary purpose at that moment is for the students to amass information or reflect upon it to gain understanding. If it=92s the latter, consider asking the students to lower their laptop screens and focus more acutely on the conversation.
- For better discussion, lower laptop screens or close desktop monitors.
Whenever you want to just have a discussion with students to flush out an issue, make them lower their screens. If you use laptops, teach your students to close to a thumb which means that they don;t quite close the laptop, keeping a thumb=92s width between the keyboard and the screen so that the computer doesn=92t go into sleep mode. When the conversation ends and you want them to start taking notes again, give them a few minutes to type up a summary of the important points from your conversation before moving on. If you are in a computer lab where students are working with computers, have them shut off the monitors when you want to speak to them.
- Create small group activities. If students are immersed in collaborative
small group activities they often keep in each other in "check" and focused on completing the assignment at hand.
- Designate a scribe. Consider designating a student as scribe for the day
and have him/her take notes for the class. Allow other students to use the laptop only during student-centered activities and not during teacher-centered lessons.
- Hold students accountable. If you do have problems with students misusing
machines, often punishing one or two can have a quieting effect on the rest of the group, at least for a little while. If you do so early in the year, you send a strong message to the students that the computers are to be used for academic purposes and nothing else.
- Remember, it's about them; not you. You don't have to be a master of
technology, nor do you have to understand everything kids can do with technology. Create a framework for an engaging, student-centered assignment and let students surprise you with their innovative contributions!
Discussion from ISED list serv 11/08 about "time management" and laptops being a "distraction"
time management is ultimately more of a human concern than a technological concern. While technology can help mediate time management issues, the notion that technology is a panacea for time management (or really, any educational issue) is a misleading over-statement that helps fuel an anti-technology backlash. Technology, used well, helps people meet needs and solve problems.
My response is similar to Steve's: distraction can and will occur in any medium. Before computers, people passed notes. Even now, students hold side conversations -- and I would argue that doing it via a chat client is less disruptive than the old-fashioned way of passing air over the vocal cords. It's less a technology issue, and more a personal discipline issue. At the risk of getting overly general, disruptive behavior with laptops is also more likely to occur when laptops are integrated into a learning activity where they aren't essential, or in the classrooms of teachers who have discipline issues without laptops. Teaching with technology is different than teaching in the presence of technology. More importantly, students can be looking straight at you and not hear a word you say. They don't need technology to blow things off.
The fact of the matter is though that this behavior seems mostly among the freshman students, that are blown away by all the cool things that they can do with their new laptop, and as they begin to get more and more used to it as a tool, like their notebook or pen, we see them using it more constructively much more frequently than simply as a toy. The best thing though is that our teachers are using those applications that the students find interesting and intriguing in their classrooms as teaching tools. Teachers have real-time chat discussions. Class projects involve students creating a YouTube video, creating Podcasts, both audio and video, etc. The laptop allows this kind of innovative teaching and learning using the things that engage the students.
We have encouraged students to create rescuetime.com accounts so they can monitor their time usage. It isn't a control software but it does offer some perspective on just how many minutes a day they IM, play games, surf the web etc. Basically it is a little systray app that monitors the active window and the compiles stats on a website for you. I use it myself just because I like to keep track of where I'm spending my time without having to think about it. For persistent problems we'll install a VNC client on student machines so we can monitor them directly if they get that glazed over look (this generally isn't until the 3rd offense). We also offer some training to teachers regarding controls for games so they can look out for hands on the arrow keys or asdw keys as well as space bar clicks or rapid mouse movement. This, along with having teachers peak in the back of the rooms as they walk by has helped (but by no means solved the problem). The goal, of course, is to get the students self modulating their computer usage so we tend to focus on stuff that gives feedback instead of creating restrictions.
I agree with the statements above. The use of laptops in classrooms is not the management of the technology but that of the individual. All tools that we as teachers use to educate students need managerial parameters. I find the use of the VNC client on student machines quite interesting and am surprised that suspended use of the computer is not a more likely option. Students will most always desire to use the technology as opposed to using the paper and pen method.