Opinions Reviews

LanSchool review: Now you can have eyes in the back of your head

"Computer lab" by University of Macedonia on Flickr
Right-click on a student's computer and a bevy of options appears for managing it.

Right-click on a student’s computer and a bevy of options appears for managing it.

Managing a class of over 30 students is no easy task. Add 30 computers and a less-than-ideal seating arrangement to the mix, and the challenge grows even more daunting. Ask most any teacher, and he or she will admit that it’s nearly impossible to monitor every student and make sure they are all on task. Fortunately, several companies understand the problem and have developed software that helps teachers monitor and control student computer use even when teachers have their backs turned.

For several years, LanSchool has been one of the leading computer management software solutions for educational institutions. With the release of version 7.7.4.18, Stoneware (LanSchool’s parent company which was purchased by Lenovo in 2012), has updated its software with worthwhile features and bug fixes that should be enough to encourage any teacher that currently uses LanSchool to take a few moments to upgrade to the latest version. If a district isn’t currently using computer management software, they would be wise to put LanSchool on their short list of upcoming technology purchases.

What’s new

LanSchool 7.7.4.18 adds the ability to monitor Windows 8 tablets. Since few schools are showing excitement over Microsoft’s attempt to wrest tablet dominance from Apple, this really isn’t a feature to get excited about. Instead, 7.7.4.18 benefits the user most because it addresses several annoying bugs.

Whether intentional or not, it seems that Google Chrome updates continually break LanSchool’s ability to filter content. This has been the case since Chrome released version 29 in late August. For most teachers, that couldn’t have happened at a worse time as the school year was close to starting. After three months of patiently waiting, LanSchool has remedied the filtering bug. A host of other issues have been resolved, and in my testing, LanSchool seems to be much more stable.

Features

The LanSchool toolbar can be customized so that the features you use most often are only a click away.

The LanSchool toolbar can be customized so that the features you use most often are only a click away.

LanSchool–which can run on Windows and Mac OS–offers many of the same features as other classroom management software: Teachers can manage classes by disabling student screens or muting computer audio during lectures. As previously stated, they can set up lists of approved web sites or block those they don’t want their students to visit. During instruction, teachers can¬†project their screen or a student’s screen to the rest of the class (no more squinting at the projector screen in front of the room!). A new feature added earlier this year allows teachers to speak with students via audio, if the computer has a built-in microphone. This is helpful if you need to give a student a gentle reminder to get back on task.

Other features I appreciate? The ability to send and collect files from student computers, the “snapshot” feature which allows a teacher to take a screen capture of a student’s work, and keyword logging to monitor inappropriate language or conversations.

Performance

Let there be no question: LanSchool is fast and responsive. There is minimal delay when you click the program’s buttons to lock student screens or display your own. Sometimes a student might have a few extra seconds to use his or her computer if they are in the process of logging in, but soon enough, LanSchool will take over and help that student to focus their attention on you or the information on the screen.

You may find that you need to occasionally tap the “F5” button to refresh the display, as in my testing LanSchool would temporarily stop displaying a refreshed image of a student’s screen or wouldn’t accurately display which computers had web limiting or volume muting enabled. Granted, this might be dependent on the speed of your school’s network, but nonetheless it is an annoyance. I also experienced a couple freezes that required a force close. Once the program was restarted, it worked flawlessly.

Another issue that popped up today (which is far more frustrating than the others) was when web limiting and volume muting stopped working on a student computer, even though that machine was running 7.7.4.18. Strangely, the LanSchool teacher console showed that it was in control of the student’s machine, even though it obviously wasn’t. After I remotely ran the updater again (a cool feature which allows you to upgrade all student machines to the latest version), the problem was resolved. I will update this part of my review if the issue persists.

I’m curious to see what happens as Google continues to release updates for Chrome. If a Chrome update breaks web filtering, you’re stuck in limbo or forced to find a different browser until a fix is offered. While LanSchool has been quick to respond to my email inquiries about problems I’ve encountered, three months was a long time to wait for the latest update.

My Wishlist

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Teachers can create Internet filtering lists, but they must be applied to the entire class.

If there is a feature I would like to see added, it would be the ability to set up web filtering lists for specific users or computers. Currently, you can only create a filter or allow list for the entire class and then select which computers you want to limit.

As an Android user, I am also keeping my fingers crossed for a LanSchool app similar to what is available on the iPad which allows monitoring, screen blanking, and web filtering. Lenovo responded to my email inquiry and said that demand for an Android application has been low, and there is no roadmap in place for its development. It seems that Apple users always get the cool apps before us Android fanboys.

The Competition

Search Google for “classroom management software” and you will see there are many competitors to LanSchool. Although I haven’t tested other programs, I have read good reviews about Impero Education Pro, but the cost could be prohibitive. I’ll admit that our district embraced LanSchool mainly because we were given an excellent price for a site license due to the fact that our district was using a competitor’s product (albeit on a much smaller scale). For the price, LanSchool was an easy choice for our district.

Wrap up

I’ve been using LanSchool for two years, and I love it. I’m not a teacher that believes in constantly filtering or blocking my student’s Internet access, but it’s nice to have a program that can keep them focused if they get off task. While I wish LanSchool would release an Android application and create a feature that allows individual student web filtering, it definitely isn’t a deal breaker. LanSchool is an excellent program, and I strongly recommend it for teachers that have ever wished they had eyes in the back of their heads so they could better manage their computer labs.

PROS:

LanSchool incorporates most of the features a teacher would look for in computer management software. The menus are easy to navigate and commands are quickly on student machines. The cost can be relatively inexpensive compared to competing products.

CONS:

LanSchool may require a refresh to view all student computers. A teacher can’t set up individual web filtering lists for students. Updates to fix bugs have occasionally been slow.

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2 Comments

    • Thanks for the heads up on this one! I’ll have to check it out. Maybe it would be a good solution for teachers who work in districts that aren’t ready to invest in monitoring software.