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January 3, 2008 / Ben Chun

iTALC

One thing that’s been difficult for me this year, teaching with computers, is figuring how to avoid competing with the computer for student attention. I’ve used procedures (such as having students turn off screens during direct instruction) with some success. That is, I can make sure students aren’t looking at something online — but it doesn’t mean they’re listening to me. I also didn’t have an LCD projector in one of the classrooms I was using, so that made it very difficult to demonstrate any techniques or software features to the class. It’s really different than teaching math on a whiteboard.

The usual answer to problems like this is “learning management software” which is a basically a combination of screencasting and remote control software. I looked at commercial solutions like NetOp School and CrossTec Schoolvue but the cost was really high for something I’d never tried before. I wasn’t sure if it would just be an expensive remote control, and I didn’t feel comfortable requesting the purchase.

Enter iTALC, an open-source package that does basically the same thing as these commercial solutions. I asked the IT staff here to install it over the winter vacation (and they graciously agreed) so today is the first day I’m really using iTALC. So far, I can report that the screen lock is extremely effective. It does change the power dynamic in the class — instead of asking them to turn off their monitors and waiting for them to agree, I can just do it immediately. It’s a little strange to wield that power, so I try to do it in a very clear and direct way. I’ll start talking first, giving them a verbal cue that I need their attention, about 30 seconds before I actually lock the screens. Already I notice that some students are more responsive to that verbal cue.

The monitoring capabilities are useful too. Many computer labs are laid out in such a way that there’s no place you can stand and see every screen at once. But in my overview, I can see what every student is doing. Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like when they’re all working:

italc-screenshot1.png

I’m looking forward to showing demonstrations by broadcasting my screen. Overall, I think this is going to be one of those tools that I’ll wonder how I lived without.

15 Comments

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  1. Rachel / Jan 4 2008 7:58 am

    I’ve been using a program called netsupport for the past 2 years, and before that I had a program called vision. I think that this type of software is absolutely neccessary in a lab environment. I use mine often to do demonstrations in class and turn off student screens, programs, or the internet while they are not needed.

    It’s great that you found a program to do the same things for free. I wish that I had found this before I spent the (very large sum of) money on the one I have. :p

  2. patrick D / Jan 7 2008 9:34 pm

    Very, very cool. Never thought I would say this, but I’m occasionally regretful that I’m not around this year to learn how to use some of the stuff you’re fiddling with. I’m assuming that it will work on an admin computer in the library lab, but if it doesnn’t yet, get the boys to do whatever it is that need to do. And hey! I bet this would work with those dreamed of eeePC’s with Windows installed, no?

  3. Lisa Segars / Apr 22 2008 11:14 am

    I’m trying to use iTalc, but I can not figure out how to actually get this to work. The instructions are very vague. Can anyone help?

  4. quoick / May 4 2008 6:23 pm

    I have been using this software for a while now and it is a God send. The students don’t even bother editing their Bebo/MySpace/Facebook pages anymore and their productivity has improved immensley (plus my knees are getting less of a hammering). Lisa I can help you. Let me know if you are still requiring help.

  5. Debbie Hill / Jul 3 2008 6:29 am

    We are currently using Sycron Eyes but the student can get round this by opening a document login off, when “End Task Now” comes up they cancel it by this time the services to Sycron Eyes has stop and the member of staff can’t see them, so the staff have to count how many screen and then have words with that student, as you can imagine this is very time consuming my question to you all have your student found a way round this. Also in Sycron Eyes the screen flickers when the staff are looking at a student and the student then close the programme there should not be accessing, does this happen in iTALC do the student know you are on there screen?
    Your help in this matter would help me in moving this forward in our school thanks in advance.

  6. sekyu / Jul 3 2008 4:33 pm

    Hi,

    I need some help regarding ITALC. I know the program is the best but I think we are trying to push the program to the limit with what we are trying to do. I need to have multiple instructors because we have at least 10 laboratories in our school and we want a master control that would be able to monitor all the laboratories with ITALC and allow the instructor to use it for demonstration. We are having problem with the keys when we implement several instructor with one laboratory. I hope someone can help me on this in the quickest possible problem. Thanks in advance

  7. Kyle / Oct 27 2008 11:02 am

    We have been piloting the package as well. It’s very nice but with a couple glaring deficiencies. Most IP assignments are dynamic so either the client should be able to point to the host for self registration or IP info updates. Registration would also be aided with some type of local net SAP protocol.

  8. Ben Chun / Oct 27 2008 11:16 am

    You can use NetBIOS names instead of IPs in the configuration as long as the master is on the same subnet as the clients. Our clients get their IPs via DHCP, so we use this approach.

    Any other glaring deficiencies?

  9. Fernando / Feb 10 2009 12:59 pm

    Well, I agree with the posting above. The program seems to work just great and with some tweaking it can be automated to certain degree but the dynamic IPs is a major obstacle (and not moving into NetBIOS)

  10. Joshua / Aug 24 2009 10:17 am

    Sorry to tell you Fernando. You are already using Netbios, you just don’t know it.

  11. DoesHisWork1 / Sep 24 2009 8:26 am

    This is an absolute travesty against students. Yes, there are some who do not do their work and simply goof off. However, like myself, I finish my work and then have fun to the already limited extent of as much as I can. To be grouped in with the apathetic delinquents when my teacher sees a game is unbearable, as I am a studious student. I realize that it’s only intended for educational use, but some of us don’t have computers at home, like myself, let alone Internet. The grip of the tyrant is already harsh enough on us students that are virtuous and is now strangling. I beseech you, rid the world of iTALC.

    • IT admin / Sep 24 2009 9:57 am

      If your teacher does not allow games in his/her classroom, or is unable to distinguish the difference between serious students and “goof-offs” then your circumstances are unfortunate. ITALC is a wonderful monitoring tool, but it is also a teaching tool ! Your teacher can utilize this software to give presentations, directions, student demos, and more.. There is also the misconception that using a computer is your right as a student, and you would be wrong in that assumption. Computer and internet use is a privilege, and the school has every right to be as froogal with their bandwith as they deem appropriate. Welcome to the world of adulthood, sometimes you must roll with the changes !

    • Matt / Oct 19 2009 5:52 am

      As a teacher, I do not allow games, YouTube, Facebook, etc. in my class. There are lots of sites that students can browse after they finish their work that are not against the computing policy, and do not take up bandwidth. As a student, you are being given access to a computer, software, and the internet for educational purposes. You most likely sign or click an agreement to this effect. You can’t whine about not being able to play games or do other non-educational things on a school computer in a classroom. I’m sorry you see your teacher as a tyrant with too much power… I hope that you can see iTalc’s usefulness in keeping students on task, and as a teaching tool. Perhaps if you speak to your teacher after you have completed your work and ask if it is okay that you go on certain sites, they will be receptive….?

  12. DoesHisWork1 / Mar 23 2010 6:58 am

    iTALC is a potentially good program. However, it is horridly restrictive. I have a slight paranoia with always being watched, even if I’m not doing anything bad. On the topic of requesting for free time, I have tried to be diplomatic, but to no avail. Regardless of whether it is a right or not, it is still upsetting. I will simply accept the facism with a deep-seeted hatred. Clearly, students have no rights at all. The only justice is injustice. The irrationality of a thing is no argument against its existence, rather a condition of it.

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