Back in the early 1990s, NetSupport Manager had already made their name in the PC Remote Control market. During the middle of the 90s, the company started to see a new trend within the education space—larger classrooms with a growing presence of IT infrastructure, and therefore a new demand was created for applications to utilize and support that growing infrastructure within the classroom or lab. “Classroom management was born,” says Marcus Kingsley, CEO of NetSupport, who discusses in this interview what “sneaker support” means, the benefits of classroom management tools and his outlook on the future of education.
Victor: What does the name mean?
Marcus: The business was founded by individuals from the Network Support space, specifically Network Managers from within large insurance organizations. At the time, dispersed networks were a fairly innovative idea with the concept of ‘sneaker support’ (having to walk to users desks to diagnose and fix support issues) being the standard method of providing technical support. With this in mind, the concept of remotely supporting desktops was born—a better way to support your network. ‘Net-Support’
Victor: What is it? Who created it?
Marcus: NetSupport School is a classroom management solution aimed at providing teachers with the ability to use the computers on the classroom to better instruct, monitor and interact with their students either individually or as a group. Back in the early days with v1 (1995), it was a case of simply being able to connect to those systems and share control. Over the years, the concept has evolved to include not just monitoring tools, but much better collaboration and control functions as well as all important cost savings measures. As the IT landscape evolves—different platforms, social networking, thin / zero clients and more—so, too, has the list of requirements demanded.
Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?
Ask yourself: what do you get when you put a group of students in front of unmonitored computers? In an ideal world, you’ll expect to get their undivided attention, ready and eager to follow on task and to explore the never ending possibilities of technology. But back in the real world, congratulations, you’ve just created a free range social club.
With solutions like NetSupport School, educators can now monitor and interact with all their students from an intuitive central console. Not such an issue in the early days when a classroom was fortunate to have 1 or 2 shared workstations, but now when dedicated IT labs have upwards of 30 workstations as well as countless wireless laptops spread throughout the district, keeping control of expensive infrastructure is a critical challenge. Aside from the tangible benefits, there are the intangibles to consider such as the improvements to student achievement. By better interaction, students become more engaged in the classroom and can receive a higher standard of instruction leading to improved overall standards. Equally schools have a duty of care to provide the latest infrastructure to their Students but then also ensure safeguards are in place to reduce the risk of adverse external influences (inappropriate websites) and cyberbullying, etc.
Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?
Marcus: It’s unique in terms of its broad feature set. Traditionally, classroom management software has focused on student monitoring and while this still remains a critical challenge, the educational environment has changed exponentially leading to a demand for more robust set of features. Consider also that many school districts will have a mixed environment…Windows desktop, laptops, thin clients, zero clients, Mac, Linux and so on—having one centralized solution to support all is a far more cost effective route to take. For example, NetSupport School also includes a unique Technician Console designed to be used by the school technicians or helpdesk. This offers a discreet way for technicians to connect into a workstation that may be experiencing issues and diagnose (taking an inventory, stop / start processes running etc) the root cause—all without interrupting the rest of the class. In todays economy and with shrinking budgets, it’s even more important to ensure equipment downtime is minimized. Related to budgetary issues, we also include a Printer Management component as standard—removes duplicate print jobs and sets printing thresholds for each student—the savings alone in paper and consumables, can pay for the product within 12 months.
Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?
Marcus: NetSupport School was first developed back in 1995. There wasn’t a specific ‘eureka moment’…the whole connecting to remote computers across a LAN/WAN was born out of a growing annoyance of the founder within his previous role; having to support his user base by constantly running around a large office complex often to only be faced with a simple issue that required a single mouse click to fix.
Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?
Marcus: Developed in the UK, it can be purchased either directly through any one of our international offices (www.netsupport-inc.com) or via our expansive network of resellers.
Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?
Marcus: Pricing model is dependent on the actual number of devices being supported. Each time the software is installed onto a device / workstation, this counts as 1 license. The licenses are perpetual in that you pay once and own forever. As an example, a typical classroom license (50 licenses) will cost $37 per license.
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
Marcus: With over 9 million users spread throughout 45 different countries, it’s the most expansively used classroom management tool available. Our customer base ranges from individual computer labs to country-wide national installations at Ministry of Education level. A snapshot of customers can be viewed here: http://www.netsupportschool.com/customers.asp
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?
Marcus: It’s aimed at any school or institution who provide computer resources for Students (static networked workstations or laptops) to utilize as part of their instructional technology model. We also have a large volume of schools using the product to monitor and control more publicly accessible desktops (libraries etc) to ensure those resources are being used for the appropriate intended purpose.
Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating NetSupport School?
Marcus: I came from an educational background that had classrooms with a lone ‘BBC B’ or ‘Commadore 64’—and these were classified as ‘state of the art’—so my direct educational experiences have not really directly influenced my involvement with NetSupport.
Victor: How does NetSupport School address some of your concerns about education?
Marcus: My concerns are the same as any parent who has or will have children entering the education system. On the one hand, they want their children to be given access to the latest IT innovations to better prepare them for later life but only in a safe and controlled environment. Also, not just as a parent but also as a taxpayer, I want to see a better return on investment from education expenditure. If they have the latest infrastructure, then ensure they also have solutions like classroom management to ensure that equipment is being used in the most effective way.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Marcus: Probably a discussion topic that could monopolize a whole interview and much more. Right now, the short-term future is bleak. Every school district in every county in every state is facing cut-backs—whether it’s critical learning aids or actual staffing numbers—that can never be a positive thing and if it continues, will only have a profound effect on the quality of instruction delivered, in turn adversely affecting student achievement. The only small light at the end of the tunnel is that through all this pain and streamlining, a better, less wasteful system may emerge. One thing for certain is that technology is here to stay therefore it is every school’s responsibility (through state and government support), to ensure they have access to the tools needed to fully prepare the students of today for their role as the workers of tomorrow.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com