We ain’t in Kansas anymore…

With a new year, comes new gadgets to learn, to play, and, eventually, with which to get frustrated. At my location, PCTrak, the computer login software started last year, helping limit computer usage to only students via student ID login and limit the amount of time each person spent on the computer. Or, so we thought. Over the last several months, I’ve seen students log out of it incorrectly, blocking the computer from network printing, causing the next student to login indefinitely, or even hack around the system altogether. Even now, I’m befuddled by the fact that, in this interim period between semesters, the computers now register people for unlimited periods of time.

Starting in 2009, we’ll now get to work with the tool LanSchool. While a general teaching tool that allows screen shares, messaging, voting, and testing all through a main computer to a classroom setting, the library intends to use it to help monitor the computer terminal usage. Depending on your viewing choice, you can see a thumbnail set of images that match the layout of the physical computers themselves or just the numerical order assigned to the areas. Having worked the public library side of computer terminals, I have a knee-jerk feeling to say “what about their privacy?” And, again, I remember, I’m in an academic library where the mission is education, not public access. The other features in the software also tend to reflect the same concepts, as you can wipe out someone’s screen if they aren’t cooperating, limit sites, limit printing, limit USB, and limit apps. Even before the semester has begun, our tech staff has found some of the systems limitations, such as the site limitations only apply to Internet Explorer, so you have to limit the Firefox application to really enforce any restricted web surfing. Other issues present to the software relate to the confusion regarding how the system interprets certain commands. For example, some of the commands assume that if you have selected none of the screens you intend to have nothing happen while other commands assume you want ALL the computers to have such said action occur. We have no guideline as of yet on which item matches which working preference.

For my own curiosity, I decided to research a little more about the software. I was a bit dismayed to find “lanschool hack” as one of the top suggested search phrases. Torrets, YouTube videos, and wikis, oh my. The number of suggestions, ranging from how to overtake your teacher’s computer for a few seconds, disconnecting the network cable as a reset option, and how to rewrite the free demo into a full working copy (the details of this one are generally present but I had to give up reading after the 50th spelling error). Aware of the potential dangers in mind, I’m curious to see what my population will bring to me as a challenge.

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3 thoughts on “We ain’t in Kansas anymore…

  1. In the electronic classroom of the academic library where I interned, they solved the “hacking” issue by achieving the same goal via hardwiring all the computers instead of relying on software. All the monitor cables ran through certain switches. When the instructor flips a switch, the monitors of the students start to show the instructor’s computer screen. That way, you can make sure they’re paying attention to what you’re showing ;). Also, any student’s computer can be projected onto the screen at any time, if you want to show their project to the rest of the class. The student screens could also be scrolled on the big screen during free research time.

    Sure, sometimes students would browse or goof off, but since it might appear on the big screen (and they know that…), they get what’s coming to them ;).

    1. While the computer/teaching lab seems analogous to your situation, the higher risk zone is the general computing area, as each terminal is for individual computer use and is not tied to a class. We’ll see what sort of dialogue comes up at the Librarians Retreat next week….

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