TechDecisions spoke with George Dotterer, CEO and Co-Founder of NetRef, about what the company’s internet access and management solution can do for teachers, students and educational institutions.
How and why was NetRef created?
The idea for NetRef came about after hearing the challenges of incorporating devices in the classroom from friends and family of ours who are educators.
We also noticed the increased use of technology in the classroom over the past ten years from the children of our staff. For example, I have two children that are about to graduate college and another that will be a 9th grader next year. With that large gap we noticed more and more technology is going into the classroom.
Those two things together gave us the idea of leveraging our company’s network technology experience to develop a solution that helps teachers with student internet in the classroom.
What can NetRef do for teachers and educational institutions?
NetRef enables teachers to know, in real time, where students are on the internet. That helps ensure the student remains focused on the task at hand.
Another thing NetRef does is allow teachers to limit access to specific sites on the fly so the internet only gets used for learning.
With the reports from NetRef teachers can also share with students and parents how the student is using the internet effectively in the classroom as part of the learning process. This is an important life skill that needs to be developed by students over time.
How is NetRef’s product different than other internet activity management solutions?
NetRef was designed from the beginning to be used by teachers.
We work closely with teachers to ensure that NetRef is easy to use, simple to set up, and easy to train with limited or no support with IT.
The NetRef solution works with any device, such as all 1:1 devices and BYOD.
Another interesting aspect is that it works with all student phones when connected through the school’s Wi-Fi network. No download or app is required, including student devices. No IT support is needed either.
By design, NetRef provides no visibility into a student’s internet content – friends, usernames, passwords, messages, pictures, etc. NetRef only provides the web URL or application name that is being used by the student to give them privacy but ensure they are staying on task.
Why is it so important for educational institutions to manage internet activity of students?
It’s important to bring internet management into the classroom instead of being centrally managed via the IT department.
Teachers don’t like to have to be the internet and device police, as they have enough on their plate. Currently they’re constantly checking to see if the students are paying attention, are on an educational website, or are using an app that is relevant to the class.
NetRef enables the teacher, with one click, to turn off or limit only the internet for the students in their respective class.
Over time, NetRef can help students learn responsible internet use and behavior in the classroom. Which in turn will only help maximize their learning opportunities and skills.
What other benefits does NetRef provide outside of just monitoring internet activity of students?
There are several benefits beyond the benefit to teachers and students.
School administrators can use the reporting from NetRef to provide insight on internet and app usage on a departmental or school-wide basis. This information can then be used to help make instructional improvements by seeing how often specific educational products are being utilized in the classroom and their effectiveness on student learning.
This insight in itself would more than offset the cost of NetRef, especially if you’re able to notice that a particular app or website may not be used effectively. It’s a way to save money if things aren’t helping.
NetRef can also be used by a teacher to help a struggling student by providing insight into their internet use at school. For examples, educational use versus non-educational use, i.e. spending time on social websites.
In the end, the goal of NetRef is to help students become better digital citizens and to effectively maximize their learning ability with technology in the classroom.