(and we do apologize to Nicholas Negroponte)

There is a fundamental mismatch between what a teacher does and what a computer can do. The computer can be a fairly decent tutor, helping one student at a time. A good manager might get two kids working at one machine, but if he tries for three, he'll likely wind up with one kid working and two socializing. Teachers, by contrast, work with groups of students, thus the mismatch. A major challenge to computer aided instruction in the real-world classroom has been to deal with groups when you don't have a computer for every student.

Desknet is not a general solution to this problem, but it is useful in lower grade classrooms that work on basic skills. It involves a huge tradeoff, in that each student only gets a single line on a display, rather than a whole screen, but what the teacher gets in return is simultaneous access to the program by all students, instantly, whenever she wants it, without moving students from their desks or to another room. And it turns out that we can do more with a single screen line than one might think.

old classroom mena's classroom

Click Picture to Enlarge

The present program includes 4 types of exercises:

1) Math facts practice for all four operations, presented as real-time competition that includes the entire class. The range of the problems presented is controlled by the teacher, and the scoring is handicapped, so that the top students do not completely dominate the race.

2) Keyboarding practice. There are 243 lines of practice, beginning with the home row letters 'd' and 'k', and gradually extending to include all alphabetic reaches.

3) Word processing. Students can enter compositions of a few hundred words, which can be printed out, either for one individual or an entire class set.

4) Guided practice. Keyed to whatever math text is in use, this allows students to check their written work on a problem-by-problem basis, as they do it. The program does not tell them the right answer to a problem, only whether their proposed answer is right or wrong. Properly used, this program flags errors the first time they occur and keeps students from practicing a misunderstood algorithm.

Two pictures above present an earlier version of the program in which all the keyboards were hard-wired. The current version uses wireless boards, as can be seen below.


Click Picture to Enlarge

Click here to download the current version that uses a specific textbook answer file for the "Check Your Work" routine. (No such files are included in the download; you have to make your own to fit the text you are using.)

Or click here to download the current version that only allows students to check integer addition, subtraction, or multiplication for the "Check Your Work" routine. (No other files are needed.) NOTE: As of 1/16/17 the Check Your Work Function for this version generates sporadic seg faults, and has been locked out. Hope to fix this in the near future

In any event, you will need to be running gnu/linux as your platform, with the gcc compiler recommended. Also install SDL2, SDL2-devel, SDL2_ttf, SDL2_ttf-devel, and freetype to run. Run as root.

NOTE: On all versions, the program sometimes runs slow; students should be warned against repeating keypresses if they don't immediately show on the screen.