Remote Desktop Applications for Distance Teaching and Learning

Remote Desktop Applications for Distance Teaching and Learning

In a previous blog post, Remote Desktop Computer Lab Management Software, I explored the use of remote control applications for a school computer lab that I use extensively in my classes. Now that online teaching and learning has become the medium of forced choice, this is a look at remote control apps that work on the web, since computer lab management applications are designed for local use on a LAN and are not conducive to distance use. Some, presumably, could be used with a VPN but this could create security, technical and privacy issues for a school or districts or even a state’s servers and computer infrastructure, particularly for a K-12 environment. Remote desktop management software is essentially the same type of protocol and software a tech company like Microsoft might use to remotely fix a user’s computer or computer technicians use in an organization’s LAN (Local Area Network, i.e. a school, etc.).

As we all have had to transition to online teaching and learning, it is likely that most if not all teachers and students have encountered difficulties of a purely technical nature that detract from the more important missions of educational content delivery. These remote control applications can enable a teacher to remotely help and demonstrate on a student’s computer and mitigate the technical issues. A caveat: before using these applications, a teacher should check their school district privacy policy if accessing student personally owned computers, school owned student computers should not be a problem.

The remote desktop software products I discovered accomplished distance remote desktop control without involving an entity’s servers and the criteria used here to review these applications are either cost (i.e. free) and my familiarity with them, having used them in the past.

TeamViewer According to several tech review sites, Team Viewer was considered to be the best all-round remote desktop software, was easy to use, and had support for numerous platforms allowing for remote access using a number of devices. This included support for Samsung's DeX technology, which means one can use Samsung's smartphones like the Galaxy Note 9 to remotely access a PC.  There's a free version for home users, which allows for testing the software before committing to a version with more advance features. It supports 4K desktops, includes a VPN alternative and easy file sharing. It can be laggy but one will find this with all remote applications. I found it to be fairly easy to use and it can be sporadically naggy about licensing. In summary, the software is fine for educational use, but can be naggy and laggy.

Chrome Remote Desktop is  installed as an extension for the Chrome web browser. Users can create a PIN to allow other PCs to log in, however one will need a Google account, not a problem in our organization since all students and faculty have Google accounts with an organizational license. Chrome Remote Desktop is easy to use, is freely available. It does have limited features  – even compared to other free remote desktop software – and the Chrome web browser must be used. It may not be the best choice for remote control  by IT personnel, but for teachers desiring to demonstrate and/or help their students remotely, it will work fine. The price is right too.

Remote Utilities for Windows  is a free remote desktop software with a good range of features. However, it works on Windows only. Remote Utilities comes in two parts; the Host software, which is installed on the PC one wishes to control, and the Viewer software, installed on the computer for controlling the remote PC. the Viewer software can be run without installing it.

There are many other remote control applications more suitable for IT administrators but the three remote control applications mentioned above should be more than adequate and easy to use for the average technologically competent educator to remotely access a student’s computer when circumstances require that extra help.

Happy (remote) teaching!