Buying Into Presentation and Creation

Located on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa, Malcolm Price Laboratory School (MPLS) is a PK-12 research and development school for the state of Iowa, allowing the school a unique opportunity to conduct a number of different research initiatives and technology innovations. As with all research, there are successes and failures that have led to better guidance for the selection of classroom technology.

The Setup
Doug Case, information technology coordinator at MPLS, describes the basic technology in the classrooms at MPLS. “Right now, from our kindergarten up to the 12th grade, basically we have whiteboards, and we also have pull-down projection screens. They have a lot of the LCD projectors that are on carts that have computers hooked up so we can address the Internet. They also have laptops… different things like that that they can plug in, DVDs, anything to do the projection.” Some of the classrooms have projectors in the ceilings, allowing for “plug in and go” teaching.

Besides the basics, MPLS also has a couple of Promethean boards that teachers are working with. “We did do the Mimios — a lot of those they tried to use in the elementary school, hooking them up on the whiteboards and doing lessons with the LCD projectors.” They also have both analogue and digital ELMO visual presenters.

MPLS is also in midst of a 1:1 mobile computer initiative comparing the use of Macbooks and iPads in classrooms as presentation and creation devices (something Case notes as a growing trend — presentation devices now double as creation devices). The results of the research gathered through this program will help other schools in the state that are considering moving to their own 1:1 initiatives.

As part of using iPads in the classrooms, Case says they tried to go further by adding an Apple TV into the mix. “Unfortunately our network is proprietary. You have to use an Active Directory in order to authenticate into it. Apple TVs don’t like that. That didn’t work real well.”

While some of their innovations don’t always lead to success, whichever way the technology is installed in the classroom, the teachers at MPLS are willing to use it how it comes. “If they have to push a cart with a laptop and projector, they’ll do it. They like to have the technology,” Case explains. He notes that they are working towards eventually having every classroom the same, which would make integrating these devices into the classroom easier. But, he adds, having a number of different systems makes student teaching a more varied experience; students will leave their program and head to schools knowing already how to use the equipment in their classrooms, as well as with a feel for what does and doesn’t work through actual hands-on experience using these systems.

The Experiment
So how does the technology get in the classrooms at MPLS? “A lot of it — since we do the R&D — they’ll say, ‘I’d really like to check out the Promethean.’ So we would go out and get two Prometheans and premiere them in a certain classroom,” Case explains. “We’ve got grant money to do those Mimios, so they bought a half-dozen of the Mimio devices. They put them out in the classrooms for the people we felt would be directly impacted by it… and said, ‘Go to it.’”

Once the test equipment goes into the classroom, the experimentation begins. “We let them do it for a year, and then found out if anyone wants to do these, if anyone wants to swap them,” Case says. “One of missions was to try different technologies and find out what the teachers like, what they didn’t like and try to write things up on it to help other schools in our state.” The teachers and students at MPLS can discover the shortfalls and what the equipment is good for, allowing other schools to use this information to make better-informed purchases.

The Process and Materials

Case explains that they do a bit of research before they implement any of the technology, but that they do like to go for equipment that’s already in use at community schools in the area.

Part of the research includes taking into account the real-life situations of other schools in Iowa: largely many of them are operating on tight budgets. Although, Case adds that if it weren’t for grants and donations, MPLS wouldn’t be able to do this research either.

One example Case uses to illustrate this selection process is LCD projector bulbs. Their gym has a LCD projector in the ceiling, and selecting the correct projector was quite a process. “We really looked to find what kind of bulb life we could get, told them how many hours we would be using it and tried to get the best fit because, you know, you don’t want to have to climb up 35 feet on scaffolding every year and replace a $2,000 bulb. You’d much rather have a $300 or $400 bulb replacement every two or three years.

“I really don’t want to suggest to a school out there that doesn’t have a lot of funds, this kind of LCD projector that you want to have, so that you have to hire somebody to come in every time a bulb blows out so that you have to pay extra money,” Case adds.

The Conclusions
Quality, budget and maintenance issues help make the decisions about what goes into the classrooms at MPLS.

Case points out that they’re continuously looking and doing their own research. An impulsive purchase, or one that isn’t well-planned or well-researched, “really can make or break a career really quickly.”

One way to help with the selection process is checking out your peers. “It’s nice to go out to schools, and I wish more schools would take advantage of it,” Case states. “Go out and visit. Call a school and say, ‘Hey, I hear you’ve got a lot of these. Can I come and take a look at it?’ A lot of schools will say, ‘Sure come on!’ They’re willing to show technology; they’re willing to work together with other schools. I think that in the future, cooperation is going to be a key essential ingredient for not only this state, but every state.”

Besides other schools, who are Case’s reliable sources? “I have several reps that sell different products, and I have a couple that I really rely on. I’ll do a lot of searching on the web, and I’ll call a lot of colleagues and talk to a lot of people out there…. A couple of these people that I’ve called that I know real well — they are really decent people, and I know that they have even steered me away from buying products at their own stores and said, ‘This is the way to go on this. We carry this. We don’t carry the other right now.’

“You know,” Case concludes, “networking and keeping those type of people working with you is a wonderful thing.”

So, while there are a lot of AV, presentation and projection systems out there, research and experimentation can help you select the correct products for your school, as well as ensure these tools are actually integrated into classrooms. Try selecting a few products to go in a few classrooms before deploying systems school- or district-wide. Building strong relationships with your distributors and other schools will help you as you investigate new products and ways to utilize them in classrooms.

To find out more information about MPLS and their R&D work, visit www.uni.edu/iowa-rds or contact Doug Case at doug.case@uni.edu

 Christine Beitenhaus is an Ohio-based writer with experience in educational and architectural topics.

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