Technology (Enhancing + Engaging + Connecting)

Technology in the Classroom: What's New?

Classroom Technology

PHOTO COURTESY OF ROBOKIND

Basic technology

Some technologies are rather basic, but are still making advances. Some of these are offered by companies like Anchor Audio, Inc., and provide a number of products, including large, yet portable, sound systems that are particularly useful for plays and other events in auditoriums. “Since our products are battery-powered, set-up and break-down are very easy,” says Emily Golding, director of marketing. “The products are all designed for the non-audio professional, such as teachers and volunteers who are the ones most likely to set up audio. This is useful in schools that don’t have audio professionals on staff.” The company is able to provide this feature by not adding a lot of “extras” that might confuse non-technical people. The products have controls for volume, bass and treble, as well as the basic inputs and outputs. “You look at the back panel, and you know how to use it,” she says.

There are also non-battery-powered units for the classroom, which are speaker monitors. These can be installed in ceilings or on ecarts. They are designed specifically for voice amplifi cation, so they have value for teachers, as well as for students doing presentations.

Advanced technology

On the opposite end of the spectrum, about as advanced as one can get in educational technology, are interactive robots. One company, RoboKind Robots, designs and builds interactive robots. One of these is a humanoid robot that is designed to teach social skills to children with autism, engaging them faster than traditional therapy and delivering research-based lessons that teach social behaviors. The company collaborated with autism experts to define a research-based, multi-phase curriculum for autism intervention and social skills training.

The robot features:

Advanced Technology: An HD camera allows the robot to see people, objects, motions, facial expressions and gestures. An internal computer runs the robot’s movement, intelligence and teaching programs. Microphones listen, speak and record. Sensors detect touch, faces and motion.

Expressive Humanoid Features: The robot has a humanoid body that talks, listens and moves expressively, purposely and naturally. The arms and legs move, and the robot can walk. The robot has a full range of facial muscles, allowing it to express and demonstrate most human emotions while interacting with the child.

CompuCompassion: This is the robot’s artificial intelligence, which includes the ability to detect faces, track motion, recognize speech, interact with people conversationally, analyze interactions and make engagement and teaching decisions.

“We worked with Ph.D.s who study autism, and they developed and wrote a complete course that comes through the robot,” says Fred Margolin, CEO and co-founder. “The robot deals with learning appropriate behavior and learning emotions. This helps autistic children function better in larger society.”

Some benefits: First, according to Margolin, autistic children often need the same lesson 10, 20 and 30 times in order for a point to come through, especially when it involves social skills. “This kind of repetition can frustrate staff,” he says. “However, a robot can deal with multiple repetitions with total patience and voice control, and ultimately create progress with the children.” Second, according to Margolin, research shows that children with autism are transfi xed by robots, so the robot creates engagement.

“The robot does not replace teachers,” he says. In fact, the robot won the 2013 Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) Innovation Incubator Award for Most Innovative learning technology, as voted by 700 teachers.

Additional technologies

According to Christine Fox, director of educational leadership and research for the State Educational Technology Directors Association (www.setda.org), there is a shift toward student-centered learning and project-based learning. As a result, there are new technologies being introduced to meet these needs.

“One technology that is becoming more popular is GIS mapping tools,” she says. “Several companies provide this technology. This is interactive mapping that allows students or teachers to map populations, public transportation, ethnic groups, earthquake patterns, weather, etc.” When students are working on projects, this tool gives them the opportunity to understand exactly what is happening, be able to visualize it, and show it via the map. Before implementing GIS technology, though, Fox emphasizes that it is important for a school district to look at its broadband access and determine how much is available. “You need to do this especially before looking at GIS technology tools that
have a lot of ‘bells and whistles,” he says.

There are also some math programs that integrate the use of music. In the Talladega County Schools (Alabama), for example, students write music and incorporate it into their math lessons. “Math and music teachers work together,” says Fox. “This helps students understand math through the use of music. Using different technology tools, they can to see, hear and program their music.”

Vernier Software & Technology offers science software technologies. “One of these is a thermometer that has a USB attached to it, for elementary school students,” says Fox. “The temperature probe is connected to the software, and the graph of the different temperatures shows up on the computer screen.”

And, according to Ann Flynn, director, education technology, for the National School Boards Association (www.nsba.org), there are technology tool advances taking place in Colorado Springs STEM classes. “When we visited there, we saw one fourth-grade student using a tracking video camera as she was doing experiments with dropping a tennis ball inside a Slinky,” she says. “She was looking at sonar sound wave links.”

Perspective

While a lot of technology tools are very attractive and exciting, it is important to keep the basics in mind before making purchasing commitments, according to NSBA’s Flynn. Two of the most important basics relate to overall educational goals and providing appropriate levels of training for teachers.

“It is important for school districts to align their technology decisions to their curricula goals and objectives, rather than letting the technology dictate their curricula decision-making,” says Flynn. “In other words, don’t go out and get excited about a tool and then try to find a use for it.”

For example, a couple of years ago, a lot of school districts began using iPods in the classroom, because they were new, popular and exciting. “They purchased a lot of them wholesale because it was the ‘trend du jour,’ without thinking about how or why you might use them,” she says.

Still, Flynn emphasizes, there is always room for creative and innovative educators to conduct small-scale pilots and look for ways that new tools can be used in a classroom. “For students in some districts, for example, the iPod ended up being a wonderful tool for second language learners,” she says. “They could learn a language on the school bus and a lot of other locations.”

Another example is Kindle. “I am not a big fan of Kindle as a device for a one-toone initiative, because it tends to be fairly static,” says Flynn. “You can consume information, but it is difficult to create information on it. However, one school district wanted to work with its weak readers. Over the summer, it loaded up the right kind of books onto Kindles for this particular group of students. That turned out to be a great use of Kindle in a reading program.”

As noted, educator training is also an important consideration. “Most teachers are able to pick up the tools rather quickly,” says Flynn. However, on occasion, it can be helpful to provide additional support. “For example, some school districts that are making large purchases of tech devices incorporate requirements for some sort of basic professional development,” she says. “A district can’t expect to see the tools live up to their full potential if they don’t also invest in professional development on using the tools.”

And, according to Flynn, the school districts that have the most success with technology are those that use a train-the-trainer model, in which one or two teachers become the champions of a particular tool and then train everyone else how to get the most from it.

“Some districts also invest in a tech integration specialist for each building in a district, and these specialists train the teachers and help build their confidence levels to use the tools effectively,” says Flynn.

COMMUNICATING DURING AN EMERGENCY

Many schools have experienced a disruption in the classroom, an injury, a spill of hazardous materials, or similar event. To prepare for a situation like this, instructors need a way to quickly and discreetly signal for assistance. Research has shown that the average response time in a typical emergency situation is 18 minutes — but incidents are typically over in 12 minutes. Reducing the emergency response time could help save lives.

Often, classrooms have few options available to teachers for quickly notifying the school’s administration or campus authorities of an emergency. The fire alarm system is usually available in each room in the event of a fire, but what about other urgent situations? Systems dependent on telephones, cell phones and dedicated paging or intercom systems may not always be accessible and they can be expensive to implement.

What if you could easily configure a notification system using components you were planning to acquire or have already installed in the classroom? What if the teacher could discreetely send an alert to notify school administration officials or campus authorities of a situation in the classroom?

Extron Electronics has integrated Instant Alert technology into their classroom AV systems that include the VoiceLift Microphone. All a teacher needs to do is press and hold both volume buttons on the microphone to trigger the system to immediately send an automated email or text. If the classroom includes an IP camera, a link can be included to provide both visual and audio feedback from the classroom. This extra layer of security allows officials to monitor activity in the classroom and determine the best course of action. Naturally, successful implementation depends heavily on the school’s commitment to diligently monitor email destinations to ensure the fastest possible response.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

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