Technology (Enhancing + Engaging + Connecting)
Technology in the Classroom: What's New?
- By William Atkinson
- July 1st, 2014
PHOTO COURTESY OF ROBOKIND
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.
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.
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.”
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
“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.
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.