Emerging Technology

Classroom Audio

Hopefully, the regular readers of this column understand a primary bias that technology must be driven by the instructional vision of a school district. Movement to a true student-centered culture of learning, as opposed to teacher-centered culture of teaching, has profound effects on instructional spaces and instructional technologies.

The column from last fall, regarding interactive white boards, questioned the instructional validity of those systems. I have also stated on numerous occasions that a dirty little secret about technology in schools is that we have little empirical data that the use of instructional technology actually yields improvement in learner academic achievement.

The one system where we do have data is the Sound Field Enhancement System (SFES), providing a wireless teacher microphone and speakers distributed throughout the room. Unfortunately, I think we need to assess the impact of student-centered learning on those systems. We need to review that the studies indicating improvement in learner academic achievement date from 1981 through 1993. We need to take into consideration the instructional delivery environment of that era. Specifically, everything was teacher-centered; the teacher functioned as the information-gatekeeper with learners required to sit quietly in neat orderly rows. I would suggest that 90 percent of the time when someone talked in the classroom, it was the teacher speaking.

So, we had the traditional “lecture” style of instructional delivery. Yes, the teacher with a wireless microphone and speakers distributed in the ceiling will enable learners with auditory issues to clearly understand what the teacher is saying. Simply being able to hear the information delivered by the teacher or instructions regarding student activities would have a huge impact on academic achievement. When you go back and look at the studies, the first one was sort of accidental. A system was placed in a classroom to enable a student with auditory problems to hear clearly and they conducted pre/post installation analysis. Surprise! The academic achievement for all students went up. Larger and more comprehensive tests with control groups were conducted and they confirmed the increases in academic achievement for all students when a SFES was installed.

Now we need to move forward to current instructional delivery requirements. The new curriculums and associated teacher/principal evaluation programs adopted by all U.S. states and territories essentially require instruction to move to student-centered learning. Student-centered learning is a fairly radical departure from a teacher-centered learning environment. In fact, most teacher evaluation systems rank the instructor as “inadequate” if the majority of the instructional activities taking place in their classroom are lectures. If the teacher is not lecturing, what is actually happening in the classroom?

It should be a mix of a number of different types of student learning experiences. Some students may be using one-to-one computing devices for self-paced individualized learning. Some students may be working on projects in small groups or participating in dialogue with other students; or all students experiencing the same activity (working in groups) at the same time. With regard to the teacher, they are no longer the information gatekeeper delivering the information, they are the facilitator of activities which enable students to gather and learn the information themselves.

A side note, this is not a free-for-all with students deciding what they want to learn. It is a highly structured set of activities planned by the teacher based on student readiness and the content they are supposed to master.

In this type of learning environment, the amount of time the teacher will be speaking is flipped, compared to the lecture-based delivery system. The teacher will most likely need to address the entire class no more than 10 percent of the instructional period. The very thing which made the SFES valuable — teachers lecturing — is not how today’s classroom is supposed to work. We must question the value of one those systems when the teacher is not the primary deliverer of information. I suspect we will find these systems starting to fall out of favor with teachers; I personally question their value. They simply no longer fit the instructional delivery model of a student-centered learning culture.

One manufacturer has courageously forged ahead and developed a bi-directional system with battery-powered speakers. The teacher can place a speaker with each group of students and either listen or talk to each group of students or talk to all students. It matches the student-centered learning environment. The question will be whether school districts perceive the instructional value of the system equal to the additional cost.

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

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at gmeeks@meeksgeeks.com.

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