Emerging Technology

Attention Wall Mount Shoppers!

The first industrial age classrooms had desks nailed to the floor in straight rows facing the teacher, with the blackboard at the “front” of the room. It is always amusing to look back and recognize how far we have come… or not. When describing 21st-century classrooms, we usually start with technology, especially interactive whiteboards. And although today’s teachers plead for more flexibility in their educational spaces to support innovative teaching styles such as project-based learning, most audio-visual technology in today’s classrooms is mounted in fixed locations at the “front” of the classroom. It may be time to take a closer look at the benefits of equipment mobility.

In the good old days

During the first wave of classroom technology that included slide, 16mm, filmstrip, opaque and overhead projectors, most instructional equipment moved in and out of classrooms on AV carts with power strips and extension cords. Teachers were able to place equipment in their classroom for specific lessons based on their individual teaching styles and factors such as proximity to boards, seating, or avoiding the glare from the daylighting.

Are we making improvements?

We provided the benefits of flexible space in the classroom back then, but now we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. We are providing technology to our existing classrooms, but by wall-mounting it, we severely impact the flexibility of the learning spaces.

When cable and remote control technology allowed those enormous television sets to appear in classrooms, it was a matter of safety and practicality — due to their size and weight — to mount them on those heavy-duty brackets near the cable connections. But that also resulted in little or no choice for teachers about where equipment was located. That was the case with televisions thirty years ago, and it continues with today’s classroom technology.

Conditions are somewhat better in new schools. They have been designed with the fixed placement of instructional technology in mind. At least the educational staff is usually asked about permanent instructional equipment placement and where they want the “teaching wall.”

However, retrofitting wall-mounted projectors and integrated whiteboards into existing classrooms is an altogether different story. It is common practice for districts to mount equipment directly in front of existing whiteboards, eliminating as much as 50 percent of the available writing surface. The teacher must adapt the arrangement of his or her classroom around this equipment placement, regardless of other factors such as lighting, furniture or personal teaching style. If, for whatever reason, the equipment is not used frequently, it simply ends up being in the way.

The classrooms in older schools that have had several generations of technology have taken on the look of restrooms that require a different type of mounted dispenser each time the paper towel contract changes. Wouldn’t it be simpler if we used carts or rolling stands for instructional technology? Then our teachers could set up the classroom to match their instructional needs, course content and environmental factors such as seating, lighting and other instructional equipment.

And with portability, it may no longer be necessary to own and maintain projectors and interactive boards for every classroom in the school. When equipment malfunctions, it could be much simpler to move equipment to where it is needed rather than leaving the teacher and the class waiting for repairs or replacements.

Certainly, there are many good reasons for attaching instructional equipment to a permanent location: proximity to available wire connections, users not always understanding how to set up equipment, and reduced vulnerability to theft. However, there are also good reasons for going mobile, the most important being classroom flexibility.

When deciding on equipment placement in existing classrooms, visit an older school retrofitted with mounted technology and talk to teachers and students. They might have better suggestions. We have made spatial adaptation a way of life for our teachers, and most are incredibly good at it. Classroom size and shape has changed very little since we were nailing the desks to the floor. Shouldn’t we consider mobile technology to provide more spatial flexibility in our teaching stations?

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

About the Author

Andrew LaRowe is president of EduCon Educational Consulting located in Winston Salem, N.C.

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