Education Interiors

New Technologies In the Classroom

I lament the fact that my children will never experience the joy of being selected to clap out erasers from the chalkboard. Once a staple of every K-12 classroom, chalkboards these days are either covered up in older classrooms, or not even considered in newly designed classrooms. Whiteboards have appeared in their place, but with advances in audiovisual technology, even traditional whiteboards have fallen out of favor to technology.

The tools of the trade that teachers use have changed and continue to change as new options for communicating with students present themselves. Students from kindergarten through high school are comfortable with technology, and learning in classrooms where technology is in use. Depending on the school and its technology budget, the options for technology may be simple or feature-rich.

A classroom may have traditional whiteboard surfaces, and those whiteboard surfaces may have a finish that allows them to double as a projection surface. Add in an interactive shortthrow projector, and a teacher now has options for presenting to students in the classroom. If there is no wall space for a whiteboard, there are solutions that allow a whiteboard, and even the interactive projector, to mount to a cart, making technology portable within a classroom.

These interactive presentation systems also do more than just provide a display for a laptop. They allow a teacher to annotate over presentations, documents, and images. Whether it’s using electronic pens that connect and control the interactive presentation system, or just the teacher’s finger selecting the tool to use, presented material may be marked up as part of a lesson. These systems allow the teacher to save annotations, so the lesson notes can be printed as a reference for students. Many of these systems also have a “whiteboard only” mode, which projects a white surface that a teacher can freely mark up. Though it’s much like a standard whiteboard, the teacher has the ability to save, and even distribute, material for future use. No PC required.

But presenting to students is only half of the technology in today’s classrooms: students are equally engaged with technology at their desks. This may be tablet computers or workstation desktop computers shared by two or more students. Those workstations would typically provide a means for students to interact with students in different schools remotely using web-based video conferencing programs, or used to access lesson plans and content online through educational portals. So how then, would the individual student present work to the rest of the classroom?

The buzzword of late is “collaboration,” and in the world of audiovisual technology for education, typically means allowing for a wide range of devices to be seen and shared by all. Rather than a complex video presentation system, where all devices are connected to the system with physical video cables, there are now collaboration appliances on the market that allow devices connected to the network to share and receive content with other devices on the same network. This means that the dozen computer workstations in the classroom can simply connect to the room’s large video presentation system through a network connection rather than traditional wiring and expensive video processing equipment. While one student presents, the other students can view what is being presented.

These solutions are relatively easy to implement and offer teachers the ability to share with individual workstations or tablets, as well as receive content from those devices. Some of the solutions take advantage of apps, and can offer access to the Internet, web-based video conferencing, or cloud-based file storage.

None of this technology is exceptional; there are many choices on the market in many different price ranges. It all comes down to control of the devices and asset management of those systems. There are some devices out there for little money that will allow one person to take one tablet and mirror its content onto a display. But that device may not allow for someone to control who has access or the ability to put content onto a screen. A device costing more may have options that allow a teacher to have better control over the presentation.

The same could be said for interactive presentation systems. There are relatively inexpensive options that rely on a computer to run software, allowing that computer to become interactive. However, if a guest teacher was presenting with a laptop not loaded with software for the interactive function, that guest teacher could not present in a way that was interactive.

It is better to take a whole system approach by deciding on equipment and understanding how and where it will or could be used. This approach allows for a school to standardize on systems that will work, regardless of the brand or platform of the device. It also allows a school to standardize on control of the systems. While a control panel on the wall, whether it’s a large touch screen with a lot of control and features, or a simple button panel with a few choices and a knob for volume control, may seem like a big remote control, these control systems provide much more to the school. These systems connect via the network to asset management software, and that software allows the school to see how the systems are being used. For example, lamp life in projectors can be easily monitored, reducing the chance a projector goes dark before a lesson. If rooms are not in use at a certain time, those systems can be shut off remotely. Energy usage can even be monitored. Systems monitoring is centralized, providing valuable information on use and status of equipment.

Another point to consider is that the success of these systems, regardless of whether they use a handheld portable device or a more elaborate and integrated system, is also dependent on the acoustical conditions of the classroom. Adequate acoustic finishes and proper separation from noisy spaces are crucial. No one likes to participate in an audio or video conference where the classroom sounds like the bathroom or where students have difficulty hearing each other because there are basketballs bouncing overhead.

At the end of the day, these systems have to work, and they cannot interfere with how a teacher does his/her job teaching students. Students need to be engaged, and utilizing technology in the classroom is a way to do that. But the classrooms need to be thought of as systems, not individual pieces of equipment, so that there are standards in place that allow for shifts in technology that won’t cause a system to suddenly become obsolete.

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Scott R. Jordan is an audiovisual consultant at Acentech in Cambridge, Mass. He can be reached at sjordan@acentech.com.

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