Projecting the Future

Here’s the scoop on what audio visual and presentation systems administrators are integrating in the classroom and the effects they are having on the way teachers and students interact with each other.

“I think education has to look toward technology as an embedded component of instruction because that is part of our students’ future,” says Jody Oliver, CTAP project specialist with RIMS CTAP Region 10, in San Bernardino, CA. RIMS CTAP is a grant-funded project through the California Department of Education that provides education technology professional development services and support.

“We have to look at the relevance and rigor of what we’re sharing because our students won’t be using a chalkboard or whiteboard in their job,” Oliver continues. She proves her point by citing a video clip about the making of the movie Madagascar II, which shows artists using a digital pen, rather than traditional paper and pen.

Undoubtedly, audio visual and presentation system technologies are becoming increasingly embedded components of classroom instruction. As Oliver points out, administrators must evaluate its relevance and rigor — what’s being used, how and why it’s being used, how it’s preparing students for their futures, and what it’s accomplishing. One thing is sure: technology is having a positive effect on teacher/student interaction.

What Exactly Is in the Classroom?
“At the very minimum, schools are using a computer connected to both the Internet and a digital projector,” says Steve Kaye, CEO of Denton, TX-based eInstruction, which offers software, student response systems, interactive boards, wireless slates, and panels that integrate with high-quality content, aligned to state standards.

“That’s the absolutely minimum set of equipment necessary to bring a classroom into the 21st century — the kitchen sink, if you will.

“In order to make classrooms dynamic and collaborative learning environments for students, administrators are looking at adding a few other important things,” Kaye continues. That list includes student response systems (AKA clicker systems); wireless tablets, which are used to control the computer and manipulate teaching materials and content; interactive whiteboards; document cameras; and audio enhancement systems.

In a few cases, classrooms are outfitted with flat panel or plasma screen televisions. “But they haven’t caught on,” says Kaye, “as the size isn’t there yet.”

Yet another new piece of technology being introduced into the classroom is a control system that ties all of the individual pieces of technology together. “In the past, when you combined these technologies, you ended up with a whole pile of remotes,” says Tom Dobson, senior vice president for Bluffdale, UT-based Audio Enhancement, which manufactures classroom audio solutions. “Now, teachers are asking for something that unifies that control.”

Dobson notes that the control system is typically a wall panel, so that the control unit doesn’t grow legs, so to speak. “It’s very powerful as far as making it easy for the teachers to use the technology,” he sums.

At Palm Beach County School District in Florida, classrooms are outfitted with Panasonic and Epson multimedia projectors. They also have sound field enhancement, which includes four to six speakers in each room with an amplifier, teacher microphone, and pass-around microphone. The sound field enhancement is tied together with a DVD and VHS player and document camera, and sometimes a wireless Interwrite school pad. Finally, some of the schools have invested in clicker systems. “Our overall technology package is solid, up to date, and helpful,” says Warren Haan, LEED AP, the district’s director of Program Management. “It works very well, and we’re happy with it.”

How Do the Components Affect Interaction?
“The big advantage of having an optimized audio and video system is that it meets the diverse learning needs of a wide variety of students,” says Mike Andrews, director of Marketing Communications for Anaheim, CA-based Extron Electronics, which manufactures professional A/V system products. “It is well-known education theory that students have different methods of learning and that multiple pathways reinforce each other. The fact that there’s so much engaging information that can be brought into the classroom is the big difference it makes to have a good system.”

Individually, components make a difference, as well. For example, Haan has noticed that the sound field enhancement systems allow students to interact more easily and more often. It also allows teachers to speak in a normal volume and not have to project their voices through the classroom. “It means a reduction in teacher absenteeism,” he says. “That keeps the consistency of the teacher in the classroom, and it reduces expenses because we don’t have to hire as many substitutes.”

Andrews adds the sound field enhancement systems reduce off-task behavior and improve grades because students clearly hear everything a teacher says.

In the high schools, Haan says, there are areas where they’ve installed three projectors and three cameras. Experts are brought in via video conferencing to teach lessons. The result, he says, is that education is more interactive, and administrators are receiving a lot of good reviews from it.

Similarly, Kaye notes an increase in interactivity between students and teachers when whiteboards, Interwrite tables, and student response systems are combined. “These wireless systems bring the outside world into the classroom,” he elaborates. “They give students the tools to be interactive participants and not just passive participants in the classroom. It’s really a very different model from the legacy classroom of paper and chalkboards.”

Kaye also points out that student response systems specifically improve student/teacher interaction because they literally give every student in the classroom a voice. “Teachers are seeing the quiet or shy students have an equal voice with the more vocal students who are raising their hands,” he says. “Everybody is participating. I think there’s an inclusion that occurs with this kind of technology.”

In addition to every student having a voice, student response systems allow every student to be full-engaged and personally involved in the lesson. “At the end of the day,” Haan notes, “what matters is how well students are learning and performing on their tests. Ultimately the administration needs to see students achieve better and better, and this technology helps students achieve that in a cost-effective way.”

How Will the Components Change in the Future?
It’s hard to believe, because all of these audio visual and presentation systems have already made tremendous improvements in teacher/student interaction, but they’re only going to get better. Here’s what the experts predict is going to happen.

From an overall perspective of classroom technology, Kaye believes that, in the near future, there will be a greater focus on student-centered and collaborative learning. “We are going to be moving toward a classroom that is more multi-user,” he explains, “where multiple students and teachers can interact with digital materials at the same time.”

From there, improvement becomes more specific. “One of the things that will continue to evolve through time is the continuing increase of the resolution of digital projectors,” says Kaye. “The higher the resolution, the easier it is to begin to have multiple work spaces that multiple students can participate in using a single computer.”

Kaye also notes that projectors, computers, and response systems are becoming smaller, lighter, and more portable. This creates a digital classroom that is also mobile — education can occur anywhere.

Dobson adds that microphones are included in this portability, as they’re also getting smaller. He sees remote control for volume of audio visual elements being built into microphones for easy volume adjustment.

Andrews asserts that audio visual and presentation systems are only useful if they’re easy to specify, easy to install, easy to maintain and easy to use. He sees integration of the individual systems into a comprehensive package so that all of the above can be accomplished from one box.

Speaking of maintenance, Andrews also notes that most individual schools do not have a dedicated technology support person, but the district as a whole does. This makes it particularly challenging for a teacher to get support when she’s ready to show a video clip now and can’t determine why the projector screen is blank. He predicts that audio visual and presentation systems will be placed on districts’ networks for central maintenance and monitoring. “It will be much easier to maintain and monitor all the technology assets spread out throughout a district from one central office,” he says.

Audio visual and presentation systems are definitely having a positive impact on the way teachers and students interact in the classroom. And it should, otherwise it isn’t worth the expense or time to install. And it’s necessary, as Oliver points out: “Today’s students need the more engaging interaction with the Internet and the visual representation of their lesson. They’re interest is in the multilayer or nonlinear world of gaming and music. They can multitask like there’s no tomorrow. If we don’t provide them a nonlinear way of instruction, we’ll lose them.”