I Can't Hear You!

Researchers discovered that classroom amplification systems improved student performance as long ago as 1993, when a study noted a “statistically significant improvement in spelling performance” in classrooms with amplification systems. Three years later, another study reported a decline in teacher absenteeism among teachers using amplification systems. Amplification reduced sick leave for voice, jaw and throat ailments by 36 percent.

Nearly two-dozen studies conducted between 1993 and 2003 reported similar results — improved student performance and fewer sick days by teachers. Yet today, nearly two decades later, most classrooms still don’t provide amplification technology.

Why Not?
“Schools haven’t been able to afford the technology,” says Heather Litus Johnston, product manager in the K-12 Projection Group with Long Beach, Calif.-based Epson America, Inc. “Schools are buying $5 and $10 speakers, but they don’t work well.”

“Higher-quality, traditional round speakers don’t work well in a 900-square-foot classroom, either,” adds Anthony Cortes, director of sales and marketing for classroom systems with Extron Electronics in Anaheim, Calif. “A round speaker disperses sound waves in the shape of a cone. The sound is louder at some points and quieter in others.

“To overcome the cone effect, audio technicians recommend placing speakers in the four corners of a room. Even then, the sound disperses unevenly, creating loud hot spots and other areas where it is still difficult to hear.”

In addition, a system of four round speakers can cost $1,000 or more per classroom — too much for most school districts, especially in today’s poor economic climate.

But things may be changing. In recent years, a number of companies, including Epson and Extron, have noted these problems and tailored affordable sound systems that do work in a classroom environment.

Epson’s system mounts in the middle of a classroom ceiling and uses four speakers to disperse sound throughout the room. The system also addresses the cost issue. “Usually when you buy four speakers you also have to buy an amplifier,” says Johnston. “This system includes a built-in amplifier, and our price is just $799.”

Extron has designed speakers that disperse sound in a flat field instead of a cone. The result is more evenly dispersed sound. Cortes says two flat field speakers will cover a classroom. Of course, two speakers cost less than four.

And Now a Report From St. Barbara
St. Barbara Catholic School in Santa Ana, Calif., has taken advantage of Extron’s lower prices and installed two speakers on the walls of each classroom in their fifth- to eighth-grade middle school. Students love it.

“We’ve been thinking about this for a while, but couldn’t afford it,” says Judith Bloom, St. Barbara’s principal. “Now that we have it, what a difference it makes. The students are more involved and more focused. The learning happens more positively and grades are up.”

St. Barbara installed an Extron PoleVault System, an audio-visual switching and control system for ceiling-mounted projectors — with audio amplification and flat field speakers.

“It isn’t just that everyone pays more attention,” says Bloom. “The teachers love it because the microphone saves their voices.”

What’s more, the teachers have figured out a way to incorporate the system into their curricula. For instance, students use the mic when they read aloud from textbooks and while presenting reports in class.

Even more exciting for the students, during classes focused on language arts and writing, teachers are assigning the fifth graders to watch newscasts on television at home, create their own news reports and deliver their reports in class using the microphone.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Bloom says. “They actually take on the character of the newscasters they watch. They report the news sitting at a desk in front of the room. For some assignments they work in teams and pass off the microphone to a classmate for a special report — ‘and now a report from Jimmy.’”

‘I Don’t Have to Work to Listen Anymore.’
Bob Blackney, director of technology assessment and staff development in 
the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District in Placentia, Calif., has worked with several traditional classroom amplification systems. All created hot spots.

A couple years ago, Blackney set up a classroom technology pilot test in 15 classrooms. In each, he assembled a system of the latest classroom technology, including interactive whiteboards, a switching system for audio and video, a DVD player, a ceiling projector, computers, cameras and Extron speakers.

After the test, Blackney interviewed the students and teachers about what they liked. “It was shocking,” he says. “Everyone singled out the sound system. The teachers said it is easier to use than previous systems, and the students raved about it. I asked one student why he liked the sound system so much, and he said, ‘I like it because I don’t have to work to listen anymore.’”

Now that all classrooms have the system, what are the results? “We’ve seen continued academic progress,” Blackney says. “But I can’t attribute it to classroom amplification alone. It might be one of the other technologies. Most likely, it’s the combination.”

Amplify the Educational Experience
“Classroom amplification really has been a boon for us,” says Eddie Hill, executive director of technology with the La Porte Independent School District in La Porte, Texas. “It amplifies the educational experience, pardon the pun.”

Last year, Hill installed interactive whiteboards and audio-visual systems in La Porte classrooms. The systems include Epson projectors in all classrooms and Epson speakers in classrooms with softer-spoken teachers. “I just couldn’t rationalize that much cost for every classroom in the district,” he says. “I don’t think every teacher needs it.”

Hill says that teachers that are using the amplification technology feel less fatigue by the end of the day. “We use amplification in special ed classes, too,” he says. “Those classes have students with hearing disabilities and this is a plus for them.”

Study after study has proven the benefits of classroom amplification. Today’s more affordable, technologically improved classroom amplification systems make it possible for both students and teachers to take advantage of those benefits.