The Amplified Classroom

Helping children improve in academics is something that every parent, teacher and school administrator hopes to achieve. School districts have added new computers and more teachers in the classroom, but something as simple as better audibility can make 
a world of difference to students and teachers. It’s not just those students with hearing impairments who can widely gain from classroom amplification technology. Even those who do not have any sort of auditory issue can become easily distracted by noise — a lawnmower outside, the hum of an air conditioner, laughter in the hallway — and more school administrators are realizing the importance of integrating special amplification devices like microphones in classrooms.

Searching for a Solution

Lee County Public Schools (LCPS) is the ninth largest school district in Florida with 82,000 students and upwards of 5,000 classrooms. The district is in the midst of a large IT project installing Epson AP-60 audio enhancement systems. LCPS looked at several options in terms of amplification technology and selected the AP-60 solution for several reasons.

Derek Carnwath, the IT Projects and Operations Coordinator for LCPS says, “Some of the systems introduced to us as options for the classroom were cumbersome, expensive and difficult to install. Epson provided an audio enhancement solution with additional functionality beyond a standard in-ceiling speaker. The AP-60 is centrally located within the classroom so that the overall sound is better.”

Teachers are supposed to be teaching, not troubleshooting microphones and speaker systems, and the simplicity of the system was what LCPS found to be impressive. “We didn’t want our teachers to have to worry about any of the technical aspects of the system,” Carnwath says. “The AP-60 also hangs below the ceiling so if a problem does arise, there’s no need for an AV technician to be called in as if we had an in-ceiling speaker. A hanging speaker is more easily accessible and easier to troubleshoot.”

Amplification Technology for the Classroom
Epson’s system consists of a mounted unit with sound coming from four different speakers and includes an infrared wireless microphone on a lanyard that is worn by the teacher. The system also supports up to two infrared microphones and other audio devices. LCPS is implementing the system along with projectors, interactive whiteboards and teaching podiums that include a laptop computer and a document camera as part of its overall district-wide audio-visual technology retrofit project.

Extron, another manufacturer of AV system integration products, created its VoiceLift Microphone System, which creates a “sound field” allowing the teacher’s voice to be heard clearly throughout the classroom. Extron developed it with all the necessary components for school districts to have one cohesive, compatible amplification system. The solution consists of speakers, cables, an amplifier, microphone, infrared receiver and charger. Teachers can wear a pendant microphone on a lanyard and use a handheld microphone.

In addition, Extron offers a grant program for school districts to outfit an entire classroom with a system free of charge, enabling administrators to see for themselves what an amplification system can offer before making the commitment to buy.

Amplified Benefits

Sometimes the drive to help one child is all it takes to positively impact the masses. In the 1970s, Claudia Anderson was searching for tools to help her two hearing impaired sons. Her research led to the founding of Audio Enhancement, a Utah-based company that specializes in audio amplification technologies. While she was exploring the benefits that such offerings gave her own children, Anderson realized the significance that audio products could bring to a school setting. Jeff Anderson, Claudia’s son and the CEO of Audio Enhancement explains, “All students hear better when an audio system is in place in the classroom. It doesn’t matter where a student’s seat is because he or she can hear the teacher clearly, and that means the teacher doesn’t need to keep repeating what he or she is saying.”

Studies have shown that students who have enhanced audio systems in their classrooms not only hear their teacher better, but have improved learning and test scores. In addition to performing better on tests, students are more engaged in their lessons and more likely to participate in class. So, why can’t a teacher simply raise her voice to speak louder rather than add a microphone and some speakers? When a teacher uses a microphone, her voice can be positive and even, as opposed to sounding like she is shouting, which can negatively impact the students. Plus, students have the benefit of using a handheld microphone and that helps them stay involved in the lesson.

Nick Deslonde, president of AAVID Presentation Systems, an integrator of audio and visual offerings, adds, “If students can hear the audio — and not just the audio from a teacher’s voice, but also from the programs that are being used in class including computers and the Internet — then they are learning better and learning becomes fun. Audio technology makes the classroom more interactive and engaging for both the teacher and the student.”

Teachers are benefitting from the audio technology that LCPS has implemented. Lisa Davis is a fourth grade teacher at Rayma C. Page Elementary, one of the schools in the Lee County district. She has found the AP-60 to be an invaluable resource. Davis says, “I feel that I have better control of my classroom.  There is no need to raise my voice for all of my students to hear me. The microphone does that for me.  I can easily get my class back together after a group activity by using the microphone.”

Some teachers are hesitant to add a microphone and amplification system to their classroom, feeling that such items are unnecessary. However, once educators use the systems, their reactions are positive. Anthony Cortes, Extron’s director of Sales and Marketing for K-12 Systems, explains, “We’ve had teachers tell us that they never realized how fatigued their voices had become from speaking at high levels, especially in classrooms with a large number of students or with environmental factors like the noise from an air conditioner.”

Security Uses
Tragic events at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech have given many parents pause. Are children safe in school? After several school administrators mentioned the absolute need for some sort of alert or panic feature, Audio Enhancement added the SAFE System, a standard amplification product suite that includes an alert button on the pendant microphone for emergencies. If a situation arises like a classroom fight or a student pulling out a weapon, the teacher simply pushes the alert button on the microphone to notify the proper authorities of an emergency. Jeff Anderson adds, “The SAFE System microphone contains a sensor so that the teacher’s exact location is pinpointed to allow for quick response. The teacher doesn’t reach for an in-classroom phone to dial for help. Instead, she can push the button on the microphone, which is on her body at all times. This is a tool that can save lives.”

Extron’s VoiceLift has a similar emergency feature called Instant Alert. Cortes says, “Today’s teachers need to react quickly and notify the proper authorities if there is a situation in the classroom. If a fight breaks out in the room, the teacher can activate a button on the microphone to notify the principal’s office or security officers. Other schools have used this feature for health crises like seizures. The school nurse is alerted with critical information about the emergency, yet the teacher does not need to waste time making a phone call.”

Stronger Safety, Better Academics
Less voice fatigue. Clearer sounds. Improved listening skills. More engaged students. It’s obvious that amplification technology is a welcome addition to those school districts that have chosen to integrate it. The safety factor is also eye opening since administrators are constantly looking at ways to keep students and faculty out of harm’s way. With quality amplification offerings available in the market, school districts can find the tools they need to promote a clearer sounding and more secure environment for their students. 

Karen Spring
has been a technical writer for more than 10 years. She began her career working as a marketing specialist for two computer distributors, handling projects for clients including Acer, IBM, Okidata. She also worked as a senior editor for an IT publishing and consulting firm. Ms. Spring has written technical reports on Microsoft products and contributes to a weekly newsletter that highlights network and Internet security topics.