In the Know (Enhancing + Engaging + Connecting)

Creating the Perfect Lesson

Using AV to promote learning.

New classrooms are using audio/video (AV) to move toward digitally connected environments. Although most educators would appreciate a classroom filled with brand new technology, the transition process can be complex and expensive. Attempting to integrate complicated audio, video and lighting controls can leave educators frustrated. In this article, we look at how a school can upgrade the learning spaces effectively and keep their educators sane.

Current trends

Industry experts Scott Walker, president and CEO of Wave Guide, and David Gales, principal at Wave Guide, weigh in on what they are seeing in the K-12 environment. “Through the past decade or two, we have become a very visual-centric society, communicating through video. Historically, this hadn’t filtered down to the K-12 realm, but now we are seeing that trend change. We are finding districts with a more technology-rich environment — even rivaling colleges,” says Walker.

Gales agrees, “On the public level, things are shifting more at the high school level, but it is trickling down to middle and elementary schools. Expectations are really changing regarding the way students learn and how technology is used to support that. For example at the public high school level, we are currently designing a new high school where, in the classroom building, the classrooms are built around a central collaboration area. Classes leave the classroom to go to a central base where students and teachers can work together on a project. Collaboration is the key, and a technological environment supports that goal.”

Training is essential

So you bought a bunch of new equipment, but now you have to effectively use it. That isn’t possible without adequate training. Administrators at Modesto City Schools, in California, recently built a new high school that has about 100 classrooms, which incorporate several AV devices into one localized small area. One of the major areas to be concerned with, according to John Haley Scott, Director II, Information & Technology Services for the district, is training. “The skill set of the teacher is what dictates the use of technology in the classroom. Our district makes professional development available, but it is up to educators to use it in the classroom. Some of our principals have become excellent models of using technology and become mentors, going into the classroom and helping teachers unlock the mysteries of the equipment.”

Mark Bagnell, director of Technology for Bartow County Schools, located in Cartersville, Ga., oversaw the installation of more than 300 Epson BrightLink 475Wis in his district. He concurs that training is an essential part of project planning. “I would really encourage the powers-that-be to be sure that professional development is part of the equation. Also, identify those technology champions in your district, and use them to be the cheerleaders for the team or grade level. For our project, we brought in teachers and technology specialists when we were deciding which product we would use. They knew the instructional goals and were able to evaluate the options available and give valuable insight. Buy in from the beginning is essential, and the more people you can include the better.”

Technology as a tool not the goal

The key to a successful technology program lies in remembering that the new equipment is a tool meant to aid in the learning process, not the end goal. Gales says, “Manufacturers that provide upgrades in AV equipment to the K-12 market can be very aggressive sellers and can put out appealing presentations and offers that can lure districts in. And then, you end up spending a lot of money before you really have an understanding of how the new equipment will serve your teachers and students. Interactive white boards are a good example, for instance. Lots of school districts bought them, but now they aren’t being used because the curriculum wasn’t created to support the technology or the staff wasn’t trained properly. Any purchase in the classroom needs to support the learning goals. Start with learning and go from there. Don’t start with the technology and work backwards.”

Bagwell agrees, “Our primary goal was to get to a point where we weren’t so dependent on physical hardware for the interactivity that we were looking for in the classroom. All the original technology was built into the digital white boards, which are a good tool. But in my opinion, they weren’t usable for the interactivity between teachers and students we wanted to achieve and that is so effective in a large classroom environment.”

Scott says, “We are looking for the perfect lesson. How it is presented doesn’t matter. We want to use the best content to teach. The research suggests that when a student comes into your classroom, they have better technology in their pocket than what we have to teach with. For instance, students are not allowed to use a cell phone in class. We want to teach our kids to bring to bear every resource available. With proper steering from the instructor, why not utilize that tool? When kids have technology, they use it for everything but learning because they haven’t been taught to use that device to enhance their learning. We want to change that.”

Nuts and bolts

The best AV system in the world is dead in the water without adequate infrastructure to make it usable. Walker says, “We see time and again that items that are very easy to change are often overlooked; proper light control, for example. In many classrooms, the teacher can’t turn the lights off over the AV equipment without turning all the lights in the room off. So, a student is trying to read a slide or a website on a screen and either there is a light shining right on the image making it hard to see, or all the lights in the room are off so the image is visible but it is impossible to take notes. These small things must be thought of and addressed.”

Gales adds, “Everyone sitting in a classroom in orderly rows and listening to a lecture while taking notes is old school. Even the classroom set up of chairs and desks is being modified, which impacts the technology environment. If you get away from setting up classrooms in rows of desks to promote collaboration, for instance in pods where every student has a laptop or tablet, you have to consider power structure. You need to have outlets available to anyone in the room who may need to use one, and that takes planning.”

“When we started our project,” says Bagnell, “we had to complete significant infrastructure upgrades to create this environment. It was important to us that everyone was able to connect to our network every time. There were no excuses from us for connectivity problems, and that means there could be no excuses from the students as to why they can’t learn.”

The benefits

An integrated and robust AV system can allow your district to achieve immense rewards. Scott says, “Technology changes the rules of learning in the classroom – it engages and enthuses the students, so they are more active in their learning. There are also real advantages to the tools that automate some of the tasks teachers have to do on a regular basis, freeing up their time to focus on teaching. Parental involvement is also increased. Students and parents can use these tools to access attendance, grades, assignments, etc., allowing parents to track their kids’ progress. This has opened the lines of communication between staff, teachers, kids and administrators, allowing us to collaborate to provide the best education possible for our kids.”

Bagnell sums it up, “A lot of the homes where our students are coming from are very poor; they don’t know if they will have food or electricity. Via our technology, we can help students take control of their learning despite the conditions at home. We wanted to create an environment where no matter what is happening at home, students still have the ability to succeed if they want to.”

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management November 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.