A couple years ago, prior to going for a school bond, my district completed a Facilities Master Plan. The district was successful in passing the bond and, although it was not enough money to address all the needs outlined in the master plan, the bond funds have offered a significant shot in the arm for classroom instructional technology tools. We’ve installed a variety of resources to better support the instructional practices in the classroom.
Pajaro Valley Unified has 32 schools and 20,000 students. 76% of our students qualify for the National School Lunch Program which also makes us eligible for significant E-rate funding for network infrastructure over the past 20 years. With a robust network (both Wide Area and Local Area Networks) and continued E-rate funding to support increased speeds and bandwidth as needed, we were able to focus a significant amount of the bond technology funding on classroom instructional tools.
The District’s Technology Services Department brought together a group of district, site and community stakeholders to preview the available technology tools to support instruction in the classroom. This group, called the iTAC for Instructional Technology Advisory Committee, balanced the available funding with the wish list of instructional technology tools available and identified three items that were integrated into one system to be installed in almost every classroom in the district.
Audio Distribution Systems
We chose an audio distribution system (the Juno by FrontRow) that would help all students to hear the teacher, no matter where in the room the student was seated. The Juno is a simple installation because it requires mounting the integrated unit in the front of the classroom and the teacher uses an infrared microphone around their neck to connect to the system. The technology behind this system is quite impressive because it does not blast the students in the front row with a high volume projection of the teacher’s voice but at the same time the student in the back of the room can hear the teacher as though they are speaking softly right next to the student. This is very helpful for all students but English Language Learners benefit the most due to the clarity and volume of the teacher’s voice in every area of the classroom. The teacher no longer needs to project their voice throughout the room which imparts a more calm and restful tone in the classroom, frequently changing the demeanor of the classroom environment.
The Juno also comes with a student microphone that can be used when presenting a report; in group discussions or for whenever a student would like to share with the class. The use of this device helps students to perfect their skill and ease with public speaking because their voice is clearly heard by all in the room. The audio distribution system demands an audience so nobody can hide behind a soft voice or a shy persona.
We have found that the document camera is one of the easiest tools for a teacher to integrate into their daily lessons because it works very simply and is reminiscent of the old overhead projector. Today’s document camera offers many additional features that make it even more valuable as an instructional tool, including snapping an image of a document or item, flipping the camera 90 degrees to take pictures or video of classroom activities or even to use in a video conference activity such as with Google Hangouts. These document cameras are also used for scoring benchmark tests which are stored in our assessment database.
Projectors vs. 70” Flat Panel Displays
Prior to the bond funding we purchased interactive white boards in our district which included an integrated short throw projector. Although very popular among the teaching staff, we found that the total cost of ownership (TCO) of these interactive white boards and projectors was very high. Not only was the initial cost and installation of the system very expensive, but the lengthy training requirements for the bundled interactive software were rarely met and 90% of our teachers were using the interactive white board solely as a projection device. Some teachers marveled at the ability to use their finger as a mouse while touching the interactive white board but this frequently anchored the teacher at the front of the room which is contrary to a modern pedagogical approach of teachers moving around the classroom among the students as opposed to teaching from the front of the room.
In addition to training, the other factor to significantly contribute to the high TCO is the maintenance of the projector. We have experienced a life span of about 4-6 years for the projector which includes annual cleaning and the replacement of a new ($150-$300) bulb every 1-1.5 years. When a projector receives a new bulb, it is usually quite bright and functions well for instruction. However, within the first month or so you notice the dimming of the bulb which continues to dim until the unit is un-usable in the classroom…and that is when the bulb usually gets changed, thereby requiring the teacher to endure months of a dim and almost unusable projection device.
We chose to not continue to purchase interactive white boards and projectors but instead to purchase flat panel displays. The price point for 70” flat panel LCD displays had come down close to the $1000 range, thereby making it feasible to provide one large display for the front of almost every classroom in the district. The flat panel display was brighter and offered finer resolution than a projector. Smaller than 70” just isn’t large enough but we performed some classroom tests and determined that 70” is large enough for students in the classroom to clearly see images and text.
We wanted to be sure that all three tools worked together in a seamless manner, making it easier for the teacher to use the tools with a classroom of students. We ran surface raceway between the devices and provided the teacher with two HDMI ports under the Flat Panel Display. One HDMI port is for the document camera and the other is for the teacher to connect their computer (Desktop computer, laptop or Chromebook) to project on the flat panel display. The flat panel display and the teacher’s computer all connect to the Juno to provide audio amplification for all devices connected to the system.
Planning and Installation
It is important that these new devices are used with students so we placed all flat panel displays and audio distribution systems in the front of the room. We consider the flat panel display as the “new white board” for many teachers but still left almost all white board exposed, mounting the flat panel displays as high above the existing white boards as possible. We took pictures of each classroom and provided a mocked up image of where the flat panel display was to be mounted in each classroom, thereby providing an opportunity for placement feedback and preparing the teacher for the pending installation.
The round 1 installation in about 750 classrooms is almost complete with our round 2 about to begin where we will be replacing existing interactive white boards with the 70” flat panel displays in most of the remaining classrooms.
There is not an extensive amount of training necessary to effectively utilize the three installed tools. The goal has been to provide teachers 5-20 minutes of training within two days from system installation. Some teachers took to the new technologies very easily and thereby needed very little instruction and others utilized the full twenty minutes to gain more comfort with the new tools. Although we were not able to get to every teacher within the two day window, almost all teachers have received the needed professional development and the systems are being used.
The response has been very positive and both teachers and students are pleased with their new tools. Unfortunately the tool that is receiving the least amount of attention and use is the audio distribution system. Teachers often pride themselves on their “teacher voice” and don’t see the need to use the Juno system. We are working to inform teachers about the value of the audio distribution system and are hopeful that we will see an increase in the use of this tool along with the others installed.
No large-scale implementation is 100% successful with no issues and complete adoption. However, this project has been very successful and has helped teachers to have equitable access to instructional technology tools to utilize in their daily instruction. We are moving forward with 1:1 Chromebook implementations at our secondary school sites which will dovetail well with these installed instructional tools.