Wednesday, May 13, 2015

K-12 Tech Decisions: 7 Tips for Using Interactive Displays In the Classroom

I was interviewed for this article about the pros and cons of installing interactive displays in K-12 classrooms.  They aren't widely used in the higher ed world, but they're all over K-12 classrooms.  Administrators need to focus on some key issues during the system design phase so that they get the most bang for their buck with interactive display installations.

May 13, 2015
written by:  Aine Cryts 
“Kids today are coming out of the womb with a cell phone and an iPad in hand,” says Lindsey Baker, a training specialist at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based CCS Presentation Systems. While that may be more hyperbolic than true, students today are indeed surrounded by touch technologies. And if kids have iPads at home, it’s a lot more difficult to engage them with a paper and pencil in the classroom.
“You see a lot of kids zoning out really fast in the typical classroom,” says Baker, who used to be an educator. “They’re losing interest and don’t take away as much as they could. When you throw in iPads and interactive displays, you see the excitement in their faces.”
Michael Tomei, owner of Ithaca, N.Y.-based Tomei AV Consulting, LLC, is also a proponent of using interactive displays in the classroom. Still, he recommends taking a mindful approach to installing this new technology and training teachers to use it. “If you have teachers who aren’t comfortable using interactive displays or with changing their teaching style, you’re going to spend a lot of money using this technology as a whiteboard,” he says.
Tony Inglese, chief information officer for the Batavia School District in Batavia, Ill., says there are subject areas that are a more natural fit for display technology. He’s particularly excited about the ability of students to use interactive displays to diagram sentences in English classes and to illustrate how organs interact within the human body in Health Science classes. In his experience, what works best is combining the interactive display at the front of the classroom with tablets in the hands of students at their desks. “There’s greater effectiveness when students can have full ownership over a screen,” Inglese says.

The Technology
Tomei highlights the interactive whiteboard as the technology that first comes to mind when thinking about classroom displays. Teachers and students can write on the interactive whiteboard with a finger or a pen that’s detected through a pressure-sensitive membrane or sensors embedded within the board. Capable of detecting the pen or finger’s location, the interactive whiteboard is connected to a computer that runs software. Users can choose their preferred projector solution that works best in their particular classroom setting.
Another technology is the flat-panel display that provides touch capability/overlay. This can be a good fit for school administrators who are willing to make a higher initial investment in return for savings on maintenance and projector lamps, according to Tomei, who notes that flat-panel display prices are dropping. Because of the lower prices, more schools should be able to afford a large display in the classroom. Tomei also points to interactive projectors, which require no whiteboard with built-in electronics; a good option for schools that want to convert any flat surface into a projection screen, interactive projectors can detect the location of the user’s pen or finger on the projected image.
Interactive display technology holds a great deal of promise in the classroom, but a successful implementation is no easy task. Two key things to keep in mind: your installation and training strategies.

The Install
Interactive displays aren’t inexpensive, especially when you compare them to conventional whiteboards,Tomei says. “You’re spending a lot more money, especially when you consider the cost of getting interactive displays installed. You could outfit three rooms with whiteboards for the same price of one room with interactive displays,” he says. What you’re getting with interactive displays, though, is “quality over quantity.”
Tomei has several pieces of advice for administrators interested in purchasing interactive displays in the classroom.
First, get a lot of teacher feedback on the technology. A successful implementation really depends on how instructors want to use interactive displays. Are they more interested in a conventional pressure-sensitive board or a flat-panel display? Do they want to use a pen or their finger to write on the interactive display? If you don’t choose a solution that is comfortable for your teachers, they aren’t likely to use them.
Pay attention to the expertise you’ll need for maintenance and repair. “People in the audiovisual department have long been regarded as ‘slide projector people,’” says Tomei, who notes that administrators need to focus on sourcing highly talented professionals who can help with more advanced presentation technologies.
Work with someone who’s qualified in audiovisual design. Administrators who want to create a genuinely user-friendly system won’t just put interactive displays on the wall, connect the computer, and walk away. “This leaves teachers fumbling with remotes and cables everywhere. You need to look at the audiovisual system as a whole,” says Tomei. A good solution can be a simple touch screen to turn on the projector, adjust volume, and switch the display between computers in the room.
Give teachers, students and parents a sneak peek. If you want to get buy-in for the technology, considering hosting a time for key stakeholders to come in and see the displays in action. One idea is to create a sample lesson and show them how it will work. “When they can visualize how this all comes together, teachers, students, and parents can really see the value,” Tomei says.

It’s a mistake to just throw an interactive display into a classroom. In order to get the most out of your investment, teachers have to have a solid understanding of how to effectively integrate the technology into their lessons.
“The most expensive piece of technology is the one collecting dust. You don’t want that,” says Dee Turner, also a former educator and today a training specialist at CCS Presentation Systems.The user interface for an interactive display feels a lot more like our smartphones and our tablets, which means that training isn’t as scary as it once was. “It used to be that teachers were afraid to get in front of their peers with this technology; they were afraid they’d break it,” she says. “Today, everything is a lot more intuitive, and that’s largely due to the fact that many teachers have smartphones and tablets themselves.”
Advice from Turner and Baker on training teachers to fully utilize interactive displays in the classroom follows:
Each classroom has its own “personality.” It’s critical to realize that each classroom has different technology tools and different skillsets, on top of teaching different subjects. The whole thought of having technology in the classroom is it’s supposed to be in the background – technology shouldn’t be driving the learning.
Keep it brief and keep it about teaching. Training can consist of just spending time with the classroom teacher and giving them maybe three helpful hints. If it takes teachers longer than two minutes to figure out the technology, they won’t use it in the classroom.
Consider a “train the trainer” approach. In this scenario, administrators can cherry pick a few tech-savvy teachers who are eager to incorporate interactive displays into classroom instruction. Baker points to a few pilot projects in Arizona where she’s been involved as a trainer. In these projects, teachers applied to be a part of the pilot, and then she works one-on-one with them on including interactive displays as instructional tools. These “technology champions” can then train their teacher colleagues.
“These teachers are awesome,” says Baker. “They’ve dedicated so much of their time – on top of what they do teaching. These teacher-trainers are going from classroom to classroom, and helping teachers on a one-on-one basis, rather than one big training session,” she says.

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