Engaging, Technology-Rich Classrooms on a Budget (page 2)
A significant number of public dollars have been invested in instructional technology over the past years. One common thread in the discussion over the value of educational technology is the higher level of student engagement in the learning process that these resources seem to provide.
The question facing the decision makers at the top is this: How do you ensure that any dollars invested meet the goal of making classrooms more engaging for students and teachers while providing the greatest flexibility?
A common denominator for any classroom today is a network-connected computer system. While this single unit provides only a bare minimum toward increasing student engagement, it is the essential building block and all plans for classroom technology must start there.
The next most common denominator for classrooms is a means to provide large group viewing of these digital resources. That could be a large screen TV equipped with a scan converter or a digital projector.
These two components — a network-connected computer and large-screen viewing capability — provide the framework that enables you to build engaging classrooms for students and teachers within a limited budget. It’s at this point that superintendents and technology directors often veer off in a costly direction, one that does not fit the definition of “limited budget” nor provide up-to-date student engagement opportunities.
Too often the next technology component mentioned for purchase in the classroom is what I’ll term generically as an interactive whiteboard. Many companies provide options, but new research from the United Kingdom shows no improvement in student achievement with the use of this technology.
In general, an interactive whiteboard is a device connected to your computer that’s used with a digital projector to provide the image. It gives additional interactivity by allowing teachers and students to control the board via personal touch. Their fingers or a pointer take over typical mouse functions as well as additional features allowing for the overlay of annotations, highlighting and even saving of individual screens as web pages for later use. If you already have TVs in classrooms for computer projection, you will need to purchase projectors for this solution.
This sounds like the perfect recipe for greater student engagement, but at an additional investment that starts at about $1,500 and goes up from there based on the size of the screen, wireless capabilities and installation and training options, this bears closer scrutiny. A typical justification for why school systems should consider installing these systems goes like this: “The interactive whiteboard allows teachers and students to access and display websites, run educational software, run live video from a camera, record, capture, highlight and review notes from a classroom discussion, deliver PowerPoint presentations and more.”
If you watch an interactive whiteboard in use in a classroom, the first thing you may notice is that for students to use that technology, they physically get up from their seats, go to the front of the room, and “write” on the board. Doesn’t that sound remarkably similar to how all of us began our teaching careers with chalkboards? In today’s classrooms, that movement away from a work area typically hampers class momentum as all eyes shift to the person moving.
A much less expensive alternative to these “overlay” and interactive features in classrooms are software solutions that use your current TVs and projectors without additional hardware purchases. This software is available for both Windows and Mac OS X computers and works in conjunction with all existing software packages your school district already may own.
The cost of the software is typically $49 for the classroom computer, although larger quantity sales can reduce that price to as low as $9.50 per computer. This gives you the capacity to use more than 20 annotation tools plus even more features such as spotlighting and coverup at a much lower cost than an interactive whiteboard. Granted, your students won’t touch an oversized screen with this solution.
Letting students and teachers contribute their ideas to the project being presented in the classroom on the large screen using the annotation software noted above can be greatly enhanced by the addition of a $99 RF-wireless mouse and keyboard to the classroom computer. This allows students to work from their seats and the teacher to quickly share the controls with anyone in the room. No need for students to move to the front of the room as in the old days.
At a combined maximum cost of $150 per classroom, this is a solution priced right and guaranteed to increase the engagement of students and teachers.
Jim Hirsch is associate superintendent of technology and academic services in the Plano Independent School District, 2700 W. 15th St., Plano, TX 75075. E-mail: email@example.com
Reprinted with the permission of the American Association of School Administrators. © AASA
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