Share and Share Alike
A study conducted on multimedia projectors is putting a sharper focus on how the teaching tools are being used in classrooms.
The marketing study, conducted by a manufacturer of projectors, found that many school districts are using the technology, but some question if the machines are being used to their full potential.
Media specialists from 500 schools were questioned at the K-12 level, and the study found that 338, or 67 percent, had a least one projector at their school.
The ideal situation for schools would be having a projector in each classroom, so that teachers don’t have to share, says Stephen Shenkan, of Shenkan & Assoc., a marketing research firm in Yardlee, Penn.
“It’s like trying to share a car. You get it back, and someone has moved the seats, someone has moved the mirrors, somebody’s put a ding in it,” he adds.
Multimedia projectors allow instructors to project a computer screen, worksheets, slides, Web pages and even movies, onto the classroom wall.
Advances in the projector field have made them more attractive to school districts, says William Coggshall,president of Pacific Media Associates, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based market research firm.
“They’re cheaper and brighter. Right now, you could buy a decent projector at about $2,000. It was double that two years ago,” Coggshall says.
But the amount of training and time that must go into mastering the new teaching techniques are reasons that projectors haven’t been quick to replace the blackboard, he adds.
While two-thirds of schools have multimedia projectors, Coggshall says that number may be somewhat misleading because there is probably a handful of teachers using the machine most of the time.
Most of the projectors are being used for multimedia presentations and for projecting computer screens, but the numbers in the study indicate that televisions and VCRs are still being used for movies. Less than 25 percent of the respondents indicated they are using DVD players and 60 percent of respondents say they have no plans to purchase a DVD. —Margaret Tierney
Changing Vocational Ed
On any given day at Wayne County High School in Jesup, Ga., vocational students might learn everything from auto mechanics to basic nursing to secretarial skills.
But upon graduation, these 650 students will likely have an edge over their counterparts when they enter the job market. The reason? They will be computer savvy.
The Wayne County school system this year has added interactive whiteboards to an already impressive array of technological teaching tools. The whiteboards, Promethean ACTIVboards, have been permanently installed in the school’s technology and career education department.
“We’re dealing with a technological society, and our students have to understand technology in order to share in the opportunities available to them,” says Kendall Keith, instructional supervisor for grades 6-12 at Wayne County schools.
Teachers say the technology helps students by providing a teaching tool that grabs their attention.
Before Diane Clary started teaching a vocational education class in health-care science, she worked as a radiologist. Computers were becoming a big part of her job then. “Nowadays, there’s really no area that technology doesn’t touch.”
Teaching the material for the class is just so much easier with the interactive whiteboard projected onto the wall. “I can give notes that are very legible, and the students are simply amazed at the conversion,” Clary says.
For Bonnie Gordon, a cooperative business education teacher, the tools are invaluable. When Gordon is introducing new software, she projects the computer screen on the wall so her students can follow every step. The interactive whiteboard and the wireless mouse allows Gordon to stand in front of the class and not in a corner of the room where her computer is located. —Margaret Tierney
Multimedia stations allow teachers to engage an entire classroom on a subject, using the Internet, DVDs and PhotoShop through a projector
Seeing a teacher who’s comfortable using a multimedia projector and all the associated hardware and software is like watching a master chef whip up a spectacular meal—amazing to watch, but the real pleasure is in the synergistic results.
Multimedia projectors connected to laptop or desktop computers, document cameras, VCRs and DVD players are becoming increasingly common in K-12classrooms. Many districts are installing the technology in every classroom, rather than relying on portable units or special multimedia rooms. This is happening not coincidentally as the projectors—which are typically the priciest single component in a multimedia setup—are becoming smaller, brighter and cheaper. A medium-range projector that might have cost a district $4,000 two years ago is tagged at less than half that now, industry sources say.
The following profiles give a thumbnail sketch of how multimedia hardware and software are being used in three districts around the country.
METRO SCHOOL DISTRICT OF WAYNE TOWNSHIP
Rex Haviland’s Introduction to Mass Media class at Ben Davis High School is taught exactly the way he’d dreamed of teaching it before Wayne Township in Indiana installed multimedia technology in each classroom.
With the technology station—the district calls them PresenStations—Haviland is able to teach in every moment.
“If there was a word students couldn’t pronounce I’d have to say, ‘Let’s listen to the news tonight and hear how Tom Brokaw pronounces that,’ before they could tape a newscast,” Haviland says. “Everything was displaced by at least a day, a lot of the time the educate-Able moment was, ‘I’ll get that to you tomorrow.’ ”
Now, if there’s a question about pronunciation, Haviland projects an online dictionary onto the screen at the front of the classroom. With a sound function, students can hear the word pronounced correctly instantly.
Haviland also uses the Internet capabilities extensively when teaching his students about advertising. And when they present an advertising project, the students are at the PresenStation showing their demographic research and presenting sample ads created in Microsoft Publisher or PhotoShop to the class.
“What we’re trying to do is create a classroom of the 21st century that combines all the attraction of what’s available today with the learning styles of the 21st century learner,” says Pete Just, the district’s technology project supervisor.
He spearheaded the project that has seen the installation of more than 300 PresenStations in his district, 135 at the high school level and about 180 in four elementary schools. The technology—which cost about $7,000 per room two years ago—includes a ceiling-mounted Dukane projector that is connected to a Videolabs FlexCam document camera, an Internet-Connected IBM Thinkpad laptop, a JVC VCR and a telephone.
“The killer app is that computer connected to the Internet. Instead of taking your students to the computer lab, you can quickly pull something up on the Web and use that as a hook. You can get the students talking about something that’s happening in the real world,” Just says.
Administrators at Wayne Township, which has more than 14,000 students in 14 schools, coined the word Presen-Stations to communicate their goal behind installing the technology.
“People were calling them teacher stations, but the idea was not to have the teacher be the sole user,” Dunne says. “What we’re trying to do is move toward a more cooperative learning model. We want to use technology to change paradigms, to teach in the most effective way, to engage the students, and increase student performance in the long run.”
HOWELL TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT
Michael Waters, an eighth-grade social studies teacher in Howell Township, N.J., was teaching a lesson about rock throwing in rebellions; he wanted to show a DVD about the Boston Massacre. No problem. Using the Epson PowerLite 5300 projector that’s permanently installed in his classroom and an air mouse, he was able to start the movie without leaving his desk.
But the lesson truly became interactive when he was able to pull up breaking news on the Internet about the Palestinian uprising in Israel and stonethrowing events in Northern Ireland on the same screen. Then he displayed maps locating each area.
“Before this he would have been pulling down a map over there, showing a film over here, pulling out newspapers. With just a computer and a projector all those things were at his fingertips,” says Joe Dunne, district supervisor of information technology.
Dunne also mentions the time he sat in on a first grade class that was keeping track of the weather using a simple spreadsheet and icons for sun, rain and clouds. The teacher asked one child to create a graph of the last month’s weather for Dunne.
“This first grader said, ‘Do you want to see it in a pie graph or a bar graph?’ ” Dunne says. “These six- and seven-year-olds were talking so intelligently about the data. That’s something that couldn’t have been done before.”
Howell Township spent $8 million in 1999 to equip each of its classrooms with permanently mounted projectors and computers with CDROM and DVD capabilities. The projectors alone cost $1.4 million, the rest of the budget went for other hardware, infrastructure, telephone systems and creating high-speed Internet access in each room.
The district has also gone to great lengths to train and support its staff. Most of the district’s continuing education programs are taught by teachers from within the district and focus on new ways to use the technology and adapting existing lessons to the technology, Dunne says.
Howell Township plans to open three new elementary schools next year, and each classroom will be equipped with updated versions of the presentation units that feature faster computers and brighter projectors. Projectors prices are decreasing dramatically each year, even as the number of lumens each provides continues to increase, says Jodi Maugham, project manager for Epson’s video projector technologies.
“If they paid $4,000 for that two years ago, you could probably get similar technology for about $2,000 now,” Maugham says. New features are also being built in at lower price points, such as allowing more than one computer to connect to each projector and increasing the number of audio and video outputs available, Maugham says.
WILKES-BARRE (Pa.) SCHOOL DISTRICT
Charlotte Kordek’s school district isn’t fortunate enough to have multimedia presentation setups in each classroom, but her school makes innovative use of the technology in combination with its distance learning capabilities.
Kordek, the technology administrator for the 7,000-student, nine-school K-12 district, used to be a biology teacher. Not surprisingly, it’s the way science teachers can use the technology that excites her most. Often, elementary school students sit in on a Webcast of a chemistry or physics lab at one of the district’s high schools. The elementary students are seated in their school’s learning studio, where the live video image from the lab is projected onto a screen using a HP projector. Each elementary student is seated at a computer so while watching the experiment they are able to record and graph the data on their own.
“Elementary kids don’t have the ability to manipulate a Bunsen burner and a test tube, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like to see it,” Kordek says. “It’s like watching Mr. Wizard, but everything is happening before your eyes instead of asynchronous television. The bottom line is the kids just love this stuff. This is their media.”
Kordek gets excited when talking about how the Web site www.cellsalive.com allows students to watch animations of biological operations like mitosis. Projecting this video onto a screen is much more dynamic than showing the stages in stagnant diagrams.
“The most crucial thing now is you can add dimension to objects you couldn’t animate with a chalkboard,” she says. The district first sought parity among all its schools by building the learning studios and distance learning capabilities. Then they added the technology on a departmental basis, with the business department first.
“Business departments definitely need them because of the software they’re trying to teach,” she says. “Trying to teach it on a chalkboard or a whiteboard is tough. With the projectors you can manipulate it on the screen for everyone to see.”
Getting teachers to accept and embrace the technology wasn’t difficult, Kordek says, once the district began conducting the majority of its in-service training using the computers and projectors.
“Once you start modeling the technology, that is key,” she says. “You can talk about it until the cows come home, but once [teachers] see it in action, it’s not a sell. They just know.”
Rebecca Sausner, email@example.com, is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Lighting the Dark Ages
Electronic whiteboards allow teachers to break the antiquated classroom model and make interactive learning an everyday habit
Blackboards may be entering the dustbin of educational history as school districts across the nation are eschewing chalk dust for advanced interactive whiteboards that can capture notes, copy them and save them for later postings to Web sites. Administrators are equipping newly built schools with electronic whiteboards and retrofitting boards in older buildings with attachable units.
The key benefit of the boards, say school teachers and technology directors, is that they can act as computer screens allowing teachers to move through Internet-based lessons without having to leave the front of the room. Teachers can just touch the screen to control functions.
While the idea of interactive whiteboards in classrooms seems like a natural, some of the first uses came by accident. SMART Technologies of Alberta, Canada, created some boards for business and before the company knew it, teachers were asking about buying them, says Nancy Knowlton, Smart’s COO. “It was educators who first recognized the tremendous value of these products in the classroom. We had always thought it would be a corporate communications tool. Education is now the company’s biggest market customer segment.
25 Percent and Growing
Almost one in four of educators use an electronic whiteboard for instruction, according to a recent study by Quality Education Data. Another 4 percent say they plan to purchase a model within the year. And now a plethora of companies are offering a wide range of whiteboards that range in price from about $1,500 to $7,500 depending on size and capabilities. Some of the more expensive models have computers and projectors built in. Some simply work as copy and capturing devices. SMART Boards allow teachers to capture notes on the board, save them in a database and post the notes to a Web site. The boards also allow teachers and students to write on the board with special markers. Mimio and e-Beam manufacture attachable products that can turn blackboards and whiteboards into interactive boards at a cost of about $700 per device. Some schools have a variety of interactive whiteboard products in their schools, depending on what their budget allows.
Tim Fahlberg, a math and technology teacher at the International Community School in Washington’s Lake Washington School District uses an e-Beam System I to create math movies at home that he later replays in class. Fahlberg says he went with the less expensive e-Beam attachable systems so more teachers could use the technology. He says the district got a grant to purchase the e-Beams.
“We will be using them to capture notes in math, physics and Spanish and control software,’’ he says. “Most people just don’t have a clue that such a system exists and is so affordable.’’
Phil Thomas, a technology director for Fulton County schools in Georgia, says his goal is to put some type of interactive whiteboard technology in every classroom. The district has equipped classrooms in newlybuilt schools with SMART Boards and is replacing whiteboards in older schools with interactive models.
The district is able to tap into $76 million in sales tax money to finance the purchases. The tax was instituted exclusively to purchase technology for the district. The district also receives about $1.5 million each year from lottery money that it is able to use for technology.
“You can equip a classroom with a projector, whiteboard and everything you need for about $3,000 and the cost of a computer. So it is not unthinkable to move in the direction of one whiteboard for every classroom,’’ says Thomas. “It’s almost within reach now. If schools begin to buy in volume, schools will begin to get them for a lesser price.’’
Making Technology Easy
Teachers across the country are using whiteboards in a variety of ways. Some use them exclusively to capture and copy notes on the board. Some use them to save the notes and post them to a Web site so students can call the lesson up at home and review it. And others rely on them to access the Web in a large presentation format.
Manufacturers of the boards say they have focused on developing easy-to-use technology because they know many teachers don’t have a lot of time for training and may not use the technology if it is difficult to operate.
“Our products must have ‘walk up and use’ profile,’’ says Michael Dunn, president of PolyVision, which markets the CopyCam and Webster. “First use must inspire future use.”
Many teachers say the whiteboards have brought classrooms out of the Dark Ages.
“We are trying to help our kids be prepared for tomorrow but lots of time in education we are using tools of yesterday,’’ says Charlie Garten, executive director of technology for the Poway Unified School District in California.
The district, which has 32 schools, has two SMART boards in Poway High School, and five at the newly built Westview school. Two are in common areas, such as the library, two are mobile, and one is used for teacher training. In addition, the district has purchased several attachable devices to retrofit its standard boards in older schools. Garten says the boards have been effective in training sessions for teachers. He says a civics teacher uses one board to save class notes and post them later to a Web site. And a science teacher will use the board to present a dissection for the entire class to follow.
“I think there are three really good things about them. They are large enough to see. The teacher has complete control from the board itself. And they can be used to help students discuss issues, save the notesand post them,’’ says Garten. “I think we have just scratched the surface for these.”
Still, the costs of the devices do present a challenge, he says. His district took advantage of some discounts offered by companies eager to market their products. Garten says it is important for school officials who want to purchase the boards to educate elected officials who hold the district’s purse strings.
“What we have to focus our state government on is that technology is more than just computers,’’ he says. “We’ve been getting a lot of grants to buy computers, but there are peripheral devices like these whiteboards that are a boon to education.’’
Extending Tech's Reach
In Overland Park, Kan., which has 18,000 students and 29 schools, teachers are making use of about 40 to 50 interactive whiteboards, says Bob Moore, executive director for information technology services. Moore says he purchased two boards three years ago for the high school. Demand for them soon grew. “This is the kind of technology I really like to see because it extends the computer,’’ he says.
The district was able to purchase several SMART boards and attachable devices from Mimio and e-Beam with the help of a 1998 $25 million bond issue for technology.
“At this point, we have no chalkboards in our district,’’ Moore says. “For us, we will have these installed in new schools as part of the basic technology.’’
Marsha Ratzel, teacher coordinator for technology, says the district is working to train teachers to use the boards in innovative ways.
“What we are really trying to envision in all of this is moving peoplebeyond using the board as a computer touch screen,’’ she says. “My guess is if we are using it like that, as a big computer screen, I as a taxpayer would be mad. If all you need is a bigger picture then you can use a pull down screen, which is cheaper. We want to use it more interactively.’’
Ratzel says she helps teachers figure out ways to use the boards in their lesson plans.
“For example,’’ she says, “I can get a math teacher to show a four-step problem, put each step in a different color and the kids can import that image into a JPEG and write a narrative showing me they understand it.”
Christine Stevenson, a third-grade teacher at Prairie Star Elementary in the district, used a SMART board during a lesson about Australia. As part of a Classroom Connections project by Quest, Stevenson’s class watched a video journal of explorers in Australia. The images were projected on the whiteboard.
“It was amazing, having it that big. You almost feel you were there,’’ she says.
Stevenson also used the board to post notes when the students were working on journals about the Australia trip.
Prairie Start teacher Becci Tyler says she uses the SMART board every day in her fourth-grade class room. “When we are doing notes or going over information, I often put it up on the SMART board because I can write it up for students who have disabilities or problems transferring notes onto paper,’’ she says.
She also prepares lessons in advance and then calls them up on the board, instead of having to write everything down on the blackboard.
“It saves a huge amount of time. It is so much more efficient than being on the blackboard,’’ says Tyler.
Anne Podber, a high school chemistry and meteorology at Chattahoochee High School in Altharetta, Ga., uses a CopyCam from PolyVision. The CopyCam attaches to a chalkboard or whiteboard and captures all that is written on it. The notes can then be printed out, saved to a diskette or saved to a built-in Web server.
“I take a picture of the notes and give it to the students so the accuracy is consistent between what I say and what they write. Some kids have a hard time copying notes, especially teenagers because they are distracted,’’ says Podber.
Podber, who team-teaches with a special education teacher, says she also uses the CopyCam to save the notes for her colleague.
“She doesn’t have the science background, but she can use my notes and then she appears, too,” says Podber.
As competition among companies heat up, many are introducing more advanced whiteboard systems that come equipped with curriculum and templates.
Thomas says his district just purchased an Active Board from a British company. The board comes equipped with content, such as a diagram of the human body and maps. The whiteboard can also project graph paper image or music staffs and tally answers to questions it posts on the board.
Educators say that while interactive boards should not be used to fully replace the student task of taking notes, the boards’ ability to save notes is one of its most important functions.
“I think the beauty of the electronic whiteboard is the ability to capture the things you are doing, and then you can go back to them as part of your learning process,’’ he says. “In the past those things were lost day-to-day.’’
Fran Silverman, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a freelance writer based in Norwalk, Conn.