With a profusion of VHS tapes, an old analog TV system and conventional projectors, the Edina (Minn.) Public School District was ready for a digital makeover.
Now teachers pull streaming video off the Internet and flash it across LCD projectors in their classrooms. Many of the VHS tapes have been digitized, and teachers can now click a few buttons on their classroom computers to access them and other digital material. And telephone service over the Internet allows teachers and administrators to check voice mail as easily as e-mail from their desktops.
The digital enhancements have come in the last two years, inspired by Northwestern University's digital video distribution system.
This single network has lots to offer. The goal, says Michael A. Burke, director of district media and technology services, was to join "the district's voice, video and data networks into a single converged network.''
A virtual cocktail of services made it all possible for the suburban Minneapolis district, which has 7,500 students and nine schools.
The digital backbone: VBrick's EtherneTV Media Distribution System forms the backbone of the digital video component. This "turnkey system'' gave the district the capability to record, distribute and manage DVDs, cable TV, and satellite programming-on-demand, and enables teachers, using networked PCs, to project the content on ceiling-mounted LCD displays.
The district's "video-on-demand functions exactly as it does in your home, plus the teachers have the ability to record and play only segments of full-length video," says Burke.
Anytime access: What about all those old VHS tapes? School staff spent the summer converting them to DVDs, finishing 400 and with the rights to do several hundred more. What's more, the teachers can now use the same video programming at the same time.
"In the past, viewing [videos] was limited to the number of videotapes the district owned," says Burke. "The VBrick system allows any program to be accessed at any time from any classroom."
Some teachers are even using Bluetooth wireless Tablet PCs in their teaching, allowing them to sit in any part of the classroom and control what students see on SmartBoards in the front of the room.
Speaking a new digital language: Teachers and students find the digital way encourages learning. For students reared on everything digital, teachers are "speaking their native language-multimedia,'' says Burke.
"We're seeing lots more teachable moments in the classrooms," says Barb Kotzer, a technology integration specialist for the district. "Teachers are being much more creative. And students are asking the teachers to use the technology more."
Kotzer predicts the district's new LCD projectors will quickly make the old overhead projectors obsolete. The resolution of the LCD projectors allows students to see PowerPoint presentations, Web site graphics, and text-not to mention the vast variety of digital material available-more clearly. Computer lab time is more efficient too, since teachers can now show students samples in the classroom before hitting the lab.
Taking teaching to the next level: Melody Goldmeyer, another technology integration specialist for the district, says teachers find video clips and other digital material a welcome spice to their lessons. In addition, the new equipment and resources have helped with classroom management and student motivation. "Teachers are holding themselves to higher standards," she says. "Projects are becoming higher quality."
Burke says the teachers' new use of their digital cornucopia is just the beginning. "We're breaking ground on this. We'll be seeing more teachers involved and a lot more innovative teaching as time goes on."
Lucille Renwick is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.