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The A/V Revolution

District case studies show how to integrate A/V and IT

If EduComm '05 was any indication, there's an audio/visual revolution occurring in our schools. The EduComm conference, held in June in conjunction with InfoComm, provided ample evidence of the convergence of information technology and audiovisual technology in K-12 districts nationwide.

Conference presenters spoke on a variety of K-12 topics, covering everything from capturing classroom presentations to cutting-edge distance learning to evolving the electronic classroom. EduComm isn't the only indicator that educators are embracing A/V. Multimedia projector sales for educational use in this country are expected to grow 28 percent, from 285,059 units in 2004 to 363,876 units in 2005, according to Stanford Research Institute. Education is already the second-largest application for projectors. Districts are also scrambling to outfit their classrooms with digital whiteboards. That category's penetration increased by 2 percent between 2004 and 2005, according to Market Data Retrieval of Shelton, Conn., and an additional 7 percent of districts are planning to add digital whiteboards this school year. If you weren't one of the 1,000-plus educators in attendance, fear not: Here are some of the best ideas we've seen in A/V recently, from EduComm presenters and school districts throughout the country.

Making an A/V Dream Reality

Donna Smith had a plan. Three years ago, when Smith was the principal at Loma Vista Elementary School in Santa Ana, Calif., she and a group of her teachers, all of whom had "tech vision," decided to come up with a way to bring A/V technology into their school. Loma Vista is a high-poverty, urban elementary school with almost half of the students being English-language learners, and Smith's team wanted to incorporate A/V to meet the challenges of NCLB. With a very small budget, the school could not afford big-ticket items such as digital whiteboards, but she knew they could still bring a lot of value to the school.

" I feared that if there were only a handful
of computers for a whole classroom of
students, they would never be actively
engaged." -LeRoy Butler, South Carolina's School District
Five of Lexington and Richland Counties

After some thought and planning, they rolled out a three-prong plan that included putting A/V equipment in every class, building a computer lab and creating a low-budget TV studio.

"Our first step was to give every teacher a TV with a VCR and DVD player," says Smith. The team insisted that the TVs had to be mounted on the wall and not just rolled around on a cart. As a permanent part of each classroom, she knew the teachers would learn how to integrate the tools into their lessons. Every teacher also received a laptop with the proper cables to connect it to the TV. Many of the teachers received digital cameras as well, which the students used to illustrate newspapers and stories, and to create slide shows.

At the same time, the school opened a computer lab with 34 computers and a state-of-the-art LCD projector. Students learned how to make iMovies and create their own multimedia presentations. At the end of the year, they even made a video yearbook for their teachers.

Last, Smith and company set up a video camera in the only remaining free space: the staff room. "Every morning, we pulled a curtain across the room and three students and I would do a morning-show broadcast," says Smith. The morning show, transmitted to every classroom, featured announcements on the school's happenings and events, the latest items available in the student store, character-education lessons, and occasional interviews with special guests. "On top of being educational, the morning show was fun and unique," says Smith. "It made our school special."

The teachers at Loma Vista used high-priority grants and received donations to make their A/V dreams come true. And Smith, who just started as principal at Harden Middle School in Salinas, Calif., intends to put together a team to try and duplicate what she accomplished at Loma Vista.

Engaging Real-World Learners

Two years ago, when School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties in South Carolina received a three-year federal technology grant to improve academic achievement for seventh- and eighth-grade students at three different schools, LeRoy Butler was adamant about not buying desktop computers. "We were looking for innovative ways to get technology in the classroom to engage our students," says Butler, director of technology educational services for School District Five. "I feared that if there were only a handful of computers for a whole classroom of students, they would never be actively engaged."

Instead, Butler focused on delivering A/V technology that would give the students hands-on learning opportunities. He bought handheld computers, data projectors and interactive whiteboards. "The data projectors made a world of difference," he says. "Even if a teacher has only two or three computers, she can use the projector to actively engage the entire class." Today, Butler remains convinced that the A/V equipment is more effective than having "two kids in front of a box." Another benefit to using a projector is that the teacher has greater control over the medium. Everything runs from the teacher's station and she can control and monitor the content the kids are exposed to.

" Students at Virginia's Fairfax County
Public Schools put much more effort into
their projects because they know they will
look great when they're displayed."
-Sandy Kretzer, district coordinator of technology consulting and assessment

In addition to the projectors, Butler bought five digital whiteboards for the three schools. Today, that number is at 20. "The teachers love using the whiteboards because the kids participate actively in various lessons," he says. "A teacher can display information, go through a pre- or post-test, navigate Web sites--all from the front of the class." Teachers are thrilled that they can make annotations on different sites and, best of all, save the session at the end of the class for students who need additional help. They can also e-mail the lesson to students who missed class or share it with colleagues.

The math department is especially effusive about the whiteboards, says Butler. Because the whiteboards they use require no special pens, math teachers can let students work out problems with their fingers. Not surprisingly, the students love to use the boards.

To ensure that the teachers learn how to integrate the products into their lessons, the district used money from the grant to hire technology coaches. All of the coaches are certified teachers who are tech savvy. "In the last year, I have seen classrooms transform from overhead projectors and paper-and-pencil classrooms into complete interactive learning environments," says MaryAnn Sansonetti, the technology curriculum coach at Irmo Middle School. "Not only has it changed the way students learn, but it has also increased engagement of all students. The student you would typically see bored in the back of the room is now competing to answer questions or be a part of what is going on."

Having an A/V Plan

In August, when Fairfax County Public Schools in Alexandria, Virg., opened South County Secondary School--the first new secondary school in 32 years--Principal Dale Rumberger made a couple of dramatic decisions: to install every classroom with all of the A/V technology it needs and to not have TVs. "Just as a surgeon has a tray full of surgical instruments, I want my teachers to have a tray full of their own surgical instruments," says Rumberger. "A/V is not just an overhead any more."

Rumberger made sure that every class has all of the necessary tools: an LCD projector, an interactive SMARTBoard, a DVD/VCR and a computer to connect all the pieces. In fact, the school has no chalkboards at all. "I want to equip our teachers to be able to connect to as many learning modalities with the students kids as they can," he says.

Three years ago, Kretzer says the district's instructional directors came to her and said television was inadequate in both its display and interactivity level. Furthermore, it wasn't as engaging as the products the kids used at home. The digital projectors they requested had 72-inch diagonal screens, which they said was necessary for delivering engaging, interactive multimedia lessons.

Quickly, the projectors became the foundation for learning. Although teachers throughout the district still use DVD players, VCRs and digital whiteboards, they are dependent on the projectors to display the content on all of these materials. Sandy Kretzer, the district's coordinator of technology consulting and assessment, discovered that having a large and colorful view is motivational. She says students put much more effort into their projects because they know they will look great when they're displayed. "In the past, we lost so much detail on TV," she says.

Several teachers also disliked the televisions due to logistics. When they used 36-inch display TVs, the teachers were forced to rearrange everyone in class. Kretzer, who formerly taught science, says she had to pile all the kids up front, particularly because the science classrooms were long and deep. She says she firmly believes a teacher who can spend less effort to engage the kids can use that time instead of create more fulfilling deliverables and lessons.

For the new school, the district's challenge was to build an interactive class as inexpensively as possible. To accomplish that mission, Kretzer and Rumberger chose multimedia carts to house all of the A/V pieces. Teachers in other schools who use similar carts appreciate their mobility; the carts are easy to use when they need them and can be stashed away when they don't. Administrators like Kretzer like that they can save money by having teachers share equipment.

Ellen Ullman is an associate editor.