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Display Technology :: Picture This!

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A spate of new multimedia tools is putting a whole new face on the learning process.

Display Technology AMONG THE OLD-SCHOOL resources that the digital age is making obsolete, or at least less consequential, count the chalkboard. For decades, the chalkboard was the focal point of all instruction, the big screen on which teachers wrote out and directedlesson after lesson after lesson.

Today, while chalkboards still exist, they are losing their status as the classroom centerpiece—districts are now investing in technology to modernize classroom displays. From interactive whiteboards to handheld tablets, from digital projectors to newfangled video-editing systems, the most successful of these products are those that grab student attention and don’t let go.

New displays have not come of age in a vacuum. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids in the United States watch an average of four hours of television a day. What’s more, a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences shows that 26 percent of US teenagers spend between one and two hours online a day. The statistics indicate that kids prefer to learn in a visual world and like to have information at their fingertips. Across the board, the latest and greatest classroom display products meet these needs.

A Smarter Chalkboard

Electronic whiteboards are no longer new, but they are still cutting edge. Introduced by Canada-based Smart Technologies in 1991, the technology combines the simplicity of a whiteboard with the power of a computer. Essentially, the device is one giant computer screen that teachers can manipulate with a variety of tools, enabling them to present slides, take notes, and do a host of other things. Teachers also can use electronic whiteboards to control applications on a computer, write notes in digital ink, or save work to share later. Of course, the best part of the technology is that every student can see it.

This is precisely why teachers in the Jennings School District (MO) recently turned to Smart Technologies’ Smart Boards to increase student involvement. Last year, the district, in which 77 percent of students qualify for free-lunch programs, applied E-Rate funds to purchase 52 Smart Boards for classrooms in grades 3-12. Once the technology was in place, the school launched a new, inquiry-based approach to learning—an approach Cindy Kicielinski, district instructional technology specialist, says has forced students to find answers for themselves and figure out how to incorporate technology to present those answers to the class.

“You’ll see students in the front of the room collaborating in teams, being able to talk effectively about the knowledge that they have, and present it back in a way that everyone understands it,” she says. “That’s a lifelong skill.”

At J.P. Ryan Elementary School in Waldorf, MD, teachers have deployed whiteboard technology from GTCO CalComp to achieve similar results. Dubbed the InterWrite SchoolBoard, the device incorporates infrared wireless transmitters, which students use to answer questions and record responses with a simple click of a button. Fourth-grade teacher Jill Barnes says the interface makes learning seem like avideo game—something to which youngsters are drawn.

MEMS THE WORD

A NEW TECHNOLOGY MAY TURN YOUR CELL PHONE INTO A PROJECTOR.

Teachers soon may be able to teach lessons by projecting images from personal digital assistants, according to a report published recently by MIT’s Technology Review. The magazine reports that researchers at Cornell University have developed a laser technology that could lead to the ability to project high-definition television images from devices the size of cell phones.

The new technology, dubbed MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems), allows rapid scanning of wide areas with a laser. Cornell researchers have used MEMS to develop a small projector that can cast a meter-wide image on a surface only half a meter away. The key to the technology, which is already being used in movie and television projectors, is a mirror suspended by carbon fibers.

Also making the list of new projector technology is the PowerLite 82c digital projector from Epson. Released at the end of 2005, it can be used to deliver presentations in various settings, and it features automatic focus, four-second startup, and fivewatt audio. The unit also comes with four input connectors, meaning teachers can hook it up to just about anything.

Barnes describes one geometry lesson in which she used the SchoolBoard to create a memory game similar to the old game show Concentration. The game required kids to move around different pictures of shapes and select the appropriate name for each one. In another lesson, Barnes used the SchoolBoard’s spotlight feature to emphasize words she wanted the students to memorize. While both lessons worked well, Barnes says one drawback of the technology is the time it takes to learn to use it.

“It does take awhile to learn and plan your lessons,” she says, noting that it took her the better part of a year to become completely comfortable with the InterWrite board. “If you’re dedicated to your job, though, that’s not really a downside.”

Board + Tablet: An Equation for Learning

In the eight-school Casa Grande Elementary School District (AZ), teachers have embraced an interactive presentation system from Hitachi Software instead of using electronic whiteboards exclusively. The system consists of StarBoard T-17SXL Interactive Display panels and 20 BT-1 Freedom Tablets for students to use from their desks. According to Lynette Eshom, a physical education teacher who sits on the district’s technology committee, the technologies work in tandem to make lessons as interactive as they can possibly be.

The StarBoard T-17SXL is the main instructional tool and can be easily connected to other devices, including computers and LCD projectors. To use it, teachers face the students and control Windows-based presentations and computer applications with a wireless, two-button stylus. Students use the pendriven, Bluetooth-enabled BT-1 tablets to communicate wirelessly with the StarBoard system from any point in the classroom. Eshom says the pen and tablet can also be passed around the classroom to students if teachers would rather keep all eyes focused on the main display.

“We view technology as a conduit for a new learning paradigm,” she says. “This couldn’t be more evident than it is with the new system we’ve got.”

Casa Grande teachers use the technology in a variety of lessons. During vocabulary lessons in some of the lower grades, they demonstrate a word using the StarBoard, and students mimic it on their BT-1 tablets, using the pen device. Student handwriting automatically converts into easy-to-read text, and teachers can walk around the classroom to see how each of the students performed. If they wish to, teachers can configure the StarBoard to display each of the tablet screens in sequential order, eliminating the need to move around the room.

Eshom says the technology has altered the classroom environment for the better. Instead of wondering if students have retained a particular lesson, teachers can use the StarBoard to get instant feedback. What’s more, she adds, because the technology keeps students so intensely involved in every lesson, Casa Grande teachers have reported that they’re spending far less time trying to get students motivated, and far more time doing what they’re there to do: teach.

“It’s pretty neat to see everyone so involved,” says Eshom.“When you think about where we have been and what sort of classroom tools we had in the past, it’s amazing what a difference a little technology can make.”

Projecting Success

At Greenbrier Middle School in Evans, GA, sixth-grade social studies teacher Shaun Owen recognized years ago that her students responded more to images than they did to words. Instead of asking for an investment in technology that mimicked the chalkboard, Owen, an engaging teacher who is legally blind, convinced school administrators to purchase a device that could build learning around pictures. She has rebuilt her lessons around an LP240 digital projector from InFocus.

Owen draws up her lessons in PowerPoint and delivers each and every one of them with the InFocus projector. Even tests, she says, are projected on the wall—students are required to answer multiple-choice questions that appear in yet another PowerPoint presentation. Owen estimates that over the course of the school year, her kids see between 6,000 and 7,000 images, containing no more than 30 words apiece. Impressively, she says, her students’ test scoreshave increased dramatically and are now higher than ever before.

“Sometimes, as a teacher, your classroom may be dynamic and kids might want to come, but you don’t always know if there is learning taking place,” Owen says, noting that the spike in test scores serves as proof to her that her digital-projection method is working. “Once you switch over and see the potential of a multimedia classroom, it’s like going from drivinga hand-cranked car to driving a Porsche.”

Still, digital projectors don’t work without a good bit of forethought. Jim Moulton, a educational consultant based in Maine, recently blogged that teachers must pay attention to the size of the images they project. According to Moulton, “Because the digital projector’s image, in most classroom installations, is limited only by the size of the screen available and the possible distance from that screen, it is important to think, quite simply, about cases in which students would benefit by being able to see somethingin a larger-than-life mode.”

Moulton offers many examples. In a high school history class, he says, a teacher can project a source document or an artifact of local importance, but the image needs to be big enough for students to be able to read and take notes on during the lesson. For a middle school science classroom, Moulton says a teacher would need to display a big image of a Bunsen burner before demonstrating the proper way of lighting it, so students can become familiar with the parts and piecesbefore they tackle them themselves.

It’s like going from driving a hand-cranked car to driving a Porsche.
- Shaun Owen, Greenbrier Middle School (GA), on the use of multimedia tools in the classroom

“Just like it has always been, if a teacher wants every student to be engaged in a discussion around a map, they need a large wall map rather than an 8.5-by-11-inch document,” he writes. “Even if that teacher were going to deliver a copy of the map to every student, he or she would still want a largeversion to use as an instructional resource for group focus.”

Going to the Videotape

While teachers such as Shaun Owen focus on projecting still pictures, others have set their sights on animating images even further—right up to the point of capturing and recording real, live video. At Highland High School in Pocatello, ID, under the leadership of educator Caroline Faure, students are using a pair of products from NewTek (www.newtek.com) to master the art of broadcasting, a lesson that is teaching them as muchabout technology as it is about journalism.

The products include the TriCaster, a simplified live switching and audio mixing device with real-time output to video, and the VT[4], a software tool that offers web streaming, realtime keying, titling, editing, two-dimensional video painting, three-dimensional modeling, and animation. Highland students learn how to use the tools in class and practice operating them by using them to film school sporting events. Faure says the students record an event live, and after they edit and add graphic touches to the video, the production is broadcastthe following week on a local cable station.

“Students are camera operators, they handle audio, they do graphics and just about every other aspect of the broadcast,” says Faure, who adds that the school has gathered all the equipment together in a mobile trailer the students take to athletic events. “This certainly isn’t the way you or I would havelearned this stuff.”

Highland students also use the NewTek products to film a weekly television show called RamTV News; at Thornapple- Kellogg High School in Middleville, MI, the same tools are being used to similar ends. In his digital-media production class, teacher Jerry Robinson guides students through the use of the technology as they put together a weekly newsmagazine show with features on teachers and trivia, and regular reports on school sports teams and plays. His budget for the project: a cool $20,000, which was able to cover cameras from Hitachi and Panasonic, too. New for this year, Robinson is adding a section about weather forecasting. In this class, students will become meteorologists and incorporate the TriCaster and VT[4] to record their own weather reports. The reports will include the chroma key screen just like real weather reports do, and that will require students to learn how to overlay a weather map onto a blank screen. The goal, says Robinson, is to make students entirely self-sufficient in taping aweather broadcast by the time they graduate.

“Some kids can get into art but not academics, and this is a way of doing both,” he says. “One of the great things about video is that it allows students to be creative, which, ultimately, is what we’re really striving for anyway.”

:: web extra :: Interested in a free projector? Make your case and learn more about new display technology here.

Matt Villano is a writer and editor based in Half Moon Bay, CA.He also serves as senior contributing editor to T.H.E. sister publicationCampus Technology.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

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