AV, Presentation and Display

3 Key Trends in AV Technology for Schools

With active learning environments on the rise, new systems must support collaboration in the classroom and on the Web.

AV Trends Teaser

In schools from coast to coast, classroom learning environments are becoming more active and collaborative. Students are contributing to discussions and presentations, and the days of the “sage on the stage” are waning. This change is having a profound effect on the deployment of audiovisual technology in education. 

According to Mike Tomei, an independent audiovisual consultant who designs and installs AV systems for classrooms, “Classroom AV technology plays a big part in facilitating active learning environments.” Makers of AV equipment have responded to districts’ needs by developing new products that support more active and collaborative learning. Here are three key trends that show how they’re doing it.

1) Projectors and displays are becoming increasingly interactive, with more touch points to support multiple users at once.

Interactive projectors have shown steady growth since they first hit the market in 2009, said Linda Norton, vice president of PMA Research, a high-tech market research firm that specializes in the projector market. According to Norton, U.S. sales of interactive projectors jumped 36 percent last year, from 63,042 units sold in 2013 to 85,813 units sold in 2014. Although Norton’s firm doesn’t track sales by vertical market, it’s safe to assume that many of those sales were to K-12 schools — and she said there is no reason to believe this growth won’t continue in 2015.

New options for interactive projectors continue to emerge, with more devices supporting touch interactivity with a finger instead of a pen. In April, for instance, Mimio upgraded its projector line. The MimioProjector 280 series now includes a conventional, non-interactive model (the 280); a pen-based, interactive model (the 280I); and a touch-enabled model (the 280T). The 280I allows for the simultaneous use of up to 10 interactive pens, and the touch-based 280T supports up to ten simultaneous touch points.

How might this be useful in the classroom? On MimioConnect, the company’s online community of educators, Claire Pavia, a first-grade teacher at Cross Lutheran School (IL), suggested projecting four incomplete equations on your board. Have four teams of two to three students each come to the front of the class, and assign each team an equation to solve. Then, compare and contrast the different strategies that students used to solve each problem, and ask the class to discuss the pros and cons of each method.

“This makes learning fun and game-like,” Pavia wrote. “It encourages the students to work together to solve the problem, just how problem-solving is (done) in the real world. And it also brings the entire class into the learning process, so it isn’t (just) one student up at the board.”

Interactive projectors are starting to replace interactive whiteboards in classrooms, said Tom Piche, a marketing executive at Epson America, which makes the BrightLink series of interactive projectors for education. With an interactive touch area ranging from 60 inches to 100 inches diagonally, these projectors give educators some flexibility in terms of classroom installation, he said.

Many of Piche’s customers now expect touch capability instead of pen-based interactivity, he noted. “With iPads, iPhones and tablets, people have gotten so used to swiping with their finger,” he explained. “That has become the expectation at the board as well.”

Lamp-Free Projectors: A Bright Idea?

Lamp-free projectors, which use solid-state illumination (SSI) instead of traditional mercury lamps for their light source, include LED projectors, laser projectors and hybrid projectors that use a combination LED/laser light engine. Since Casio launched the first hybrid projectors in 2010, a number of other manufacturers have introduced SSI models as well.

When lamp-free projectors first came out, they were more expensive than similar models with traditional light sources, and the colors were slightly off, said Mike Tomei, an independent AV consultant to schools. “Now, we’re either at or really close to the point where these are comparable,” he said. “I think, in the next few years, most schools will be buying these.”

Sales of projectors with solid-state light sources instead of lamps are on the rise. PMA Research expects an 8 percent growth in sales of projectors with laser/LED hybrid light engines in the United States this year, said Vice President Linda Norton. She attributed this growth, in part, to falling prices. “In 2014, the average selling price of laser/LED hybrid projectors was $1,322, and we expect the average price to be $1,280 by the end of this year,” Norton said.

Earlier this year, Casio introduced a new hybrid projector that sells for about $700. The EcoLite XJ-V1 is powered by Casio’s fifth-generation LED/laser light source, with an estimated lifespan of 20,000 hours. It produces 2,700 lumens of brightness and offers XGA resolution (1,024 pixels by 768 pixels).

Interactive flat-panel displays also are catching on in education. During the Texas Computer Education Association conference earlier this year, BenQ demonstrated its new 70-inch RP702 high-definition interactive display, which features 10-point multitouch technology and a built-in whiteboard app called QuickNote for annotating on the screen. And the Australian company Electroboard Solutions made its U.S. debut by demonstrating Prowise interactive flat panels for education, ranging in size from 55 inches to 84 inches diagonally.

Tomei noted that interactive projectors or whiteboards are cheaper than large flat-panel displays, but, there are some benefits that might make interactive flat panels worth the money. For instance, even when teachers are using an ultra-short-throw projector, there will still be shadows on the projected image when they are writing on the board or interacting with projected content, he said.  Also, projectors can be bumped out of alignment, requiring a technician to realign and calibrate the image — and they require lamp changes when the lamp burns out. “You don’t run into either of those issues with flat-panel displays,” Tomei said.

2) New apps and devices allow multiple users to collaborate and share content wirelessly at the same time.

A number of new AV systems allow for wireless collaboration between teachers and students, enabling an ever-larger number of users to work together on projects and share presentations. The ShareLink 200 Wireless Collaboration Gateway from Extron allows multiple people to present content from a laptop, smartphone or tablet on a shared display. The device enables up to four people to display their slides, documents, graphs, photos and other content at the same time, without needing a cable. It is compatible with Windows and OS X computers, as well as Apple and Android smartphones and tablets. It also includes a moderator mode so the teacher can control whose content is displayed.

Sharp’s Aquos Board line of interactive displays, available in sizes ranging from 60 inches to 80 inches diagonally, includes software called Touch Display Link that can communicate with iOS, Android or Windows 8 devices running the accompanying TD Link app. According to the company, up to 50 mobile devices can connect to an Aquos Board at once, and when the teacher writes on the display, this content appears simultaneously on students’ screens. By choosing an option called Host Control, students can add to the presentation from their own devices — and anything they write will show up on the Aquos Board.

A growing number of AV manufacturers are integrating Miracast technology into their devices, enabling users of Windows or Android tablets to mirror their screen to a display. For instance, many Panasonic projectors and interactive flat panels include Miracast, allowing users of laptops or tablets running Windows 8.1 or Android 4.2 or later to show content from their own device wirelessly,

Through its Samsung School initiative, Samsung enables group collaboration between teachers and students using Samsung displays and Galaxy tablets for education. Teachers can share their screen with the class, monitor or control students’ screens, launch an app on all student devices or initiate a group activity. Students can contribute simultaneously on a shared screen as well. According to a case study, Doddridge County Schools in West Virginia saw increased student engagement after deploying Samsung School within its middle school classrooms last spring, and so the district decided to roll out a similar initiative in its high school this year.

Another collaboration option is Promethean’s ClassFlow, free software that enables similar screen-sharing capabilities across multiple platforms. When the software detects a new device logged onto the network, it sends a code to that device, which, when activated, allows the student to join the digital lesson. For whole-class instruction, teachers can take their students through a lesson together through a projector or display. Switching to individual instruction, teachers can “push” a website, video, poll or other digital content to students’ devices. They also can control students’ screens or display a student’s screen to the whole class.

Epson recently introduced its own free software, called Moderator, which enables teachers to control multiple presentations at once. Up to 50 students can connect to an Epson projector simultaneously from a laptop, iOS or Android device using Epson’s free iProjection app. With Moderator, which runs on Windows or OS X, the teacher can display up to four student screens at the same time. Teachers can see who is connected on a list displayed on their own computer screen. To show a student’s screen, a teacher simply drags that student’s user ID to the center of his or her screen. In controlling what the entire class sees, teachers can choose from among single, split-screen or four-screen views.

Systems such as ShareLink, ClassFlow, Moderator and Touch Display Link are designed to take advantage of the “bring your own device” phenomenon in education. According to Market Data Research, about a third of K-12 schools are embracing BYOD. Tomei recommended that school AV buyers involve their network services team when planning for and evaluating systems that enable wireless collaboration, to ensure that their networks can handle the anticipated demand without any signal interference.

4 Tips for School AV Buyers

Independent audiovisual consultant Mike Tomei designed AV systems for Harvard University and Ithaca College before striking out on his own. He now works with schools and colleges nationwide to help them develop standards and a strategic plan for their AV installations. Here are Tomei’s four key recommendations for planning successful AV projects.

1) Think ahead. Make sure the systems you design will support your future needs. For instance, while 4K video displays might be cost-prohibitive for schools to install today, “I do specify video switching that can handle 4K,” Tomei said, “so when you’re ready to upgrade, you can.”

2) Focus on design. Spend most of your time on doing a needs analysis, and talk with instructors about how they want to teach. “AV shouldn’t hinder teaching and learning; it should facilitate these,” he advised.

3) Include enterprise management. Your tech staff should be able to remotely monitor and troubleshoot AV equipment. “AV staffing doesn’t increase proportionally with the amount of classroom technology,” Tomei noted, “so remote access and support is critical.”

4) Don’t overlook staff support. Schools need to offer academic tech support as well. “You have to teach instructors how to use these systems, because they will require new pedagogies,” he said.

3) Web conferencing offers a versatile option for making video connections. 

Nearly everyone is familiar with Skype or Google Hangouts, but there are other Web-based conferencing systems that enable educators to connect with remote speakers without the need for expensive videoconferencing equipment. These services, which allow users to participate in a video chat or conferencing session using any device with a Web browser, are more scalable and reliable than ad-hoc calls using a free system such as Google Hangouts — but schools don’t need high-end equipment to use them.

For instance, Pexip offers Pexip Infinity, a cloud-based platform for videoconferences and meetings. The service allows schools to create “virtual meeting rooms” in which students and instructors can join using any smartphone, tablet or other device with a camera and a Web browser. Pexip Infinity takes advantage of the new Web Real-Time Communication two-way video conferencing capabilities built into the Google Chrome and Firefox browsers. It also uses a distributed architecture to optimize bandwidth. Only the person who is talking uses the full amount of bandwidth, while the others who are connected use just a small fraction. What’s more, there is no limit to the number of users who can join a call or meeting, according to Pexip.

Users can choose from among formats including a “virtual auditorium” mode in which the current speaker is shown, along with smaller images of up to 21 other participants; and a “lecture mode” showing just the speaker. Pexip Infinity is licensed based on the number of ports used per month, and a yearly enterprise option includes an unlimited number of ports.

Another Web conferencing service, Vidyo, offers its own cross-platform systems for hosting videoconferences, lectures or meetings on any device. The VidyoDesktop app brings videoconferencing to Windows, Mac and Linux computers, letting users connect from wherever they are. The VidyoWeb browser extension lets participants join conferences from within a Web browser on desktop or laptop computers. The VidyoMobile app brings videoconferencing to Apple and Android tablets and smartphones through a wireless broadband or WiFi connection.

Tomei concluded that traditional videoconferencing codecs work well, but you have to know what technology is used on the other end of the call. “If you know that and you need a reliable connection, this would be my recommendation,” he said. But if you connect to many different sources and don’t know what technology they will be using, “then Web conferencing would be the better choice.”