Classroom AV: what should you consider?

Classroom AV: what should you consider?

For over a decade, technology has been gradually transforming the education sector. The increased variety of equipment and software means that technology is no longer restricted to the ICT classroom. Many schools are now using display and projection equipment to enhance their pupils’ learning experience through visual and interactive activities in every subject. But with the constant evolution of technology, schools often find themselves under pressure to keep up with recent trends, while also having to weigh up the benefits with the cost of investment.

The last 15 years have seen a massive investment into technology for classrooms. In 2000, we saw computer numbers in schools increase to over 800,000, a third of which were laptops, and nine in 10 schools had internet access. By 2003, schools were expected to spend around £65 million on dedicated ICT budgets, but one of the most prominent developments in classroom technology was the investment of around £200 million in interactive whiteboards, which had reached 58.3 per cent of schools by 2004, and is now the most commonly used piece of AV classroom technology (BESA Historic ICT in UK State Schools, 2015).

In Japan, there are on average two interactive whiteboards per school, whereas in the UK, most if not all classrooms will feature an interactive front-of-house display. But a new wave of innovation in educational technology has begun. In 2015, schools are now benefitting from a huge range of new equipment, devices, and software helping to increase student engagement and diversify lessons.  

Recent developments
The acceleration and improvement of touch screen technology has allowed for the development of many new AV products, meaning that there is now an even wider choice of solutions for those who wish to update their classroom technology. For example, some schools are moving away from interactive whiteboards to use flat panel displays, which draw upon LED screen technology used in modern TVs. The main advantage of this is the heightened detail of the display. For example, in maths, when presenting a graph, the greater clarity will make grid lines far more visible and allow for greater precision in interacting with the screen. Flat panel displays are also much more energy efficient and low maintenance, producing little to no excess heat or noise, and unlike interactive whiteboards, with TV-style screens, teachers no longer have to squint through the beam of the projector while delivering their lessons. 

Tablets and handheld devices have also been a consideration for classrooms looking to increase student engagement with the front-of-house display. Using whiteboards meant that students could go to the front of the classroom and control the material on the screen, but more recently, mirror image apps have been created that connect devices to the display so that children can view and interact with the material remotely from their desks.

Apple TVs have been fairly popular in this way, as an increasing number of students have iPads with which they can engage with the display, but there are alternatives. Software such as SMART 14, Promethean ClassFlow and Squirrel Reflector create a two‑way interface between the screen and the user in the classroom, which can be run through smartphones or laptops using the school’s Wi-Fi connection at a fraction of the price.

Another key benefit of tablets being identified by schools is the ability to use the screen shot function and camera apps to capture the outcomes of work digitally, so that they can be annotated and stored on the school network, which helps to create a detailed record of work while reducing paper trails in the process. Tablets are likely to become more popular as they become  more efficient and user friendly, and as a large number of students have access to this technology already, they will most likely be able to adapt to it quickly and enthusiastically. In fact, the low cost and mobility of tablets is resulting in schools forecasting that by 2016, 37 per cent of all computer hardware in schools would be tablet devices: a 13 per cent increase on last year’s prediction (BESA Tablet and Connectivity, 2014).   

Visualisers and document cameras are another option that work very similarly to traditional overhead projectors, transferring real-time digital images of documents or objects to the front-of-house display. The concept of visualisation has remained a prominent feature of teaching, but specialist visualiser hardware has taken a hit in the market due to the development of mirroring software and apps.   

Tablets can now be used in place of a visualiser, positioned anywhere in the classroom to capture and project various skills and methods, for example, presenting a science experiment up close, or demonstrating a particular art technique. This form of instructional teaching is highly effective and still has its place in the classroom, so schools that have invested in visualisers should still make use of them, as they can project images without the need for photographing or converting them for use on the display.  

Key concerns for schools
There are two main considerations when it comes to investing in new classroom technology: price and longevity. The interactive whiteboards used in most schools will now be over 10 years old, so when weighing up the costs and benefits of upgrading, one of the most common questions asked by governors is ‘how long will it last?’ The standard warranty and expected life span on flat panel displays is shorter; between three and seven years.    

At the same time, new technology does come at a cost. For example, replacing the bulbs in a whiteboard projector every two to three years is far cheaper at £250, whereas investing in a flat panel display with touch screen capabilities and a life span based on hours of use, will cost around £2500. But these costs are dropping, and if this trend continues, schools will find that purchasing this type of technology will not be as expensive as they may have thought.    

The same is true of tablets. The majority of schools cannot currently provide a 1:1 ratio of devices to students and will often have shared devices. But as many children are gaining access to personal tablets, iPads and smartphones, some schools are considering bring-your-own-device (BYOD) models. There are safety and security risks, discrimination considerations and pricing policies that need to be established for this strategy to work well, but this could be a viable option in the foreseeable future.

The important thing to remember when purchasing new technology is to think long term; higher prices may be off-putting in the short term, but in the long run, you will benefit from better quality and the total cost of ownership will be more than parity. Being able to keep up with these trends is critical for schools, especially now that most young pupils will have grown up surrounded by technology. By adopting new equipment and methods, schools can revitalise lessons and increase that all-important engagement factor in the classroom.

Green Lane Primary School
Kevin Holland, head teacher at Green Lane Primary School, Bradford said: “Longevity of equipment is really important, so when purchasing new AV technologies, I always think about what it will look like in five years’ time. We generally buy the very latest in technology, provided that it is fit for purpose, rather than equipment which may be obsolete very quickly. We always have a definite purpose in mind for our equipment, so instead of just buying for technology’s sake, we often buy a small number to pilot first. 

“We evaluate the choices in terms of how little management they need to function properly in the classroom and how effective they are in supporting learning. We began with trialling iPads, but found managing them to be time consuming. We then bought Microsoft Surfaces which integrated into our classrooms much better. Because we work with Microsoft across the network, any mobile devices used need to have that capability.

“Finally, the cost of maintaining equipment is a major concern. Most of our classrooms have an LCD touch screen. We still have a few legacy projectors, but we moved away from these as they required a great deal of upkeep. We constantly had to call out technicians to change bulbs and clean filters.

“Technology promotes independence in children’s learning so that they take responsibility of their own improvements and progress. Pupils shouldn’t see ICT as just a skill they have to learn, but a tool that maximises their capacity. In addition to our AV and tablet provision, we have 200 desktops and 250 Kindles in the school to promote this. We also have 100 mobile phones, used by teachers to take photographs of work to share with the class and access our Sharepoint network.

“In terms of staff development, we have seven assistant heads, who are responsible for the ICT development within their year group. They are known as Pupil Progress Leaders (PPLs), who move up from one year to the next with the children, so they understand their abilities, and the curriculum that needs to be delivered. Through a transfer of skills and knowledge, the PPLs can identify where training is needed and maximise its effectiveness. We also have an ICT teacher, who is responsible for monitoring the future trends for ICT development in the curriculum.

“We spent a lot of time making sure that the school’s infrastructure would support our technology provision. Sometimes you have to be brave and rip the existing wiring out to start again. With the importance of data, schools simply can’t have the servers powering the whole school situated in classrooms, as they may be turned off accidentally, leading to serious data protection issues.

“For children, AV tech in the classroom is a given. It’s part of their modern day life, so they almost expect it! It is an inevitable part of the workforce of the future and therefore the pupils are right it must be their entitlement.”

George Spencer Academy
Paul Hynes, deputy head teacher at George Spencer Academy, Nottingham said: “We’ve installed a number of touch screen monitors and high-definition TVs, especially in our new builds, having moved on from the traditional projectors as the new screen technology on TVs is worth the extra cost. The pedagogy that’s been used for hundreds of years, describing a topic that’s displayed across the room shows that having this front-of-house element is still one of the most effective ways of teaching.

“The screens have been really easy to implement, as most of our staff, including newly recruited teachers, are often already well-versed in using the core software, whether that’s Powerpoint or Prezi, so there isn’t much training involved in this. We also use visualisers, which have had a number of benefits in our classrooms. For one, they save on a great deal of photocopying, as documents can be shown to the class in real‑time, including past exam papers. All of our staff have had the visualisers demonstrated to them, and then it is up to the various faculties to decide if and how they want to use them. For example, technology and science lessons have benefitted from the ability to zoom in on physical objects, such as circuitry or practical demonstrations.

“Teachers will test classroom ideas using the visualisers, which will then be discussed at the faculty CPD sessions, before being integrated into the scheme of work taught by all teachers in the department.  Students really enjoy the visualisers, and we did extensive research into how to maximise their classroom effect, including both the observations of teachers, and ideas from our student digital leaders, deciding where the technology would be best placed.

“From doing consultancy work with other schools, it seems that the trend is moving towards a one-device-per-child model, especially in newer schools, taking away the need for a screen at the front of the classroom, as the work can be transferred directly from the teacher’s computer to their tablets. This isn’t something we would currently do, as even with a bring-your-own-device model, the devices can be very different and that makes it harder to implement effectively.”

Ardleigh Green Junior School
John Morris, Ardleigh Green Junior School said: “The three most important factors we consider when making AV purchases are the product’s value for money, whether it is suitable for the needs of the school and how easy it is for staff to use them.

“At Ardleigh Green Junior School, we use interactive whiteboards as the primeteaching tool. In addition, we have a variety of devices such as laptops, handheld devices and microphones to be used in various ways.

Increasingly, we’re using iPads in the classroom, especially for working with Scratch and conducting individual research. If the children have a task to undertake, we will give them the freedom to select the technology that they think will be best suited to complete the activity.

“Curriculum and staff development are an integral part of teaching and learning in our school. Technology and staff training go hand-in-hand, and we look for opportunities to use AV in our curriculum planning sessions.

Technology enhances learning. It gives staff access to a wide range of resources to support teaching and engages and enthuses children in the learning environment. It also has the potential to develop personalised learning systems, where children have the opportunity to extend their knowledge, skills and understanding in a variety of ways, depending on the task and the type of technology used to complete it. One of our pupils said that he can’t imagine school without technology.

“That being said, we do not use technology simply for technology’s sake; there are some times where it isn’t appropriate. We always begin with considering our teaching and learning programme, identifying the knowledge, skills, and understanding the childrens needs.

Application is a crucial part of primary pedagogy, so we also think through how the children will use these skills in practice, before considering whether technology will be appropriate. What we’re seeking to do is provide the equipment and resources for staff and pupils to extend learning where they can.”

Rapid changes
So there you have it. AV technologies have become a central part of today’s classrooms. Projectors are still in use across many schools in the UK, but becoming ever more popular is the use of LCD screens and tablet devices.

The key advice is to plan well. These technologies can be a significant investment, so preparing the training and implementation strategies needed in order for AV tech to function effectively must be considered a priority.

Another issue that schools need to address is infrastructure. With new technologies rapidly replacing older models, the provision of power and access needed can often be outdated and incompatible with new investments. Technology can be a very powerful tool in teaching and learning, but significant time must be set aside for testing, evaluating and implementing any new purchase.

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