What kind of classroom technology should I use? This question persistently intrigues and haunts administrators, teachers, and even students. We’ve seen many new technologies enter the classroom over the years. Some are resoundingly successful. Others fall short of expectations.

Finding a foolproof formula for success might be impossible. But there are several ways to manage the growing trend of integrating technology with education that can help you protect your investment and achieve your objectives.

Schools are frequently early tech adopters, paving the way for future applications of that tech for other markets. Tech helps a school’s population teachers, staff, administrators, students, and parents — coordinate learning efforts, communicate to one another, and build toward the future.

To make matters more interesting, each group looks at tech in education differently.

Teachers think about new tech through the lens of educating their students, and through ease of use. Students learn how to use technology in a way that fits their learning style or piques their interest. Administrators consider how to provide an affordable, responsible, achievable curriculum.

Even though the number of people to please may seem difficult to manage, questions like what technology you need to add to the classroom and how to do it shouldn’t be scary. You don’t necessarily need groundbreaking or very expensive investments to make a positive impact on student learning. Implementation focused on improving classroom functions, increasing access to information, and teaching by training aren’t just affordable. They are empowering, the key to the relationship between tech and education.

Integrating Technology into Education Has a Mixed History of Success

Despite the strong relationship between the classroom and tech, integrating the two isn’t always a perfect fit. Some innovations like the printer or overhead projector find a very comfortable niche, and in this case allowed teachers to develop universal curriculum around easily distributing books, worksheets, tests, and information packets.

Others, like the SMART Board rollout in 1991, are rocky fits. Many students and teachers remember the dormant, imposing SMART Boards of the 2000s, often relegated to the least accessible corner of the room, barely used. Just 250,000 classrooms around the world were using SMART Boards by 2006, according to Smart Technologies. Maybe a monumental accomplishment for the company, but not for interactive boards, which continue to diversify.

There are over 120,000 public and private schools in the United States alone, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Most feature far more than one classroom. Even now, many adopters are wary of interactive boards, choosing to integrate projectors and monitors instead of centralizing their tech onto a single board. Why haven’t interactive boards seen more success? The answer is partly cost-based, but the SMART Board also subverts decades of education theory. It makes the classroom interactive and takes away putting pen to paper. Lecturing becomes difficult. Only one or two people at a time can use it. So, classroom compatibility is still an issue.

A more obvious example of success in classroom technology integration is the computer. Computers advanced quickly and are ubiquitous outside of education. Teachers and students likely don’t have a choice when it comes to interacting with them. The need for them is so strong, existing tech like the chalkboard, the titan of education, is largely retired today in the developed world.

Now, classrooms have whiteboards, because studies implicated dust from chalk in harming people and damaging new technology, according to a 2016 object focus by The Atlantic. Eliminating classroom staples like pen and paper for interactive boards seems almost outlandish by comparison.

Interactive boards have the potential to leap education toward new and exciting interactive possibilities. But teachers, administrators, even digital native students couldn’t effectively integrate them until recently. Today, the classroom proves far more receptive to maturing, less obtrusive, even more functional interactive boards.

These are just some examples of rocky tech integration, and they highlight how instead of buying tech and throwing it into classrooms, it’s critical to blueprint for tech integration.

Several factors drive technology adoption: What tech do teachers want to use to teach? How do we think students learn with technology? And perhaps most importantly: What technology can our school district or institution afford?

To answer these difficult questions, let’s turn to one of the most successful examples of tech integration in a school setting, a project we gladly took part in.

Tampa Preparatory School: A Case Study in Classroom Technology Applications

Tampa Preparatory School creates active learning environments to help students develop the skills they need to respond to a “rapidly-changing, tech-savvy, global future.”

Most of Tampa Prep’s classrooms — the rest make the switch soon — use FSR Inc.’s FLEX-LT technology and distribution amplifiers to power the two projectors, two Apple TVs, and a TV monitor in each room. The school also practices BYOD, also known as Bring Your Own Device.

Students bring iPads to school, letting them integrate into the classroom environment using AirPlay and other functions. They also key into Apple Classroom, a monitoring and management app on the teacher’s own iPad. FLEX-LT lets users easily switch inputs, making transitions between all those technologies much smoother and more effective. Without FLEX-LT, the system would be unmanageable. “That’s five remotes, per teacher, per room. That’s a whole lot of bad,” said Chad Lewis, the school’s fascinating Director of Technology.

Dead batteries, wonky HDMI inputs, and other problems completely gone thanks to an effective touch panel. No more flipping through textbooks or taking time pulling up websites. Students sit anywhere in the room on mobile desks and push what they want the class to see up onto a projector to talk about it immediately. Meanwhile, the teacher can make a counterpoint or clarification with the second projector, streamlining the feedback process.

Revolutionizing classroom technology isn’t the only way the school pioneers new ways to learn. Tampa Prep has a student running a virtual reality boot camp for other high schoolers this summer, plans to offer a teacher-led Unity 3D class for VR, integrates the arts into STEM with 3D printing collaborations, and hosts a robotics lab. Lewis believes unwillingness or poor planning rather than a lack of funding hampers adopting new technology.

“I think that ego hampers a lot of IT directors or technological leaders because they feel like they have to know everything, and they can’t know everything,” according to Lewis. “I feel much more comfortable with the fact that we’ve offered an opportunity for these students to pursue their passions that no other students have done.”

Tampa Prep experiences great success engaging students, but their model engages teachers, too.

Teach, Not Leech: Tech Choices Can Ignore, Drain Resources to Instructors

Decisions about widespread classroom technology adoption, particularly in public schools, are largely taken out of the hands of teachers and professors. But their perspective is not just crucial; teachers are the backbone of the learning experience, stewarding knowledge acquisition by students every single day. Tech in the classroom should work for them, not against them. Often, this isn’t the case. Unintentionally or not, some school districts and other administrators use technology to replace teachers.

Some advocates see classroom technology as an adequate replacement for teachers. Others see it as a “false promise” failing to reshape the classroom as dramatically as hoped. As early as 2013, publications like Bloomberg argued “the wider educational impact of wiring up schools and homes and giving computers to kids has been disappointing.” Indeed, studies performed on programs like One Laptop Per Child and attempts to quantify international achievements in education found evidence that computer use had little or no impact on learning, and may even negatively impact test scores.

Those failures worsen when considering the sometimes overwhelming cost of technology adoption in the classroom.

Avoiding Technology Clashes in the Classroom

“In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”

This harsh, but maybe fair assessment on tech in schools appeared in the New York Times in 2011 as an ominous missive from Arizona’s prominent Kyrene School District. Kyrene spent tens of millions providing laptops and other tech for many students. Some of the results are promising, like increased student engagement.

But other problems like increasing classroom sizes and shortages on other products tamp down much of the enthusiasm from teachers, students, and parents. Universities feel the same kind of pressure as more and more people elect to attend college. Enrollment swells, raising classroom sizes and the need for more space.

Too often during this crush, we forget that teachers and students are the ones in the classroom, mingling technology with knowledge and creativity. The decisions may ultimately stay with administrators, but that makes including your constituents even more important.

“At Tampa Prep, not only did we survey and have meetings with the teachers, we did the same thing with kids,” Lewis said. “So, we actually asked students: ‘Hey, what’s important in the classroom? What would you like to see? What’s important to you? What adjectives are important?’”

Some of those developments aren’t terribly tech-related. One of Tampa Prep’s recent changes included switching classroom lighting from fluorescent to LED, letting teachers brighten and dim lights at will.

But the school goes further than just adding classroom technology. It answers the above questions driving technology adoption by changing the classroom dynamic in very achievable ways.

Breaking the Education Paradigm at Tampa Prep

Public schools and other large institutions may balk at the seemingly high-tech expense at Tampa Prep, but a cost-effective environmental shift rather than a technological one powers much of their success.

Lewis casts doubt on the eternal relationship of the teacher as a lecturer and the student as a listener. Instead of lecturing, teachers adopt a Virgilesque approach, spending more time shepherding students down the right path with engaging practice rather than presenting information. With the underlying environment ripe to take advantage of new systems, tech integration happens more smoothly.

At the core of Lewis and Tampa Prep’s vision for this is the “flipped classroom,” a relatively new education concept which emphasizes construction and engagement over lecturing, a mostly passive activity. Popular pioneers of this kind of classroom engagement include Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy. Like Tampa Prep, the website seeks to engage and excite students into learning and developing their passion, rather than hoping they’ll reach out and grasp it.

“The flipped classroom, to me, is very powerful in math and science because it lends itself to short, conceptual lecturing,” Lewis told me. Instead of focusing on the classroom as a space for lecture time, math and science lecture time takes place at home on a student’s iPad or computer, and the next day teachers and students collaborate to make sure everyone understands the topic. Students can teach other students, teachers can clarify material, and there’s more time to advance understanding rather than information.

It’s important to remember that despite the overwhelming success of technology integration at Tampa Preparatory School, every school, every class, every situation is different.

Deciding What Current and Emerging Classroom Technology You Need

There are many new technologies reshaping education, looking for attention and investment. Some of them include:

  • SMART boards, Promethean panels, and other interactive learning displays
  • 3D printing to accompany art, math, science, and other quantitative or visual concepts
  • Integrated display control of computers, televisions, projectors, and other monitors and audiovisual equipment
  • Robotics labs to teach about energy, locomotion, programming, remote control, and more
  • Online teaching campuses like Florida Virtual School to make learning available 24/7

As you weigh your options, it’s critical to remember that technology for technology’s sake isn’t what you’re after. Tampa Prep uses cost-effective pilot programs in one or two classrooms to test their ideas before rolling them out schoolwide.

“I don’t want to make a decision based on no information, right? So where do I get information from?” Lewis asked. “Well, the people, the users. And that could be through any business, whether it’s education or not. And from an IT standpoint, everyone is our ‘customer.’”

Involving your constituents will let you better mold the classroom to exceed expectations. Preserving the pursuit of knowledge through an environment where technology is highly useful to teachers and students is much better than installing a new product and seeing how it goes.

Responsible Tech Growth Means Bringing the Right Technology to Every Classroom

Technology in the classroom is a foregone conclusion. Picking the right classroom technology for you is not. Even vast corporations can have few hard facts on how effective a piece of technology they use helps their business. Adopting a controlled, analysis-based approach by creating an environment for testing can get you the statistics and other information you need to make an informed decision about your entire school. From there, you can see what students and teachers love, and bring that success to a wider audience.

You probably can’t tackle every avenue technology takes. Cutting-edge, expensive options like virtual reality, robotics, interactivity, and more makes looking at your goals and developing a concrete plan for achieving them more important than ever. Massive, district-wide projects can take years to orchestrate, and the sheer magnitude requires very real buy-in from teachers, parents, IT administrators, and students.

We have a responsibility to future generations to integrate new technology, assisting them in their pursuit of knowledge. Consider your options when it comes to designing and installing a comprehensive integrated education system by checking out our audiovisual solutions. Our representatives can consult with you about your vision, and help you grow responsibly. Contact us today.

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