HUDSON, WI-Comprising ten elementary schools, two middle schools, and a pair of high schools, Kentucky's Laurel County School District has made a big commitment to technology in the classroom, having found that today's ever-widening range of multimedia systems and software-based resources bring tremendous benefits to students and teachers in terms of both productivity and performance.
Serving a section of the south/central portion of the state spanning out from the town of London along the I-75 corridor, the Laurel County Board of Education meets the needs of over 9,000 K-12 students. As part of its technology plan for 2006, the district undertook an ambitious project that will ultimately bring a comprehensive template of automated functions to more than 500 classrooms. Equipped with a 77-inch Smart Board interactive whiteboard from SMART Technologies, each of the classrooms will also include a SMART Technologies AirLiner wireless slate, Epson PowerLite 835p multimedia projector, portable DC153 digital document camera from Lumens, and DVD and CD players.
As the classrooms began to take shape during the design phase of the project, one of the key questions that needed to be resolved was how instructors were going to be able to interact with the classroom systems.
"At first we explored plans calling for the installation of a static controller positioned somewhere in each classroom that would manage multimedia functions," recalls Larry Glynn of Simpsonville, KY-based Creative Image Technologies, the systems contracting firm that won the design/build project bid. "Had we remained on this path, we basically would have wound up with wall switches in each location. In and of itself that would have worked just fine, but I felt the client deserved more. We wanted to offer a highly flexible degree of control, whereby a teacher wouldn't be tethered to having to walk over to the wall switch each time he or she wanted to access the various systems. Every teachable moment counts. In today's classroom, technology should free up more time for teaching, not have you running over to a switch every time you want to show a DVD. As I saw it, our job was to make control totally accessible everywhere."
Further research led Glynn to Calypso Control Systems, a Hudson, WI manufacturer quickly building a reputation for providing feature-rich yet affordable small room control that places non-programmers squarely in charge of system interface development. Working closely with a skilled factory team from Calypso, Glynn ultimately chose the company's ION-LT controllers for each of the classrooms.
"Glynn went on to use Calypso's encore! v1.0 software to build the management end of the systems," reports Calypso CEO David Parish, who also played a vital role in the project. "With encore!, all of the system functions could be effortlessly and intuitively accessed from the interactive classroom whiteboards or free-roaming wireless slates. Given the levels of technology in use today, control systems define the user experience more than ever. If you can't control technology, it doesn't work for you-it's that simple. Our encore! software offers versatility, reliability, and affordability in a convenient package that lets you take charge and gain full ownership of any system. It's a new and powerful tool system integrators can provide to their clients, but doesn't require a new skill set or expert to use and install."
"Some of the system control functions we built using the encore! software could have been replicated on the projector's remote," Glynn admits. "But that remote has about 30 buttons, and many of them are already dual-purpose. As a result, it's neither user-friendly nor intuitive. With encore! we built a simple touch sensitive control page on the left side of the whiteboard that provides control over every aspect of the system. The same page also appears on the wireless slates, so a teacher can always have total AV system command from anywhere in the room."
Calypso's encore! v1.0 software takes a standard Windows drag-and-drop approach to the task of control interface development. Offering features such as predefined button libraries with custom sizing and labeling, graphics import, an event scheduler, interface templates, button hold-down, and automated third party .exe launching, the software can be used on a standalone basis to steer user-defined commands through serial ports or to IP addresses, or, as in this application, to Calypso's ION-LT controllers.
"Calypso's contribution to the Laurel County project strikes a neat balance between price and ease-of-use for the client," Glynn adds. "The encore! software provides interface capabilities they would have otherwise spent thousands of dollars more to achieve, all while using the power of the computers already found in the classrooms. We didn't need a special system programmer to install the systems either. That saved even more money, and allowed us to move much more quickly."
The final phase of the Laurel County School District project is slated for this summer, when all 500 classrooms will be completed. Plans to open an eleventh elementary school are also underway. It too will feature "smart" classrooms built to prepare students for success in our rapidly developing age of information.
"Fortunately we have a great level of supportive leadership here when it comes to technology," Laurel County Schools CIO Henry B. "Barney" Paslick says of the school district's board of education. "They aren't afraid of pulling out all the stops when presented with a product or service that will enhance the ability of our teachers to advance learning. We've been impressed with the service we've received from Creative Image Technologies, as well as that supplied by the various vendors working with them. Their efforts have been remarkable, especially in light of the huge scale of the project and short timeframes we faced."