Milan County School District Gets On Board

There was a time when all teaching was based around a single tool present in every classroom, regardless of subject-the chalkboard. Then technology evolved and some classrooms became more advanced than others, as certain subjects benefited from curriculum materials which optimized technology while others lagged behind in the chalkboard era. Now a great equalizer has once again taken a position at the front of the classroom-the electronic whiteboard.

Schools across the country and internationally are implementing this technology in classrooms and lecture halls, and educational software and peripherals developers are seizing the opportunity to provide materials for nearly every curriculum type. These developments and the subsequent interactive learning possibilities they enable have made the electronic whiteboard an indispensable part of many classrooms, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the K-12 schools of the Milan County School District in Michigan. Every classroom in the 2,200-student district contains an integrated AV system integrated with a PolyVision TS Series interactive whiteboard, and now teachers in the district say they can't imagine teaching without the devices.

This phenomenon didn't occur by accident. The forward-thinking vision of Milan School District executive director William Matley led to the development six years ago of a technological plan that put interactive whiteboards at the center of teaching for the district. Having worked in the district for 22 years and holding the title of high school principal before he accepted the post of executive director, Matley spearheaded a bond campaign that built a new high school and upgraded technology district-wide over the past seven years.

"In the Milan Area Schools, I determined, it was time for a real change; a truly fundamental change in the way we deliver instruction," Matley explained. "That change is not in how much technology we have, but rather, how we use technology to deliver instruction."

In the Milan County School District, classroom AV systems are connected to a 100 megabit switched Cat 6 network, segmented with 23 Virtual LAN profiles that are designed to keep video playback smooth on the PolyVision TS interactive whiteboard. To facilitate access to web content and streaming media, Milan teachers have an Internet connection that is a shared, fractional T-3 (54 megabit) speed connection. Furthermore, Milan teachers have a 2.5 terabyte SAN server storage system supporting them so that they can store their technology-based lessons, photographs and videos. There's "no reliance on local machine hard drives, their lessons are network stored and backed up by tape," Matley emphasized.

The successful integration of PolyVision whiteboards with various instructional media and the internet in Milan schools has led to a vast sea change the way courses are taught. "I have been in education for 30 years," Matley said. "I've seen some great teachers over the years but this technology changes the whole game."

The interactive whiteboards have become a central information source and interactive learning tool in the classroom, enabling teachers to stream video, access the internet, project DVD and VHS video and display PowerPoint presentations. The technology also allows teachers to capture their notes, which can be printed, e-mailed, faxed, or uploaded to the internet. Many instructors within the district make their materials available online for students and teachers.

Matley mentioned a variety of new learning tools teachers have developed in order to capture students' attention and increase their retention of material. One math teacher uses video clips to explain geometric formulas, while a foreign language teacher employs a 'Jeopardy'-like game to inspire learning.

Using the interactive whiteboards, Milan teachers scroll through notes and use their finger to highlight the important facts that will be on upcoming tests. They can also hyperlink words to their notes so that when they get to a particular point in the lesson, a tap of the hyperlink will open a photograph, sound file or video. "The skillful teacher knows he has the students' attention, and knows just when to touch the screen again, and up comes a photograph," Matley said. "Whiteboards allow Milan teachers to tap into the vast resources of the very visual internet, to enrich their lessons, to capture the students' imagination, to focus the students' attention and to explain and explore, in never before possible detail and clarity, the most challenging concepts and the most simple facts."

The difference between an interactive whiteboard and a simple video projection setup is massive, according to Matley. "When a teacher stands in front of the class operating a touch sensitive whiteboard-not back at their desk running the LCD projector-and presents a lesson, they have eye-contact with the students, and they can tell from the students' expressions when they understand and when they are confused."

The district's plans for the future include plenty of training on the technology and a mandate to keep the technology operational at all times. "You can't do what Milan teachers do with projectors unless they are attached to the building structure, pre-cabled, pre-focused, and ready to go," Matley said.

"Teachers won't use the projector unless it's ready to go every day, every time."

Kirsten Nelson is a freelance content producer who translates the expertise and passion of technologists into the vernacular of an audience curious about their creations. Nelson has written about audio and video technology in all its permutations for almost 20 years; she was the editor of SCN for 17 years. Her experience in the commercial AV and acoustics design and integration market has also led her to develop presentation programs and events for AVIXA and SCN, deliver keynote speeches, and moderate and participate in panel discussions. In addition to technology, she also writes about motorcycles—she is a MotoGP super fan.