Virtual Learning

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The once novel concept of the "high-tech" classroom has become reality in classrooms at all education levels across the country. In many classrooms, videoconferencing, cable television content, and interactive whiteboards are enabling teachers to bring their lessons to life.

"AV for the educational community is becoming a growing part of school programs," observed Michael Hammond, west coast sales manager at Analog Way. "Nowadays specific integration models for classrooms have been developed to be both effective and affordable to just about any school or university district, knowing that teachers will need to access cable TV channels, centrally distributed video sources, or locally generated audio video sources such as DVD, VCR, computers, and so on."

For teachers and students, these technologies enable an insight into subject matter that pencils and books just can't achieve. "Videoconferencing is unique in that it brings people together," said Todd Vincent, vice president of sales at SKC Communications (and a former teacher himself) in Shawnee Mission, KS. "You can have kids here talking to kids in Palestine. Instead of teaching them about the Middle East, they are talking to people in the Middle East." Vincent notes that videoconferencing in particular is of great practical use for rural school districts that aren't able to offer specialized courses to small numbers of students on site, a necessity he says is reflected in the federal funding that is still being made available to these districts.

The integration of video in the classroom is also a means to keep students engaged, notes Ludovic Vossovic, marketing and communications manager at Analog Way, pointing to a recent project involving the Springport Public Schools district in southeastern Michigan. The district, comprised of approximately 1,100 K-12 students, outfitted schools with centrally generated audio/video sources that can be distributed between classrooms or buildings, while individual teachers can maintain control via their desktops. The project, which features a combination of Analog Way's Smart Cut, Octo Plus, and Easy Cut switcher/ scalers, was executed by Zeeland, MI-based software development and technology integration firm ISD Education and Holland, MI-based installation company Parkway Electric.

"Springport is quite reflective of AV trends in the education market today, as students and teachers are easily plugged into the media that allow them to enhance their teaching programs," Vossovic said.

Next Generation AV
Far from the overhead projectors that many of us grew up with, interactive whiteboards are now the display medium of choice, providing a much more interactive experience for both teacher and students. John Glad, product manager at Hitachi, notes that the manufacturer's Starboard FX Duo interactive whiteboard allows a more tactical approach to learning. "With our FX Duo board, not only do you see it and you can interact with it, but you can also touch it," he said. "You can see it, hear it, and touch it. All of your senses are working together to learn."

New software and hardware peripherals extend the interactivity of these whiteboards in primary schools. The Cambridge-Hitachi Primary Software Collection, for example, is a series of teaching resources specifically designed for the Hitachi Software FX Duo board.

Learning is now going beyond the classroom and expanding the horizons of educators in a diverse array of schools. Utilizing whiteboard software, teachers are able to post their own lessons online to share with their counterparts across the country. This network functionality also allows teachers to stay connected with students after they've left the classroom, as lessons can be emailed to students or posted online for help with homework.
These and other potential improvements to the learning process are convincing school administrators at all levels to make the investment in network-enabled AV technologies. "If an integrator is coming into a school and offering a full system, they can say that it works together," Glad said. "Not only are we going to help you build something out administratively and get the network online, but we will also integrate it with tools that you are using in the classroom to teach the kids."

Now Presenting Podcasts
The higher education market has started to use podcasts as a means of distributing course content after a lecture has taken place. While some might suspect that the availability of podcasts would decrease student attendance, a recent study sponsored by D&M Professional showed that students did not feel that their attendance would be affected if classes were available in audio/video format, and that the use of podcasts would have a positive effect on their grades.

While this study was aimed at higher education, Christina Tsonis, marketing manager at D&M Professional, believes that the same factors hold true at the K-12 level. "It seems to be moving very quickly," she said. "At a lot of trade shows that we attend, we have seen more K-12 managers." Tsonis also pointed out that groups are being formed with the aim of facilitating the implementation of these technologies in classrooms for younger students.
Today's kids, after all, have grown up with computers and the internet, and technologies like these speak to them far more than traditional teaching methods. And it's not just the kids, Tsonis concluded; "The parents of students as well have more expectations of what's being offered at the K-12 level."

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