Buyers guide for wireless presentation systems for integrators
Wireless presentation systems are playing a pivotal role in unlocking the potential of the 21st century classroom. Not only do they allow teachers to present lessons from digital devices without the need for plugs and cables, they help to create truly interactive learning environments, by enabling students to share their work and collaborate with their peers.
Choosing the right system can be a daunting task – there are different features, technical specifications and pricing models to consider, not to mention the myriad devices and operating systems that have to be accommodated.
This buyer’s guide has been designed to make that selection process easier. It outlines the seven key questions you must ask when evaluating a wireless presentation solution, to ensure that you choose the product best suited to your project.
Is it ‘fit for purpose’ or ‘purpose-built’?
When researching wireless presentation systems, you’re more likely to read about ‘users’, ‘moderators’ and ‘the boardroom’ than students, teachers and the classroom. That’s because almost every wireless presentation solution currently on the market was created for use in a business context.
Education has a very different set of requirements, so it’s important to look for a technological solution designed specifically for use by students and teachers, with the express purpose of delivering better student outcomes.
A purpose-built solution for schools will:
- support enough screens and rooms to provide access for an entire school;
- encourage student engagement and collaboration;
- offer improved latency and video streaming;
- be easy to use, with an intuitive interface that encourages adoption by teachers;
- leave control over its functionality in the teacher’s hands, not hand it over to ‘IT’;
- offer privacy controls to limit access and modes of use;
- be robust enough to be used in classrooms every day.
A purpose-built solution for schools won’t:
- offer irrelevant business-oriented features that slow down system performance;
- require extensive professional development before teachers can use it;
- have suit-wearing adults in boardrooms in its promotional images.
Will it work with all devices, all operating systems and all displays?
Many schools now have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy as a way of efficiently bringing technology into the classroom. Connecting these disparate personal devices to a presentation system is impossible if it’s tied to one device or operating system.
BYOD or not, digital technology is moving fast. Who can say what devices and operating systems your school’s teachers and students will be using next month, let alone next year? And within a single lesson, a student or teacher might want to switch between a smart phone, a tablet and a laptop. You can see how important it is for the solution you choose to work seamlessly with every device. It’s important even if your school issues a single digital product across the entire student body, because it gives you the freedom to switch to a different product in the future, without any fears that your screen mirroring system will not be compatible.
The same philosophy applies to the screens and projectors used for in-classroom display. Choosing a wireless presentation system that works with all displays means that you can use existing equipment and upgrade incrementally, rather than incurring a large upfront cost for new screens and projectors.
How will it improve student outcomes?
Your client’s initial motivation for buying a wireless presentation system might have simply been to replace outdated technology – to cut the cord between devices and displays. But this purchase represents a much greater opportunity, to improve student engagement and achieve better learning outcomes.
Presenting work in class, and receiving immediate teacher and peer feedback, builds students’ self-esteem. It promotes greater engagement in classwork and greater investment in learning. Wireless presentation technology facilitates this by allowing students to mirror their devices to shared screens and explain their work to their classmates.
The success of this approach relies on shared engagement across the class group – every student must have access to the same technology. Ease of use is important too, because it encourages students and teachers to fully commit to the technology-based learning model. When assessing a wireless presentation system, look at its functionality and think about how your teachers and students will use it. Can the system be accessed via apps that work across all devices? How user-friendly is the supporting soft ware? Is it simple for teachers and students to join in and share content, or are multiple log-ins required?
The solution you choose should include the ability to review usage metrics to evaluate the adoption of the wireless presentation system. With this data, teachers who are proactively using the technology can be further supported and those who aren’t using it as much can be encouraged and offered additional guidance and education. Student engagement should also be measured and data provided.
Classroom-specific functionality is another key consideration. For example, students should be able to take screenshots and annotate them for later reference, and be able to electronically ‘raise their hand’ to request assistance or ask a question. Given the importance of video in 21st Century learning, the system should play video without excessive buffering or other distracting glitches.
Every school will have different needs and preferences for a wireless presentation system, but if the one you choose is user-friendly, offers the above functionality and complements the teaching philosophy and methodology of your school, then its potential for improving student outcomes will be very real and very exciting.
Can it be centrally managed?
Too often, school technology solutions that offer a good in-classroom experience fail to meet the needs of IT and AV staff. The in-classroom experience of using a wireless presentation system is crucial, but it’s also important for the system to be easily managed at a whole-of-school level. This not only ensures operational efficiency, but can deliver additional functionality that will support better learning outcomes.
The system admin functionality you should look for includes:
- remote system visibility and management, giving system administrators the freedom to perform required work outside school hours and off -campus;
- cloud-based storage, to ensure safety and integrity of data;
- management of the system at device and room-level, giving the school control over safe access and usage;
- user access managed via single sign-on (SSO) access to multiple software applications, to minimise barriers to usage;
- visibility of system and room status, so the IT team knows of technical issues before the teacher gets into the room;
- teacher and student usage analytics, allowing the rate of adoption of the system to be monitored and managed;
- bulk software updates, for efficiency and school-wide consistency;
- guest access for temporary users, so that replacement teachers and guest presenters can participate with minimal class disruption;
- deployment of customisable splashscreens, to display school logos and other images.
Does it have the power to perform, all day and every day?
For a wireless presentation solution to consistently deliver benefit in the classroom, it has to provide robust, reliable performance. Every second a video spends buffering, there’s an increased likelihood that students will become disengaged and start distracting others. If there’s too much delay between a student or teacher doing something on their device and the required action playing out on the shared display, the class will quickly become frustrated. And if the network drops out too often, breaking connections between devices and displays, entire lessons can be undermined. Over time, this will lead to poor adoption rates from teachers and, ultimately, a waste of time and money.
To avoid this situation, interrogate the technical features of different presentation systems before you buy.
Choose one that:
- integrates with video management systems so there’s direct video play with no buffering;
- has no latency (the lag time between what you do on your device and what you see on the screen); and,
- guarantees robust in-classroom network performance.
And above all, consider these features in the context of your school’s needs, and its existing equipment and systems. The solution you choose must not only tick all the technical boxes, but must work in your school’s specific learning environment.
Does its pricing model make it affordable for your school?
It’s important to choose a wireless presentation solution that your school can afford to roll out through the whole campus, to ensure equal access for all students and teachers. This also prevents scenarios where teachers have to adapt their lessons for different technologies in different classrooms.
Some solutions require one large upfront investment. While this has the appeal of no ongoing licensing fees, it typically comes with limited or conditional technical support and no incentive for the supplier to evolve the product or its feature set. The risk of committing to a large capital expenditure investment for relatively static technology makes this pricing model a poor match for in-classroom screen mirroring.
Other solutions incur an upfront base cost, with additional fees for optional add-ons, such as access to a centrally managed portal. This model might require a slightly lower capital expenditure investment, but costs can easily increase as additional features are added. Alternatively, tighter school budgets might translate to limited functionality. Again, there’s finite support and little incentive for the supplier to evolve the product.
A third pricing model is based on one annual subscription that encompasses all hardware and software costs. This model is often much easier to fit into school budgets, and get approved, because it has no capital expenditure outlay for the hardware, only an ongoing operating expenditure to cover the software subscription. As success for the supplier is linked to retention of schools as clients, technical support and product development are integrated into the on-going service relationship. For these reasons, this is most often the best pricing model for schools.
Is it future-proof, or destined for redundancy?
Hardware solutions typically come with a high upfront cost and a high risk of redundancy. Their performance can be sustained with ongoing maintenance, but because features are locked into the hardware itself, updating those features is only possible by purchasing new hardware. With the rapid rate of change in digital technology, how long will it be until that hardware is obsolete – 18 months? Two years? It’s a big risk.
Software solutions provide much more flexibility because they’re less reliant on hardware and can evolve quickly, with new features delivered via software updates and maintenance taken care of remotely. But then, in the case of screen mirroring, a software-only product must rely on the ability of school- and user-supplied hardware to facilitate connection.
A better option for screen mirroring is the hybrid hardware/software model known as HESaaS, or Hardware-Enabled Software as a Service. In this model, while there’s a hardware component that facilitates the system ‘on the ground’, most of the technological intelligence is built into its software. This means that new features can be added via simple updates, the system can be scaled up as a school’s requirements change, and ongoing technical support can be delivered through a service relationship with the supplier. Changes in device and operating system technology can be responded to rapidly, and functionality can evolve, to enable new approaches to learning.
Technology is moving faster today than at any time in history, but so is education. It’s vital that the wireless presentation solution you choose can keep pace with that change, so look for systems based on the HESaaS model.