Connected classrooms enable digital learning
Today’s school students have grown up with technology and are used to being in contact with it constantly. They often bring smart phones and laptops into the classroom, which at times leads to distraction from the lesson at hand. But there is a budding sector within the industry that is helping schools turn this into an advantage.
“Today’s technology-enhanced classroom experience, the rise of remote learning and massive open online courses (MOOCs) make it clear that the future of education has digital at its heart,” says Ricoh Australia senior product manager – printers and ICT Ragu Satkunam.
“As a result, the big questions facing education leaders are: what does digital maturity look like for my institution, and how can I ensure that our people and processes are working in harmony with this vision?
“With interactive whiteboards now present in many classrooms and the increasing use of mobile devices by students, the next five years will see real-time collaborative experiences becoming the norm. However, the impact of digital should be considered not only in the classroom and online but also as a means to optimise processes and increase efficiency.
“Having a robust digital framework and partner support is essential if education leaders are to make the most of restrained budgets and remain relevant in an environment where digital capabilities are constantly evolving.
“Educators and students must be ready to embrace future technology, processes, and new ways of teaching and learning.”
Ragu explains that with tools like the Ricoh D5500 interactive whiteboard, educators can switch on and interact with students and peers, creating a collaborative learning environment in real-time. It offers high-quality, smooth handwriting, a high-resolution display and enables easy remote image sharing.
“This remarkable device will increase the productivity and cost-efficiency of staff meetings, teleconferences, collaborative presentations and classroom or training sessions,” he says.
“Interactive technology enriches the learning experience and facilitates collaboration between students and educators. The intuitive nature of new technology and collaborative solutions allows better use of information in real time, while addressing the increased use of and reliance on interactive technology in today’s digital world.”
When it comes time for specifying one of these systems, Ragu says integrators should consider “a true business partner with a proven track record of delivering successful outcomes through a range of collaborative solutions and services which support their clients’ objectives.
“Interactive technology transforms modern classrooms to engage, collaborate and create while addressing the need for students to be dynamic in the learning process and to enhance participation and interaction with their peers. Interactive whiteboard solutions are the perfect way to engage teachers and students to encourage interaction and sharing of ideas.
“Using interactive technology in education has an impressive impact on introducing and advancing a more flexible and innovative ‘smart education’.
Another significant player in the ‘connected classroom revolution’ is Sharp, whose interactive touch screen LCD monitor allows both teachers and students to display work, draw and handwrite notes, as well as connect up to 50 (Windows 8.0) and 20 (Windows 7) devices simultaneously to interact with the screen over a wireless local area network (WLAN).
“These screens create a central interactive point of focus for students, where they can share and show their work and get their lesson material,” says Sharp product manager Thomas Nuij.
“Students are also enabled to learn from each other through having the ability to annotate, mark and comment on that work from their own devices.”
The Sharp monitor allows students to use their own laptops and smart phones to interact with the lesson, but also allows up to 10 students at once to interact directly with the touch screen.
“If you have 10 fingers on the screen you can draw at the same time in the same colour, but now we have introduced smart pens. Each pen has its own dedicated menu, which can be displayed even when up to four people are writing on the screen at the same time. The pens also have setting like colour and line thickness can be set for each touch pen,” explains Thomas.
Allowing students to actively contribute to their own learning is important, but giving students more control in the classroom can also have its disruptive downsides, so that’s why override commands will still reside with the teacher.
“The access can be restricted, so there is a little bit of control involved. You can create a wireless network without any login restrictions that anyone can pick up, but you can also have a session ID when you start the class, so only those who see that can log in.” says Thomas.
This is Sharp’s second version of its interactive touch screen, with a number of improvements made from the original product. It now has reduced glare, stronger glass to cope with overzealous students and, as Thomas explains, a few software improvements.
“I think in the first version we were slightly behind in I/O connectivity. The new version with six inputs divvied over two groups, and with two USB outputs, allows for much easier connectivity. A teacher with a laptop can now plug in the USB device and their laptop screen will become interactive without having to unplug anything else.”
With a price tag of almost $11,000 the monitor can be a little pricey for some schools, which often have to think carefully how they spend any money, but Thomas reveals Sharp are sympathetic to the education sector.
“We do have a pricing policy for education, which makes it more attractive for educators to purchase this product via our dealer chain, as schools are indeed not always that financially capable,” says Thomas.
“The initial investment is a little bit higher than a projector, but no further maintenance is required unless physical damaged has been applied to it. The only cost of running is the electricity it draws and that makes it easier for schools to plan ahead, instead of having a maintenance budget.”