Classroom Tech Can Drive Student Engagement—But Schools Need to Choose Wisely
When Logan City School District knocked down most of their aging red brick high school, they remodeled and rebuilt their way to a two-story, technology-infused learning center.
The district loaded up on engaging tools to help teachers and students connect and collaborate—TVs in classrooms, whiteboarding devices, and wireless HDMI to name a few.
Wait, TVs to Support Collaboration?
Within 15 minutes, I knew this was the right solution for us.Mark Rugg
An unusual approach, but there’s logic—and functionality—behind the choice. Logan City could have purchased flat-screen touch panels, which cost roughly $5000 per unit, or similarly priced projectors, with costly bulbs that need periodic replacing. Instead, the district opted to facilitate the collaboration with a far more cost-effective solution: flat-panel TVs and screen mirroring software. “By going with flat-panel TVs we saved in the range of $200,000 to $300,000,” explains Mark Rugg, Low Voltage Systems Manager for the Logan City district.
The technology was supposed to let teachers share their screens without being tethered to a desk. But there was a hiccup. The district chose a ceiling-mounted system that proved to be more hassle than help, resulting in teachers teetering on classroom chairs and reaching for measuring sticks—and sometimes, pool cues—to hit the reset button several times a day. Access wasn't the only problem, explains Rugg. "The original device didn't work across platforms or support multiple devices. It was failing us."
Serendipity struck when Vivi, a global classroom engagement solution, reached out to Rugg offering a demo. Reluctant to replace the existing tool after just two years, but well aware it wasn't meeting classroom needs, Rugg agreed.
"Within 15 minutes, I knew this was the right solution for us. It was a no brainer; teachers and students simply had to have it," enthuses Rugg. He says that he immediately grasped how Vivi could help teachers stay focused on students, while also elevating lessons with technology.
"Collaboration is a big part of what we're looking for. It's not a teacher standing in front of a classroom lecturing. It's the interaction between teacher and student where we feel where the students learn the most," explains Rugg.
Make a List and Check it Twice
. . . he had two crucial questions in mind: Was the new system cost-effective? And what would the return on investment look like?
Convinced this was the right tool for teachers and students, Rugg was determined to make sure the technology also met the district’s needs. On the heels of his earlier unsuccessful implementation, he had two crucial questions in mind: Was the new system cost-effective? And what would the return on investment look like? And to avoid any surprises down the road, Rugg also wanted to understand how the company handled training, support and upgrades.
To Rugg, upgrades in particular, required a deep dive. Both he and Loy Moser, a district computer technician, believe that understanding how updates work in any technology is imperative to guaranteeing ROI. "With the previous solution, upgrading was a challenge," recalls Moser. "We had to buy a costly admin console, and our network guy was the only one who could use it. But with Vivi the console is included, and it's super easy to assign names to devices, look at the status of devices, and run updates.” He adds, “I can do those tasks myself; we never have to involve our network guy, which is awesome."
Vivi’s hybrid hardware/software model is another big plus for Rugg. A piece of equipment is installed in classrooms but most of the system’s features reside in the software, making it easy to add new features with software upgrades.
Rugg says the included training, support and upgrades means districts save both time and money—and offer district leaders peace of mind. "For example, to set up the system, we were going to have to add 1,600 student email accounts manually—and that was just for the high school," explains Rugg. Instead, Vivi's support team helped add a line of code to the administration software that automatically pulled the addresses in from Google Education. "With our last solution, you simply bought the product and were on your own,” he says. With Vivi, “if the device dies, they replace it. To me, that is a great boon."
Confident the district’s instructional and financial needs were addressed, Rugg and his team adopted the new system.
Do Your Research, Then Dive In
Mark Rugg and Loy Moser Share Their Favorite Resources
- TED Talk: Why Technology Can’t Fix Education
- CUE Conference
- Ed Tech Roundup
- The Ed Advocate
- Tech Learning
Today, the district’s new screen mirroring and classroom engagement hardware—which is only slightly bigger than a cellphone—is mounted on walls, not ceilings. It sits in 50 high school classrooms, 22 elementary classrooms, and two district conference rooms. The technology is used daily to support the high school’s 1:1 laptop program.
With a tool designed specifically for education, teachers can share their screens wirelessly from any device with any operating system—laptop, iPad, smartphone, etc. They can also write or draw on what they share to highlight important details; students then capture that information. Teachers can also push URLs out to students or give them permission to share their own screen—and learning—from any device.
Moser says features like URL-sharing take the sting out of seemingly easy tasks that turn into classroom time-wasters. "When a teacher can share a link right to students' devices, everyone gets there quickly and without disrupting the flow of a lesson. No one is saying 'that link doesn't work for me!'" Thinking back to his own time as a student, Moser says giving students the option to share their screens can draw them into the learning. "Standing at the front of the classroom can be awkward for students. But just sharing a link to my research or my work,” he explains, “lowers the barriers to getting involved in classroom discussions."
"Our math teachers love it. They say it's a tremendous help in supporting struggling students," adds Moser. Teachers tell him being untethered from their desks or whiteboards means they don't have to turn their backs to students. That keeps teachers from missing key cues that students are struggling or not paying attention.
It also doesn't hurt that installing the software was easy. After the IT team opted to plug the systems directly into school networks, teachers and students downloaded the app, and screen mirroring was just a couple of taps away.
Learn From Others
Our math teachers love it.Mark Rugg
"What I learned through this was we need to . . . really play with it," says Rugg. "Talk with the trainers, the tech people, and try the technology." And of course, factor in long term costs.
Rugg and Moser, say their most important advice for other districts is to ask: “Does this technology support educators?”
After taking a winding road that eventually led him to the right screen mirroring tool, Rugg cautions other administrators to learn from his district's experience and to choose technology designed with schools in mind. As Rugg explains, “In the end it’s about the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom. Because we can be successful using Vivi, it’s easily paid for itself.”