The importance of the right Audio Visual (AV) set-up in a 1-to-1 environment is too often only thought about some way down the line. This is despite some of the most valuable things about 1-to-1 being achieved through instant, frictionless screen-sharing. So, how best to go about making this happen?
It’s hard to be definitive as things vary so much from school to school, but all things being equal, if I were trialing how best to set up a classroom for use with 1-to-1 devices, I’d do the following:
- Convince your head to give you a budget for this investigation – it will be money well spent if you can avoid implementing a flawed model that will plague every teacher in every lesson.
- Find a willing teacher to act as a guinea pig. They need to be a strong practitioner, relatively tech-savvy, with a positive ‘can do’ attitude to new things and who won’t be phased by the occasional failure. Ideally, this teacher would be you, as you need to fully understand the pros and cons of each solution you trial, but that may not be practical.
- Pick the classroom that your guinea pig does most of their teaching in to use for your testing. Bear in mind that anyone else timetabled into this space may have problems using your set-up.
- Rip out all the old AV – whiteboard, projector, speakers, fixed PC or laptop connection box – and start from scratch with a nice, clean, painted wall featuring a double power socket directly behind where the screen will go. Scorched Earth policy required, just trust me on this.
- Talk to a decent educational AV company to identify a non-interactive flat display panel, the kind made for commercial rather than domestic use (as it will be more robust and have fewer things pupils can fiddle with). For a standard classroom, it needs to measure at least 70” diagonally. This is smaller than most whiteboards, but because the image is backlit and much clearer, it’s a viable size. It should have built-in speakers and at least two HDMI ports. The cost of this will be between £1500 and £2000, though the right supplier might be excited enough about what you’re doing to be convinced to work in partnership with you.
- Buy the streaming box that best suits your OS and plug it in. Obviously the room needs decent wireless too.
- Equip your guinea pig teacher with the device you are actively considering loaded with several different whiteboarding applications, and a £25 voucher for the OS’s app store, so that they can try out new things.
- Abandon current practices. Forget about your whiteboard flipcharts and PowerPoint resources and try and live in 1-to-1 world as fully as possible. This is controversial and challenging, which is why you are trialing rather than implementing en masse.
- Set up a schedule of evaluations and lesson observations to capture what is discovered about the appropriateness of this solution, and meet to research and plan solutions to the problems found.
WHY AM I RECOMMENDING THIS SET-UP?
- Mostly because it makes a break with practices and safety-nets which might otherwise become stultifying to give staff more opportunities to passively resist. You will note that there is no PC in this set up. Many lessons will otherwise continue to focus on content transmission, gatekept by the adult with control of the whiteboard pens. No one wants to think this of one’s colleagues, but this is a genuine barrier to progress that each 1-to-1 school will have to overcome somehow. Hardwiring a solution into your AV set up is a bold but unsubvertable answer. If you can make it work in a trial environment, and credibly demonstrate how easy it is to teach in this way, it will be an important step in your management of the larger change that’s coming.
- The hardware selected is the most reliable and simple solution for screen mirroring. There’s very little to go wrong.
- An LED panel, rather than a projector, is a good economic choice in the medium term, as it will continue to produce a great image for 50,000 hours without needing expensive bulb replacements. It will also not suffer the colour fading and washing out we see so often with Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs). A slightly cheaper solution, though with a much less bright and clear image, can be achieved with a lampless projector such as those made by Casio.
- The lack of ‘front of class’ interactivity (the screen is dumb) forces the effective use of the device to interact with the display. This is inherently more flexible and democratic. Don’t waste money on expensive interactive flat panels – they cost twice what a dumb panel does and echo Interactive Whiteboard practices of yesteryear. However, Interactive Flat Panel Displays (IFPDs) may be a good transitional step away from IWBs, if you are nervous about the pace of change I am suggesting.