Knox County (Tenn.) Schools CTO Freddie Cox says large-scale audiovisual equipment such as interactive whiteboards are key to high-quality instruction.

Apr 18 2023

How School Districts Are Using Upgraded Audiovisual Tools to Improve Learning

By modernizing AV solutions, districts bring powerful learning, messaging and more to K–12 spaces.

It was the kind of opportunity Knox County Schools couldn’t afford to miss.

A year or so into the pandemic, the Tennessee district had completed a detailed needs assessment that spanned every school and classroom. Now, through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, KCS was about to receive more than $114 million to spend on a wide range of learning improvement projects.

“One of the issues that had bubbled to the top during the assessment,” recalls KCS CTO Freddie Cox, “was disparate access to classroom AV.”

Over the years, some schools in the district benefited from PTO fundraising and similar initiatives that allowed them to purchase modern audiovisual equipment. Other schools were limping along with what Cox describes as a “hodgepodge” of substandard technologies. “What you had in any given room really depended on luck,” he says.

Joseph South, chief learning officer at ISTE, says while interactive whiteboards can be powerful tools for learning, “using them passively to simply display content or using outdated systems that don’t talk to each other and are prone to breaking means time and learning potential are being wasted. Upgrading technology can maximize the teacher’s time and often brings more interoperability.”

At KCS, ESSER funding allowed the district to undergo a comprehensive AV system overhaul. IT staff worked with a panel of educators, principals and students to select the equipment (75- and 86-inch Promethean ActivPanel Titanium interactive displays), then worked to get them installed.

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That was in early 2022, Cox says, explaining how he sent his technicians out to classrooms to take measurements, check on networking and finalize what was needed in each space. Soon after, the district hired an outside contractor to see the deployment through to completion. Within a few months, KCS distributed its funding and had more than 3,700 new AV units ready for use across 90-plus schools.

In most classrooms, the 4K displays are mounted front and center on the wall. In larger spaces, such as libraries and art rooms, they’re attached to lightweight movable stands. Instructors work with the touch-screen devices the same way they would a tablet or Chromebook. With the swipe of a finger, they can move between screens and instantly pull up new lessons and content.

When combined with effective pedagogy, says Joseph South, chief learning officer at ISTE, these popular whiteboards can be powerful tools for learning. “Good teaching takes full advantage of all the tools available, including digital tools. I would encourage schools to really lean into the interactive element of these boards,” he says.

At KCS, teachers use the boards for warmup exercises, PowerPoint presentations, annotation over content and math problems that students can do in front of the class.

"This is a big investment for the district, but it's also something that teachers use 40 hours per week, all year long,” Cox says. “It’s not just a technology tool; it helps them deliver high-quality instruction."

RELATED: Untether tech in the modern K–12 environment.

Fresno Unified Esports Arena Video Walls Enhance the Experience

Other schools also find value in using large displays in multiple creative ways.

“For the value we’re going to get out of this unit, it’s definitely worth the investment,” says Don Soyinthisane, IT director at Fresno Unified School District in California.

The device is a 16x9-foot Samsung video wall the district plans to install in a new esports arena, Soyinthisane says. Currently under construction in a space that once served as a middle school wood shop, students will use the arena in the Fresno Unified eSports League, which the district launched in 2018.

The video wall will be mounted above an elevated stage where players sit at tables with their own devices and compete against each other. Games will be livestreamed on the giant display so spectators can follow the action, Soyinthisane says.

 

Thanks to ESSER funds, Knox County Schools recently upgraded their interactive whiteboards in every K–12 classroom across the district.

 

“We decided when we drew up the plans that we really needed a wow factor,” he explains. “It’s a way for parents and friends to watch and cheer on the players just like they do in other sports.”

Fresno Unified was no stranger to large-format displays when it embarked on this latest initiative. A similar 150-inch video wall hangs inside the entrance to its Patiño School of Entrepreneurship, and Samsung LED digital signage is used in schools throughout the district.

That video wall, according to Soyinthisane, is typically used to showcase student projects and is often set to cycle through images slideshow-style. Meanwhile, smaller signage is “everywhere,” he says, and usually has a more functional purpose. In cafeterias, for example, schools use displays to post menus, while in the district’s administrative office, a display serves as a digital staff directory.

“We’re doing away with paper as much as possible, and this is one way we’re going about that,” Soyinthisane says. “These displays are great because they give you so much flexibility. You can easily change the messaging anytime you want.”

Source: Consortium for School Networking, “Driving K–12 Innovation: 2022 Tech Enablers,” February 2022

Large Audiovisual Displays Deliver Flexible Learning

Another big believer in AV versatility is Richard Pense, procurement and assets coordinator for Royse City Independent School District in Texas.

Before he joined the procurement team, Pense was the principal at RCISD’s Bobby Summers Middle School. Opened in 2020, the school includes a state-of-the-art library with a 15x9-foot LED display high on a wall overlooking a flight of learning stairs.

“The idea with this building was to create flexibility in learning, learning from anywhere,” Pense says. Teachers and students can control the video wall through a Vivitek NovoDS 4K digital signage player with an HDMI hookup to share content and deliver presentations from their own devices. Everyone can easily see the display from multiple vantage points in the library and — thanks to a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows — from an adjacent parking lot as well.

LEARN MORE: Here are three ways audiovisual technology is changing flexible classrooms.

When the unit is not being used for instruction, it typically displays scrolling signage, Pense notes. “Information about the middle school, news about the district, what you need to know about upcoming events — the fact that it’s kind of this showpiece in the library makes it great for drawing people’s attention.”

RCISD’s success with this and smaller AV panels perched in communal spaces in other buildings played a role in the district’s recent decision to purchase a second video wall, Pense says. Slated for an open common area at the Royse City College and Career Academy, the district plans to suspend the unit from the ceiling, angled out over viewers below.

For ISTE’s Joseph South, these types of audiovisual upgrades are about supporting “good teaching that takes full advantage of all the tools available, including digital tools.”

Photography by William DeShazer
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