Tech Talk: Are you In or Out?

A whole new family of productivity-enhancing tools will make it easier to enhance student learning in the classroom. These new tools are growing in popularity and may help meet the needs of students with diverse learning styles:

  • Networking. Gigabit Ethernet is growing, and 10-gig Ethernet is well on its way; 10/100 BASE-T is declining. In the wireless world, 802.11b is declining, 802.11a never got off the ground, and 802.11g is growing.

  • VoIP. It is inevitable that voice over data networks will become a standard application in educational environments. VoIP will grow in popularity as it will become more cost-effective in the long run, more flexible and easier to deploy than traditional telephony. However, the main challenge facing VoIP operations is to make it as reliable as traditional telephony, so that users get a dialtone every time they pick up the phone. If a school needs to buy a new phone system but isn't ready for VoIP, it should purchase a system that provides a migration path to VoIP.

  • Interactive whiteboards, also called electronic dry-erase boards, are generating a lot of interest among educators. The results of many studies indicate that the use of these tools in the classroom leads to increased student engagement. The primary reason appears to be the visual aspect of increasing student attention, which leads to improved student achievement.

    Basic electronic dry-erase boards look like standard dry-erase boards. With the electronic version, however, the writing surface is really a large touchscreen. Special markers are used to create notes and diagrams. Most models also include a touchscreen menu for saving and printing along one side of the board. If a projector is used, any application on the computer can be projected onto the board. Many schools are eliminating one section of standard whiteboard and adding one section of interactive board.

  • Mobile computer carts. Wireless mobile labs can store up to 32 laptop computers, a printer and network base station, as well as recharge computers. Flexibility, utilization and economics are the key ingredients with mobile computer carts.

    The mobile lab meets many needs. Teachers have access to as many computers as they need, when they need them. Students can move around with the computers or sit in whatever seating arrangement is desired.

  • Data projectors are in, and TV monitors are out. A data projector can show a large clear image that is visible from all parts of the classroom, and text is easier to read. The quality, brightness, features and ease of use of data projectors have improved. Better still, so has the price.

No single approach to selecting technology tools is perfect for all schools. Although the effective use of technology tools ultimately depends on the knowledge and skills of the teacher, administrators are enthusiastic about the impact these tools can have on teaching and learning.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Bloomington, Ind., a firm specialized in educational facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected]. www.kbdplanning.com

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