Evolving Education through Interactive Innovation
Alief ISD serves a bustling urban community in the greater Houston area. In the past decade, attendance at Alief has grown significantly, and the progressive school district has built new schools and education centers to meet the changing needs of their students.
The district has 24 elementary campuses, six intermediary schools, and four high schools. The Alief Early College High School, a partnership program between Alief ISD and Houston Community College, began in the fall of 2009. There are also two ninth-grade centers, six middle schools, a night high school, and an alternative learning center dedicated to educating the children of Alief.
While Career and Technical Education (CTE) has long been an emphasis for the Alief school district, they recently decided to build a center dedicated exclusively to students on a career track. The Alief ISD Center for Advanced Careers offers students CTE in 14 of the 16 national career clusters. Their 163 course offerings include instruction in popular career paths such as automotive technology, culinary arts, digital design, information technology, and much more.
“We purchased our Clear Touch® panels as part of the new building project at the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018,” explained Kimberly Crow, Director of Career and Technical Education and Innovation. “They were one of our very first purchases. We wanted to integrate the new technology from the very beginning and be able to design our rooms to make sense with the panels.”
Choosing Clear Touch® Panels
The process for choosing Clear Touch® began two or three years ago in anticipation of the new building and was primarily a collaboration between Crow, Jennifer Baker, the Director of CTE program for the entire district, and Krissy Sabbatini, the Technology Facilitator for The Center for Advanced Careers.
“We dug deep and did our research to figure out what was going to be the next greatest, best technology solution but also what was going to last us the longest and grow with us,” said Baker. “We brought in several different companies and installed options in our training rooms. Our IT team and teachers were able to test out the panels and get training on all of these options for several months before we made our choice.”
According to Krissy Sabbatini, the main considerations for choosing Clear Touch® panels were the ease-of-use, available training, adaptability, and price point.
“Our team really loved the fact that we could brand the panels with our own images, and that we could add panels to our inventory and add accessories year-after-year,” Sabbatini said. “That ability to expand impressed our IT people. The teachers loved how intuitive they are and the software that’s included with the panels.”
“The teachers loved how intuitive they are and the software that’s included with the panels.”
Technology Facilitator for The Center for Advanced Careers at Alief ISD
Installing and Implementing the Panels
The Center for Advanced Careers installed all panels in the spring of 2018 in order to have them in place for the 2018-2019 school year.
“Clear Touch® panels are now class standard technology in our new building,” said Crow. “Every teacher has the full set-up. We’ve done a large-scale adoption and adaptation to make sure the panels are fully integrated into the classroom environment.”
In addition to the panels, each classroom has been equipped with a control panel that’s connected to everything in the room. Teachers at The Center for Advanced Careers can run the panels from their personal computer, the connected control panel, or a wall plate.
“We’re using a lot of different inputs to run the panels, including the HDMI,” said Sabbatini. “Our teachers can use the panels in the way that makes the most sense for them. Teachers here work at a very high level, and many are incredibly tech savvy and have just run with it. Our students, too, are digital natives and interested in tech careers, so they tend to have naturally high capabilities with these programs.”
Alief ISD also invested in some initial training, both through Clear Touch® and in-house. Sabbatini attended several training sessions and signed up for Clear Touch™ Academy to get more out of the panel purchase.
“Whenever I learn something new, I bring it back to the teachers through email and in-person trainings. The panels and apps are so easy to use, though, that even if you’re less technically adept or haven’t started training yet, you can still get value from the technology immediately,” said Sabbatini.
The Impact of Clear Touch® in the Classroom
Career and Technical Education at Alief is a pathway of courses that end in a culminating class that allows students to earn a certificate or credential before moving on through Junior College or into the workforce. The students in CTE tend to be technically-minded and like to work with their hands.
The Center for Advanced Careers has created a unique learning environment that has benefitted from a more hands-on, project-based approach to education. Clear Touch® panels fit beautifully in this culture, giving teachers an easy platform for online demos, labs, and other interactive lessons.
“One of the main benefits to our curriculum has been the interactive capabilities,” said Crow. “For example, in our automotive courses, the curriculum is designed to be highly interactive. I’ve seen teachers put up a diagram of a car dashboard and run a color-coded simulation of wiring the car with their students. The panels allow teachers to practice these kinds of skills with their students on a daily basis.”
Another benefit that Alief has noticed is the ability to tie Clear Touch® panels into other technology. At the Center, every classroom panel is part of a voice amplification system that simplifies their classroom discussions.
“We’re a loud school. We always have things like drills and welding equipment running. With the panels, teachers don’t have to strain their voices to talk over all the noise,” Sabbatini said. “The control panel ties into a classroom speaker and the built-in Clear Touch® speakers. Everything ties in through the panel and interacts together, giving them voice amplification at a single touch without having to use a separate system or run A/V cables.”
In addition to the classroom set-up, the campus also has two panels on mobile stands that teachers and administrators can use for assemblies, larger labs, or an extra learning station in the classroom. According to Sabbatini, those stands are always moving and haven’t even found a permanent home yet—teachers just find them wherever they were used last.
The Center also uses the panels for alternative certification courses on the weekends, for live streaming special events, and for campus-wide announcements that help keep the entire school on the same page.
“We have a lot of events and activities at the Center for Advanced Careers, and the panels help us ensure that no students are missing out,” said Sabbatini. “We use Clear Touch® for all announcements, which we can change from a single computer because all of the displays are tied together through our central network. We also have instructional cameras throughout the building, and we can set up the panels to live stream from a lab or another classroom. We recently used the mobile panels to create a holding room where students could watch our spring ‘Iron Chef’ competition in the culinary lab, which was a big hit.”
Overall, the teachers, administrators, and IT team at Alief ISD believe that Clear Touch® panels have been successfully integrated at the Center for Advanced Careers because they are an intuitive, all-in-one solution.
“All of the responses I’ve gotten from the teachers have been overwhelmingly positive. They like that the students can go up and touch the panels and be interactive with the lesson. They love the software capabilities,” said Sabbatini. “Most importantly, though, they are game to try new things and keep growing with the panels in their classroom because the learning curve isn’t insurmountable.”