Building Connectivity and Community with Clear Touch™

Bladen County may be a smaller, rural school district comprised of just 13 schools, but they’re doing big things with technology thanks to Jason Atkinson, the district’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

“Bladen County isn’t a sleek, city school district with a huge budget, so we needed a solution that allowed us to build and grow over time,” explained Atkinson. “I was first introduced to Clear Touch™ at a Summer Leadership Conference. We started talking about more than purchasing another tech product. We were talking about collaborating, developing programs, even creating content together. That got me excited.”

However, knowing it was the summer, Atkinson knew he wouldn’t have the chance to add new technology acquisition to the budget for the upcoming school year.

“I started rolling out the panels that school year anyway, finding money in the budget to buy a few at a time. There are a lot of districts in our region that are just like Bladen, that maybe don’t have the budget, or the infrastructure, to be able to handle hundreds of panels at once. They need to hear about Clear Touch™, because they need creative options for introducing new technology in a way that makes sense for them.”

Developing the Program

Since first starting the initiative to get Clear Touch™ displays into Bladen County schools, Atkinson has been able to expand quickly, introducing about
40 panels to the district.

“I remember at one professional development training event, I asked every school representative that didn’t have a panel in their school to raise their hands,” laughed Atkinson. “About 6 or 7 people raised their hands and I said: ‘Merry Christmas early! You’re getting a panel today.’”

Atkinson believes the initiative will expand even more rapidly, now that every school has a panel.

“What I love about Clear Touch™ is that we’ve been able to start small and build on our program. I’ve been able to add panels as I am able rather than having to come up with a big budget proposal or write a huge grant. We can always find a little money in our annual budget for a couple panels.”

“What I love about Clear Touch™ is that we’ve been able to start small and build on our program. I’ve been able to add panels as I am able rather than having to come up with a big budget proposal or write a huge grant. We can always find a little money in our annual budget for a couple panels.”

— Jason Atkinson
Chief Technology Officer for Bladen County School District

According to Atkinson, Clear Touch™ makes it easy to develop a program to add technology to your school over time in several ways.

“The first factor, of course, is the cost. When I looked at the competitors vs Clear Touch™, the cost is almost 2 to 1 when you compare the whole set-up, installation, and maintenance. With Clear Touch™, there’s virtually no maintenance, no replacement bulbs, no yearly subscription fees. Looking at the total cost of ownership, it’s the clear winner. Even with the mobile stands they’re less expensive.”

In addition to the affordability, versatility, and simple installation and flexibility of the Clear Touch™ displays, the solution is also attractive, enabling Bladen County schools to add technology more gradually.

“We’re a Google Apps for Education school, which means that we have Chromebooks and Chromeboxes already. So, I needed a multi-platform, multi-software device. I didn’t want to get locked into proprietary software programs or have to use a particular type of computer,” Atkinson said. “And then there’s the ease of use and the flexibility of the panel itself.

You can get full mobility with the stands, and even mounted to the wall, it’s easy to install and uninstall. You can use it with any device, any software—all directly on the display.”


Ongoing Training and Support

Small initiatives are sometimes more effective than larger ones when looking for organizational buy-in, because end users have more time to learn and adapt and trainers have the needed professional development support.

To the leaders and the IT departments in Bladen County, the primary reason for the success of their initiative is the training and support that Clear Touch™ offers to their staff.

“The technology is only as good as the people who use it. I don’t want to get in an arms race for new technology without any accompanying training and support,” explained Atkinson.
“I’ve watched that happen before, and the end users
lose out. They see the technology as a glorified display and presentation system rather than the opportunity for learning and the chance for true collaboration between teachers that it is.”

Atkinson and his team have purchased a dedicated, 65” panel on a mobile stand for their Professional Development Lab so that teachers and media directors can interact with the technology first-hand. They also point to the Clear Touch™ software suite as instrumental to getting schools to fully adopt the solution.

“It’s a big deal that the software can be installed on up to 5 devices, and that the extra licensing is not proprietary. That helps me out from a professional development standpoint,” Atkinson said. “I can get a team of teachers working together, learning the panel, getting used to the panel, even before they have one in their classrooms. It also helps me make my case to the board.”

Throughout the process, Bladen County has leaned heavily on Clear Touch™ for continued training and support, which Atkinson argues will benefit his future expansion. 

“We will continue to expand not only because of the product, but because of the exceptional training, service, and support. Clear Touch™ doesn’t install and walk away. I have local support that’s just a phone call away.”

It’s All About the Teachers

“Most people in the IT arena don’t have a curriculum background or any classroom experience. I have an instructional technology degree, and I’ve been a teacher, so I have the ability to put myself in the IT role and the teacher role,” said Atkinson.

Atkinson firmly believes that having served in both roles gives him a unique advantage as the Bladen County CTO.

“I can understand the needs and frustrations that teachers feel in their work. In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about what I can do to ease the burden on IT departments and what I can do to facilitate learning and empower teachers. Clear Touch™ meets both requirements.”

Specifically, for teachers, Atkinson says that walk-up ready panels that require no calibration enhance the classroom experience and the mission of the school.

“Our teachers have enough to do, especially at the beginning of class,” said Atkinson. “You know, we tell them to use bellringers, to start strong and plan for bell-to-bell instruction, and then we give them technology that requires them to wait for a lamp to warm up, calibrate the display, find the right cables, switch inputs manually. That makes no sense. These panels are up and ready at the touch of a button, so teachers can walk up and start using them right away. They don’t lose the class right from the start like they do with other technologies.”

Looking to the Future

Now that Jason Atkinson has a solid professional development program in place and has the buy-in from the schools in his district, he’s focusing on the future and planning ahead for their Title 1 budget.

“The products I’m most interested in testing out next are the convertible stands and the adjustable wall mount light. Both of these options can easily change height to accommodate different learners or different objectives,” Atkinson said. “I’m excited about what we can do for our multi-purpose rooms, our early learners, and our EC resource and self-contained rooms with these accessories.”

Again, Atkinson credits the adaptability of the Clear Touch™ line of products and accessories as the main reason he’s able to develop the technology resources in Bladen County.

“Just like you’re not locked into software with Clear Touch™, you’re not locked into your original configuration. The only reason I can even consider expanding and adding accessories is the flexibility of the panels,” said Atkinson. “I can swap out stands, switch wall mounts easily, move to a bigger panel using the same mount. I couldn’t do any of this with other products—other installations would be a nightmare to change from year to year.”

In the future, he hopes to get Clear Touch™ technology into every classroom. Supporting teachers and making them more successful in their job is not only his passion—it’s his calling.

“Education is the most important thing to me, the most important job in the world. You’re never going to replace a good teacher. Why would you want to? But the right technology can make the job better and easier.”

— Jason Atkinson
Chief Technology Officer for Bladen County School District

December 20, 2017

Clear Touch Team