When you’re deciding to make your classroom more interactive or bring more useful technologies into your school, there are a lot of options — and a lot of pros and cons you’ll have to work through. Whether you’re considering a touchscreen television for your kindergarten classroom or an interactive flat panel display for the chemistry lab, you’ll want to explore all of your options and make the best decisions for your teachers, your students, and your financial bottom line.
What should you consider when buying a digital display for the classroom?
If you’re thinking about bringing more interactivity to your classroom, there are several factors to account for—namely, cost (how much you’ll spend), installation (what it will take to incorporate the tech into your school), training (how much time it will take to get everyone on board), and usage (how much you or your teachers will incorporate the technology into day-to-day teaching practices).
When considering cost, focus on three things: the initial price of the product, the cost of installation and onboarding, and the ongoing expenses of system upkeep and maintenance. Keep in mind that some costs can be affected by the number of displays you’re planning to purchase. You have more purchasing power and the ability to save money with a larger order, and you can spread training costs further over a larger group of teachers than you can with only one or two. Additionally, some tech options can reduce the cost burden by incorporating other integrated applications and solutions. For example, Clear Touch panels come with Command software that acts as a digital decoder, which allows schools to save about $300 per classroom instead of purchasing additional third-party decoders. Remember to ask about ongoing license fees as well, as that can determine the final overall cost vs. the initial up-front investment.
In addition to the financial expense, it’s important to remember that there is also a resource factor for installation. What will be needed to install the product? Is the space adequate? Will you need additional wiring, glare-reducers on windows, or supportive infrastructure? Finally, consider your timeline: do you have the required window of time necessary for the install? Will it compete with or interfere with a class schedule? Will you have time to onboard your staff before the new technology needs to be fully implemented? You’ll need to consider all of these variables when making your decision and determining your implementation gameplan.
When it comes to training, how much will the new system require? Some systems are as simple as plug-and-play, while others include a steep learning curve. In addition to finding out what you’ll have to learn (proprietary software or other applications, as an example), you’ll also want to take into account how tech-savvy your teachers and administrators already are, as well as how open they are to learning new platforms. You’ll also need to think about how often you’ll need to onboard new teachers. And since panels can be incorporated into the district curriculum and state guidelines for lessons, you’ll want to ensure that you cover a wide-based training for anyone affected.
How much will you use it? This is arguably the most important question to ask when considering an interactive display for the classroom. There is no bigger waste of technology and resources than a highly-functional, super-powered interactive display that serves as nothing more than a glorified TV that shows the morning announcements. To make sure this doesn’t happen, you’ll need to have a communication strategy in place with teachers and administrators, one that outlines what tools will be most beneficial, as well as some agreement on how it will be used. You’ll also need to find out how teachers plan to incorporate it with their lessons. Will your chosen platform require connectivity to other devices or multi-touch capability? Do you have space to mount a panel in each room, and if so, can the panel be mobile or wall mounted? All these questions will help you determine what will work best for your teachers, your school, and your students. But keep in mind, use is directly tied to training (see above) and the comfort level of the user, so you’ll want to ensure that you plan for both.
What types of displays are available?
When considering interactive classroom displays, there are several choices available—each with different benefits and challenges. Here is a breakdown of some of the most popular options.
Most of us are pretty familiar with this tool—you likely have one in your living room. In fact, an LED TV is one of the most popular and most accessible options for adding technology to your classroom.
Pros of an LED TV
An LED TV is rather simple—you plug it in and turn it on. With a variety of sizes available, today’s models of LED TVs also include a basic level of connectivity, which allows you to play video or show a presentation from a nearby laptop or tablet.
Cons of an LED TV
While an LED TV is a great way to introduce technology to your classroom, if you’re looking for true interactivity, you probably need to look at other options. It may be great for playing YouTube videos or language films or even looking up (in some cases) a website, but that’s the extent of what you’ll experience with this platform.
Interactive Flat Panel Displays
An interactive flat panel display resembles a large-screen, high-definition television, but offers the added interactivity of touchscreens, creating a truly hands-on, HD experience.
Pros of an Interactive Flat Panel Display
Because of how an interactive flat panel works, it is easy to implement in classrooms, as it can be mounted to a wall or placed on a moveable stand. It can also be placed anywhere, which means that rooms with high sunlight or fluorescent lights won’t have much of an issue with glare. In general, maintenance, set-up, and training for these products are relatively cost-effective, as is teacher training to get everyone on board. Many brands offer integrated software packages or the ability to connect your own software. Most also provide multi-touch capabilities and convertible display options, which are a must for collaboration among groups. (As an added benefit, wireless connectivity allows students or teachers to cast their tablet or laptop screens to the main display at the front of the class.) When searching for interactive displays, look for brands that integrate multiple functionalities in one product—like screen sharing or a digital decoder. In the end, these small inclusions can add up to big cost savings.
Cons of an Interactive Flat Panel Display
The biggest “con” for an interactive flat panel display is trying to determine its size. Too small, and you risk visibility for the entire class. Too large, and you increase your installation costs in mounting and set-up. Some brands only offer proprietary software or limited software connectivity and require third-party add-ons, all of which limit potential or increase cost. This can create the perception of being “too much” or overly complex to use. You’ll also want to find out more about connectivity. Some systems will only connect to other platforms or screens via specific apps or platforms, limiting your ability to connect across the class or increasing the cost of providing connectivity to all students.
An interactive whiteboard is exactly what it sounds like—a whiteboard built with the capability of motion sensors, making them interactive. The image itself is typically produced by a computer connected to a projector, and location and movement sensors allow any interaction in front of it to be displayed on the projected screen. You may also hear these referred to as interactive projectors.
Pros of an Interactive Whiteboard
On the positive side, an interactive whiteboard is typically built at a size where everyone in the room can see it. For many, it also provides a familiar system to use, connecting a monitor or local computer to run and display programs. It’s also worth noting that over the past few years, more and more interactive whiteboards have gained some connectivity capabilities.
Cons of an Interactive Whiteboard
With an interactive whiteboard, not only are there significant maintenance costs, including regular calibration and bulb and fan replacement, but the costs of implementation can be high as well. More so, classrooms with natural or bright light may need to “dim down” for everyone to see the board. And for some, you’ll likely have to buy a speaker to add-on if you want to add sound to presentations. Finally, if you’re looking for products that offer multiple points of simultaneous touch (for class collaboration), your options may be limited.
Once you’ve done the necessary homework, take some time to review your options. If you’re making a significant technology purchase, you may want to include teachers, administrators, school board members, and maybe even a few parents or students in the decision-making process. Keep in mind that, with regular maintenance and upkeep, many of these tech options will last for years, so this isn’t a decision you’ll want to take lightly.
Yes, choosing interactive displays can be overwhelming. That’s why our Clear Touch team is always here to offer assistance. Schedule a demo with us to learn more about how our solutions can help you bring interactivity to your classroom.