Walton County School District is located about 30 miles east of Atlanta and serves nearly 14,000 K-12 students at 15 schools. This forward-thinking school district recently passed a 1:1 initiative. All junior high and high school students receive personal Chromebooks to enhance their classroom learning, and the 1:1 initiative is planned to go districtwide, including elementary students, in the 2019-2020 school year.
In addition to this initiative, Walton County School District is going through a retrofit process, replacing all of their outdated Smart Boards with Clear Touch™ interactive panels.
“What drove us to look for new technology was the technical and hardware side of things. My team was dying on the vine with projectors and older Smart Boards that were giving us lots of problems at multiple schools every single day,” said Todd Antwine, the Director of Information and Technology Services for Walton County. “We were looking for something that would just work—that we wouldn’t have to support daily in the classroom.”
However, once Antwine and his team started their search, they quickly realized that there were many new factors to take into account in their decision-making process.
“We were thinking of this decision purely in terms of the IT requirements. When we began looking, we discovered almost immediately that we’d need to bring curriculum and instructional support technicians, media specialists, and teachers to the table as well,” said Antwine. “What was now available offered so much more functionality and instructional capabilities than we’d had with our Smart Boards. It was a whole different world of options and possibilities.”
Collaborating with Instructional Support Staff and Teachers
Antwine and his IT team decided to conduct a multi-staged search in order to determine which technology would be the best fit for their schools and deliver the most value for their budget. The process began with six vendors, who were each invited in during a two-day period to pitch their classroom solutions.
“We gave each vendor about two hours to show everyone what their technology could do,” explained Antwine. “We looked at Dell, BenQ, Promethean, all the big ones. In the end, we narrowed our choice down to Clear Touch and ViewSonic. Those two stood out the most in terms of both the reliability of the technology and what they could do for teachers.”
Duane Embry has served as the Director of Instructional Technology for Walton County for 20 years. He was also involved in the decision-making process and pitch meetings, and Clear Touch™ was his hands-down favorite.
“I oversee anything that deals with instruction and technology in the classroom, from conducting trainings to ensure the technology is being used correctly to the backend management of our instructional applications” said Embry. “From the very beginning, Clear Touch felt like a more complete package to me. It was more stable than the other options we looked at and included extra control features on the backend and instructional software on the front end that was far superior to what the other vendors offered.”
After the pitch meetings, Walton County School District placed Clear Touch™ and ViewSonic panels at several different elementary, middle, and high school classrooms and media centers for a 30-day evaluation. Then, they put out a single bid for both brands.
“When we bid, we all knew that Clear Touch was the choice if all things were close in the bidding process,” Antwine said. “The two companies ended up being neck-and-neck on overall pricing, but the experience was so much better with Clear Touch.”
“From the very beginning, Clear Touch felt like a more complete package to me.”
— Duane Embry
Rolling Out the New Technology
Since Walton County had been a Smart school district for so long, Todd Antwine wanted to make sure that they were thoughtful about their roll out plan. They decided to start with six schools, and they installed 323 panels last summer. They also placed a panel on a mobile stand at each of the nine other schools so teachers at those schools could begin training on the panels.
“I knew that completely overhauling 15 schools at once wasn’t going to be realistic for us,” said Antwine. “We couldn’t handle that logistically, because we want to provide enough training and support so each teacher can get the most value out of the panels and transition smoothly. We also wouldn’t have been able to find room in our budget for a complete technology renovation, because funds are typically budgeted out four years in advance.”
According to Antwine, the expandability of the full Clear Touch™ product line allows for a staggered roll out—and was a major deciding factor for his team.
“My job is to provide the best possible tools available for our teachers. But if I can’t afford it, the tools are no good to me. I can’t have any of it,” Antwine said. “That’s where the expandability of Clear Touch becomes so crucial. I can get the panels now and easily add accessories at a later date when more funds become available. I can install panels at six schools this summer and know that I’ll get the newer model when I install more panels next summer. Clear Touch is constantly upgrading their line and making improvements. It’s amazing that I’m able to get the newest panels in the contract and know I’m never going to spend money on older technology. Being able to better manage our cash flow and spread out the expense is a significant budgetary benefit to us.”
This summer, Walton County will be installing an additional 400 panels across the district, leaving only two schools left to complete in the 2019-2020 school year.
The Impact of Clear Touch™ Panels in the Classroom
Walton County has had the panels installed for nearly a full school year now, and the transition has been going well.
“I’ve been hearing lots of stories about how the teachers are using their panels. We’re seeing more student engagement, more teachers letting students take control of the panels,” said Embry. “They’ve changed the way the teachers approach their teaching—the wireless keyboards and Collage are making our classrooms more mobile and interactive.”
Todd Antwine has also noticed the effect that interactive panels and the bundled software suite are having in the district.
“We were sold on the panels because of the hardware and the extremely good warranty. We knew Clear Touch was going to stand behind their product,” Antwine said. “The teachers who rely on the panels every day fell in love with the simplicity of the panels and the instructional capacity of the software that’s included. They turn the panel on and can get started immediately with very little training. Both the panel and the software are so intuitive.”
The panels have also transformed the way teachers approach technology in the classroom because they are dependable.
“I don’t usually hear about the technology our teachers are using unless there’s a complaint—and I’ve heard no complaints,” said Antwine. “That tells me the teachers are liking the panels. I’ve walked the halls this school year and seen the teachers in the classroom using their panels. That made me realize how often I used to look into classrooms and see teachers not using the Smart Boards. It’s extremely important for teachers to have tools that will enhance what they’re doing daily and mirror the way they actually teach. They need to have tools that work every time, or it becomes a total waste. If your teachers don’t trust their technology, they won’t plan lessons around it. They might as well not have anything.”
The Impact of Clear Touch™ Panels for the IT Team
The transformation of how Walton County manages technology has been even more impressive than the changes that Antwine and Embry have noticed in the classroom.
“When I compare our support efforts before and after Clear Touch, there’s no contest,” said Antwine. “We had technicians dealing with multiple tickets per building per day just for A/V equipment in the classrooms. There were blown bulbs, projectors that started pixelating, Smart Boards that had to be recalibrated or that weren’t connecting. Now, on average we’ve had less than one ticket per day across all of our schools that have the new panels. And those typically turn out to be an end user issue, not a technology issue.”
Since Clear Touch™ panels are so reliable, the IT team has been able to dedicate its time to other projects.
“These panels have freed us up to be more proactive about managing our technology and taking on new projects,” Antwine said. “We’ve tackled items that have been on the bucket list for years and solved problems before they start. We’ve been able to actually support the teachers more comprehensively and make their jobs easier rather than spending all our time chasing urgent problems in a reactive way. Clear Touch has completely changed the culture in tech support.”
Antwine believes the rollout has been so successful thanks to the collaboration and communication between Clear Touch™ and the Walton County School District IT team.
“One thing I greatly appreciate is how much Clear Touch is willing to work with us. They invited us to a technology leaders forum and wanted to hear our opinions, wanted to know what was working for as and where they could make things better,” said Antwine. “I felt like they valued our input. You don’t get that kind of considerations from a company that’s too large. I believe that if I sent an email to the CEO, I’d get a response. They’re big enough to meet our demands—but not so big that they don’t care.”