Creating “Classrooms of Tomorrow” for Union County Public Schools with interactive displays, lecture capture cameras, and classroom audio.
CREATING COLLABORATIVE LEARNING SPACES
North Carolina’s Union County Public Schools (UCPS) wanted to create classrooms that fostered environments where every single student could succeed. In other words, UCPS wanted to shift toward a student-centered learning environment, rather than the traditional “sage on a stage”, teacher centered setup. Dr. Michael Webb, deputy superintendent of UCPS, explained “this philosophy is what we call ‘my size fits me.’ We know more about how students learn today than any other time, but classroom environments as a whole do not fit how students learn.”
Dr. Michael Webb and his team turned to technology to foster that environment, launching their ambitious Classrooms of Tomorrow (COT) program last year. The initiative aims to transform traditional K-12 classrooms into innovative learning spaces, ultimately increasing student engagement, attendance and performance. UCPS began phase two of the program in July 2015, and partnered with Panasonic to design and equip 12 such classrooms. Said Dr. Webb, “We turned to Panasonic because were looking for a true partner that could be agile and nimble enough to change as we changed.”
Through thoughtful design and planning, the classrooms transformed into collaborative learning spaces with a new audio system, displays, massive whiteboards called “share walls” and even new furniture. Panasonic installed three interactive LFB70 displays per room for each of the 12 classrooms: two 50" and one 65" LED-backlit LCD flat panel displays with a Panasonic AW-HE2 camera mounted at the top of the display. This fosters greater engagement in the classroom with students, who are able to get more involved in the lessons. Noted Dr. Webb, “Every student can see something – two panels might say the same thing, but one panel could say something else.” This allowed classes to become far more dynamic, with teachers able to use the screen recorder camera so students can re-watch lessons as many times as they need to. Additionally, the teacher can share the lesson with parents so that they are able to help from home.
Panasonic also installed its full Enhanced Audio system in the classrooms, enabling teachers to speak over a microphone so that they can be heard from any point in the classroom. Andrea Savill, the UCPS Classrooms of Tomorrow coordinator, observed “the quality of the audio is great. It sounds like the teacher is right next to you, so no one misses an important point because they sit far away. We also have many students who are English language learners, so the ability to hear clearly is a huge advantage for them.” The full audio system builds confidence for softspoken students as well, and the microphones also reduce vocal strain on teachers who are speaking up to eight hours a day.
Andrea Savill adds, “Working with Panasonic couldn’t have been easier. We wanted to install splitters so that the panels in the classrooms could ‘talk’ to each other. Without missing a beat, Panasonic jumped on this and found out a way to make it work.”
The result has be resoundingly positive, with teachers exclaiming that the technology brings new levels of excitement into the classroom by allowing students to get creative and collaborative. For example, classes can take virtual field trips and record lectures using the Panasonic AW-HE2 cameras, while students can participate in interactive lessons with the displays. Mobile furniture lets teachers change up the setups of the classroom to promote individual and group projects. The technology allows teachers to move away from the traditional style of lecturing and focus on facilitating learning.
Said Dr. Webb, “The spike in energy of students and teachers alike has been astounding. Never before have I seen a teacher ask questions and have every student’s hand fly up. The kids are immensely more engaged.” Continued Dr. Webb, “The technology empowers students by making learning fun. Many of these students are already familiar with these tools and are excited to use them. These students were raised in the 21st century and are naturally skilled at using technology. Students can expand on these skills and learn how to use technology more efficiently by incorporating these tools into their education.”
Union County Public Schools plans to expand the program into Phase Three by January 2016. The pilot will help the district find the best practices for the COT initiative, as well as discover areas of improvement. UCPS hopes to establish a standard so that they can train and build an army of COT teachers. The benchmark they create for the COT will serve as a model for other schools across the county that are similarly looking to prepare students by teaching them to collaborate and think critically, arming them with the skills they need for a lifetime of success.