Friday, April 22, 2005

AV in Schools: What good is it if they don't know how to use it?

Recently, I spoke at a local university's technology show and I was amazed at how much AV technology the campus actually had. It was everywhere. Not only were their large screen displays in virtually all the classrooms, meeting rooms and lecture halls, but there were 25 projectors and plasmas in the cafeteria! We've finally hit the big time!

But, there's a catch. Even with all that AV gear all over campus, most of the instructors didn't know how to use much of it. No one could quite get the document camera to display on the projector without calling an AV technician. Sure, if all they wanted to do is connect up their laptop to the projector in the ceiling of every classroom, they could figure that out. But, introduce any sort of extra signal routing or a problem with the picture and, again, enter the AV technician.

It all started in the 1980s when Apple virtually gave away Macs to schools by the hundreds of thousands. Almost every school got at least one. Then, the districts seem to instantly fall in love with them and buy hundreds more. Within eight years of the first Mac hitting the first elementary school in Southern California, the Apple moniker became just that.

But, no training. Sure, theoretically the Apple operating system was easy enough that just about anyone could learn it on his or her own with virtually no training. And, eventually schools hired media center directors to be in charge of the Mac distribution – thus the training.

But, the cold, hard fact was that they went underutilized and then obsolete before their potential was ever realized. No real training was ever offered in most cases.

Then, the PC came out with Windows. It, too, followed the same pattern but this time was almost impossible to figure out without a college degree in computer science.

Then came the laser disc player and a library of educational laser-based content.

Then came a host of other technological gear and software that was well-meaning, but difficult to use. Thousands of titles. All cheap, readily available, and ultimately better understood by the pupil than the teacher. Why? No training.

Now, here we go again. We’re seeing projection technology and all sorts of other AV gear appearing in the classroom – with little of no training attached. Of course, it’s blamed on budgets – everything seems to be: "We don’t have the budget for both the gear and the comprehensive training for everyone to know how to use it." – the story always goes.

And in many cases, it is somewhat budget-related. Everyone in the educational field knows that budgets are being squeezed more than ever, and this does cause one to pit one against the other.

But, enough is enough. The computer can be used for much more than it’s being used for now. We all know that. And, so can the projector. It’s not just for PowerPoint presentations and browsing the Internet. In fact, it’s imperative that we integrate AV-based and interactive technologies into every element of the schools or we’ll have a generation of kids that can’t pay attention and are bored – although it will probably be blamed on ADD (attention deficit disorder). And why shouldn’t they be bored? Look how much technology has changed the way we all work and interact in both our everyday personal and professional lives. Yet, school is taught virtually the same way it was since I was there – 20 years ago – heck, since my dad was there – 48 years ago. And, we’re not talking just elementary, middle and high school – college too.

Sure, we’ve added PowerPoint, PDFs and even fancy Web browsing to the curriculum, but can we all agree that someone who’s got a GameBoy with them in their backpack is going to be bored in virtually any lecture-style course?

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Demand training. Don’t buy so much technology – buy some training. Yes, a self-proclaimed technologist just said, "don’t buy so much technology." Get trained on harnessing the power you already have lying around campus before asking for more. More isn’t always better.

OK, I admit this is an oversimplified solution or, more accurately, a soapbox. But, I’m working my end of the deal too. I have been demanding, for years, that manufacturers include some baseline training in their products sold through to the educational markets. I’m making progress, but it’s far from a solution.

But, you have to start somewhere.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary, having sold to schools for 25 years, I completely agree in the need for training. Unfortunately, the procurement process in many schools is geared to the lowest possible price.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember the first "AV educational advancement" - the 1970s and getting closed circuit "educational Television" in every classroom. And there the TVs sat - being used once in a while. Oh, they were easy enough to use, but noboday seemed to have ideas on what to use them for.

I think training [or better yet, making the systems easy enough for anyone to use] is a major problem.... but so is "er, how do we use this to teach the kids?" I think the AV dealer should provide teachers with ideas on how to use AV to *teach the kids* [maybe turn to the Discovery or Learning channel and leave the room?].

I think it is training them how to use the system should include ideas on how they can use the system to teach the kids.

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Greg Wadlinger said...

Hi Gary, This is a tough nut to crack, "We build it, but they don't come." Most higher ed institutions don't reward teaching innovation as much as research. But there are other influences that throw water on innovation. Once, a few years ago I had a faculty member who tried to add innovation to his Global Economics for Managers course and who called on me to provide marginally enhanced attention to his AV needs. This I gladly did only to later suffer the mild consternation of my boss (the IT Director) who didn't want to see "mission creep" and whose overriding principle seemed to be, "What if every faculty member requested this kind of attention?" Of course, as a user support person my attitude was, "Bring it on, baby!" I'm just as sick of doing the same-old, same-old as anyone else. If we see all faculty taking risks (and remember, the course evaluations students hand in at the end of term are very important in the tenure scorecarding system) that is cause for celebration, for increasing AV support budgets, for prospering the educational wing of the AV industry (and most importantly for me, getting more toys to play with and more experience at cool stuff).

I want to offer that not just training, but up close and personal one-on-one face time between support staff and faculty, really apprehending in detail what teachers might be thinking of doing and "consulting" with them (like they do their lawyers and accountants) is part of the answer to all this we're talking about.

8:49 AM  

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