TECH TALKS: Let Teachers Teach by Getting Technology Out of the Way

It’s fall again (at least here in the northern hemisphere), which means it is time for kids to head back to school. This also means it’s time for teachers to start learning how to do all of the new things the school district is asking them to do this year—including training on new technology solutions. The modern teacher has a lot of things to handle. New technology can open up new possibilities for education, but it is also another thing teachers must learn to use and master.

To learn how technology can make an impact without getting in the way of teaching, I reached out Rene Yzaguirre, Sales Engineer, K12 Education for HARMAN Professional Solutions. Rene is famous at tradeshows for donning his signature Elvis Presley costume, but he is also an expert in education AV, a field he’s worked in for 20 years.

[SKD]: What are some ways teaching has changed in recent years as far as what is expected by teachers and the things they need to deal with for their jobs?

[RY]: Every year, something new comes out, and the teachers need to learn how to deal with it. That’s a challenge, because constantly having to train on new things can be distracting from all of the other, more basic elements of teaching that these teachers need to deal with. However, it’s just a fact of life. There are new programs, new administrators and new processes that they need to deal with. And technology is just one more thing they add to that list.

There are way too many interruptions in a classroom. Every time there is an interruption, you lose the students for five to 10 minutes. If you add that up through the entire day, you’ve lost a lot of teaching time. If you have less interruptions, they spend more time teaching—and thus, the students spend more time learning and have better retention. The teachers have less stress, because they have more confidence using the technology, and the students are more engaged.

[SKD]: What is it about new technology that causes the most headaches for teachers?

Rene in his Elvis costume

[RY]: The biggest cause is lack of training. They get new technology thrust upon them, and then they don’t get trained on it. They don’t know how to use it, and it ends up not being used at all. This is a big waste of resources. I encounter this all the time. I’ll be training on our product, but then I get a bunch of questions that aren’t related to our products. It’s clear in these situations that they aren’t getting trained well enough to use the basic equipment in the room.

Of course, it’s not all about the training (or lack thereof), because some technologies are easier to use than others. When a school puts in technology that’s easy to use, teachers gravitate to it. If they find it simple and helpful, they’ll use it. If they find it complicated, they won’t touch it. They won’t use it, and they’ll tell their all of their friends not to use it. Once it gets around that the technology is too complicated, it ends up gathering dust in a closet, and the school has wasted all of that money. Now they’re in a position looking for a reason not only to justify the money they’ve already spent, but to justify putting it into all of the other schools where they’re looking to deploy it. This isn’t a position they want to be in.

[SKD]: How can schools avoid this problem?

[RY]: First and foremost, schools need to do the right research. Part of that means that we, as manufacturers, integrators and other AV professionals, can help the school determine what they are actually interested in, so they can compare and contrast against the various options out there and not just go with the new shiny thing. There are a lot of products out there that can get the job done, so you need to look at your particular application. Different solutions were designed for different applications, and if you aren’t looking at your entire solution and considering all of the different options that are available out there, you may end up with a solution that doesn’t meet your particular needs.

Once they find what they think is the right solution, a common mistake schools make is failing to do a test before they roll the solution out to an entire campus. By just testing the solution with a handful of teachers—both technically savvy and less technical—the school can better determine if they should even move forward with a particular solution. Many corporations actually use this approach, and it is one that schools should adopt, because it allows you to do small tests before you roll out a full system. It saves costs if the solution isn’t the right fit, and it can help identify potential challenges to address in teacher training as well.

[SKD]: Are there particular elements of a product or solution that a school should look at to better determine if the solution is actually going to help teachers?

[RY]: To really help teachers, the solution needs to actually simplify the teaching process, not make things harder. Teachers have a lot of things that they have to deal with, and when something comes “from on high” from the district or front office level, it can be that “one more thing” I mentioned before. If, for example, everyone must view a video once a month, because it is a safety issue and everyone must watch it, coordinating that manually one at a time can be very time consuming, especially when it’s going to happen across hundreds of teachers on a large campus. With HARMAN’s SchoolView Unified Campus solution (a turnkey solution for everything from classroom technology to bells and PA), we can automate the entire process. The teacher doesn’t actually have to do anything. The process just “happens.”

When an administrator needs the entire campus to watch a video on fire safety, lockdown processes, etc., the process in the classroom is automatic. The projector just turns on automatically if it was turned off. It automatically switches to the correct input. It automatically switches to the correct stream. The video automatically starts to play. And when the video is finished, the projector returns to its previous state, so the teacher doesn’t have to do anything. They just continue where they left off. They don’t have to remember to start the video (so they don’t miss anything). They don’t need to know the 10 different steps to get the video working. They don’t have to reverse the whole process to get back where they were before. It just happens.

[SKD] Okay, so we’ve discussed how to make things easier for teachers in these “all-campus” situations by simply ensuring they don’t have to do anything at all. However, when the teacher needs to interact with the technology as part of their class, how do you make sure that process isn’t burdensome?

[RY]: Often, in homes, we have way too many remotes. If you do have a remote, it has more buttons than you need to do what you’re trying to do. In the classroom, we try to make the remote go away altogether. We then replace it with some kind of simple interface, whether that’s a six or eight button keypad, a small touchscreen interface or a web interface. We only display the functions they need to see to control their room. They don’t see buttons they don’t need that could cause issues in their room. There’s no need to have the ability to switch to an input that doesn’t have anything connected to it, so we don’t even display that input. That’s one way of simplifying the interface down to just what they need for their room.

Then, we further simplify things by making that control accessible in different ways. The teacher doesn’t need to get up and walk over to a keypad on the wall if they are in the middle of teaching. They can use their mobile device or computer to control things from anywhere in the room.

You can even make it easier to access content from other places or even share content between rooms, using the same interface. It’s pretty common for one teacher to have content that more than one class in that grade needs to view. To do that, the other class has to get up at a particular time and move into the other room, often with the whole class needing to sit on the floor to watch the video. With the ability to share content, the teacher and students can just stay where they are in their classroom. The teachers use the interface to share the content, so they can view it in both rooms. There are a lot of ways that the technology can be made simpler, but ultimately, it is about focusing the solution on helping teachers do what they need to do to teach and then removing all of the other distractions.

Thank you to Rene for taking the time to speak with me today! Do you have experience designing simple and intuitive AV solutions for education? Share your insights in the comments.