A Whole New World of Education

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A Whole New World of Education


By Dominic Cattero
Visionary of the Batavia Fine Arts Centre
Batavia Public Schools 101

Jamie Jannotta
Instructional Technologist
Batavia USD 101

School districts have a future at their doorstep, a future with new demands thrust upon them by a pandemic world. One in which technology and the classroom itself are more of an integral part of the educational experience than ever before. Technological resources were created with one modality function, which contrasts the new instructional demands. Implementing a strong remote and hybrid education environment to ensure that quality student learning continues must be the main focus as we embark upon this new world of education.

The unique yet surmountable challenges surrounding a Batavia Public Schools (BPS) school year beginning remotely and subsequently transitioning to a hybrid model accelerated the necessity to develop a team to equitably increase presence in hybrid instruction. Successfully accomplishing this, the team would need to identify both a long-range plan and an immediate solution utilizing existing technology. The team’s greatest challenge was integrating quality audio, video and instructional presentation in a user-friendly manner. Data tells us, “Learning is supported by the brain’s ability to adequately process information from the body and the environment,” (Dr. Ayers, 2020). Crucial to the students’ ability to learn and grow educationally and 
emotionally, individual instructional elements must be processed as a whole and not in isolation.


Pump Up the Volume

Students’ hearing has always been a key component for learning to occur in a mainstream classroom setting. For students to understand, “The teacher’s voice needs to be at least 15 decibels louder than any background noise…” (Dr. Ayers, 2020). While this is important in a fully in-person setting, it becomes imperative in a setting where the control elements are not district maintained. This increase in potential background noise can lead to a decline in student participation and active engagement between peers. In order to quantify this factor, the teacher’s voice must be 15 decibels more than the sum of both the classroom noise, where the teacher and some students may be, plus that of any background noise at the remote students’ locations. The solution is simple: create a system where the speaker’s voice can be set independently at a higher level than the background noise.

An inclusive environment must also improve our standard remote systems to a higher level of visual interaction between remote and in-person individuals as well as any presented content. As stated earlier, Dr. Ayers indicates that for learning to occur, the brain has to process information from the body and the environment (Dr. Ayers, 2020). Understanding that the environment is an integral learning component, this new remote learning system needs to allow viewing remote students on one screen while simultaneously presenting content on a second screen.


The BPS Planning Process

BPS services approximately 5,400 students throughout eight buildings. Each BPS student in grades 1-12 is supplied with a Chromebook. Each BPS staff member is equipped with a HP laptop. All BPS classrooms are provided with an Epson projector and a Screenbeam for wireless connection. Document cameras, voice lift audio systems and Mimeo are also available in 
various classrooms.

A BPS team with diverse skills from business, technology, education and the theatre assembled to create a system for immediate use and a long-range plan for further growth into a completely integrated product. This team brainstormed short and long-term goals and created the following three-phase plan:
Phase One: Utilize existing technology with minor upgrades to address the changing needs to be deployed within three months.

Phase Two: Implement new equipment to allow seamless functionality for any mode of instruction while preparing for districtwide integration.

Phase Three: Integrate enterprise-grade equipment in building systems and room controls. (This final phase is potentially years in the future and must have room for continued growth in its development.)

Knowing the district’s end goal, the team was able to identify the deficiencies preventing immediate phase one implementation. Like most districts, fiscal awareness and demands are guiding factors to how quickly and to what extent implementation can occur. Combine this with supply chain shortages faced around our nation, the team was fully aware a complete overhaul was unobtainable. On the technological side, the team confronted multiple challenges spanning from audio loops, audio/video quality and voice lift incompatibility. Tethering teachers to their devices and ease of system use created additional problems. Educationally, the greatest challenge was disjointed instruction due to students’ inability to hear and see one another, therefore, denying students whole brain processing abilities. With challenges discussed and this blueprint in mind, the team set out to explore phase one possibilities.


Tech that Plays Well Together

Effectively determining compatible technology combinations which balanced our immediate needs alongside our existing classroom equipment was key in developing our phase one prototype.

Because BPS is a Google district, Google Meet Hardware Kits (touchscreen, sound box, camera) were readily available for experimentation. Additionally, they came with the added opportunity for a second screen display, which designates one screen for students while dedicating the second to teacher content. These two elements, combined with a camera, freed the tether between teacher and device, solving the visual obstacles. Teachers were also able to pre-set their Google Meet calendar, which increased their daily ease.

Audio concerns were a substantially more complex obstacle with potential feedback loops, the science of hearing and the interpersonal demands of a classroom environment. Phase one included adding a ceiling microphone for student participation and utilizing the existing voice lift system for teacher instruction. In order to accommodate both aspects, an audio interface was necessary to bridge components to the Google Meet Hardware Kit. Audio interfaces containing multiple inputs allowed a sound system to independently control a microphone and voice lift, producing the 15 dB gain for student learning.

Quick deployment defined our successful implementation of phase one, utilizing as much existing technology as possible while keeping cost to a minimum. These metrics were met, rendering a hybrid instructional tool, combining scientific research and technology to provide the most educationally affluent student experience.

Our team polled staff and students in BPS’s typical hybrid classroom, where a teacher rotates between two buildings, and students are present in each building and at home simultaneously. During experimentation, this prototype of dual screens with a camera, voicelift and microphone for the teacher and an independently controlled ceiling microphone for students performed well. All students polled stated that the prototype improved their ability to hear and see the teacher. Specifically, “It has helped because when Mrs. Brach is at the other school I can hear directions more clearly and the students when sharing ideas at the other school.” (A. Student, personal communication, February 7, 2022). In conjunction with the students, the teacher similarly found an increase in student learning. The benefit of the second screen made it, “so much easier to see the students at the remote school,” (J. Brach, personal communication, February, 4, 2022) and the audio enhancement system made it “easier to get the students’ attention more efficiently when they hear my voice over the background noise from either classroom.”


System Deployment

With phase one’s completion, the team could successfully implement this system in any classroom within one week’s time, with a cost-effective price tag of less than $500. Extremely versatile, this prototype holds the ability to function with a plethora of products beyond any specific district’s existing technology. In BPS, the team has determined this will properly serve its purpose as a bridge until further phase implementation.

Phase one’s completion would not have been realized without BPS identifying all possibilities for a future learning environment where technology meets building systems. This new fully integrated ecosystem not only should be easy to use, but also take into account sensory needs necessary for learning to take place. The post-pandemic world has opened an opportunity for school districts to improve blended learning as amplified hybrid instruction creates connections from classrooms to the community.


Prepare Now for the New World

Envision a classroom where a touch panel holds the capability to simultaneously change the intensity and color temperature of the lighting, turn on the projector, lower the screen, close the blinds, control the classroom microphones and live stream multiple inputs with the touch of one button. The dream of this future is not unlike previous aspirations to provide internet to each classroom, wireless access to each building and supplying a technology device to each student. This envisioned future parallels previous ones and is at our doorstep. In order to effectively implement this new age of learning, preparations must begin now.


Works Cited: The Science Behind Classroom Audio. Audio Enhancement. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2022, from 
https://audioenhancement.com/the-science-behind-classroom-audio/

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