By Alan C. Brawn CTS, ISF-C, DSCE, DSDE
One of the most significant topics confronting all of us today is the educational system in the USA. From every perspective the subject of “quality” education is taking a prominent position in our daily lives as well as coloring our national persona. Front and center in the lingering aftermath of the “great recession” is the ongoing attempts to put our people back to work and we have run headlong into the need for adult education and retraining programs. On the other end of the scale is K-12 education and as we enter into yet another “silly season” of political discourse, the re-energized topic of what to do to prepare our youth for the future needs of a global free-market economy in light of our declining academic prowess can no longer be put off. We all hear the statistics that the USA is far behind the world in education and there seems to be a growing understanding and acceptance that this will not bode well for the future prosperity of our country and our people. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) reports rankings in several areas of educational development each year. Here are some facts for us to ponder. In reading literacy we are #15 in the world and in mathematical literacy we are #19. Finally, we are ranked #14 in scientific literacy behind Korea, Japan, the UK, Canada, France and Norway. Staring us all in the face is the very real need to do something about this downward trend if we are once again to allow our people to realistically aspire to the American dream.
With the sobering reality of where we reside from a current educational perspective there appears to be a growing realization on the political right and left that we must (finally) do something to counter these downwards trends. The problematic conditions that we find ourselves in begs the question of how the audio visual industry can fit into the equation and in fact become a significant part of an ongoing solution. It is the “perfect storm” of a clear and present danger coupled with a seemingly sincere desire on the part of the nation’s body politic to provide an environment where AV designers and integrators can provide the “tools” to build on these new education initiatives. Perhaps for the first time in the last century we are on our way to revamping our educational systems in the USA from the ground up.
As we have said over the years, when technology, application, and price converge, there is a business opportunity to address and so it is in the world of education. The biggest hurdle facing those of us in education is the inability of many to think outside of the box and change their paradigms to fit the problems we face. In short, where we are at today is not where we need to be. Specifically we need to raise the sheer numbers of students graduating from high school and going on to some manner of higher education. We need to raise the assimilation and retention rates of our students in all areas but specifically in literacy, math, and science, and ultimately make this the “norm” and not just a brass ring for an upper class minority of our student population.
Certainly we need to have more and better qualified teachers but one additional element needs to be thrown into the mix. The added ingredient is a teaching population that understands how students actually learn today and where both new and old are willing to break with traditional methods that have proven to be no longer as effective as they were even a decade ago. The new paradigm outside of the box requires being conversant and comfortable with the technologies of everyday life that are used outside of the classroom but can be ideal “tools” to realize many of our teaching goals inside the classroom. In some cases this means teaching new teachers how the proper utilization of technologies promotes higher academic achievements across the board and in other cases it means creating “teach the teachers” programs for those already in the field in order to achieve a level of familiarity and comfort with the technologies and how they can actually make their jobs easier with better student performance results in the end.
What we cannot ignore or avoid is the fact that students learn differently today than in the past and a key component to learning involves how they interact with each other via new technologies in their daily lives. Consider the number of students who use their smart phones to communicate with each other via voice and more predominately texting. Look at the proliferation of PCs, laptops, and most recently netbooks and tablets that are used for communication, collaboration, and research not to mention entertainment. Most homes have internet and those that do not have internet hot spots for free all around them. Search engines like Google and Yahoo are multi-billion dollar companies and you only have to go online to get an answer to nearly any question. Our social behavior is being shaped by video games with millions of people playing multi-tiered interactive games such as World of Warcraft where individual “guilds” rule the roost. As Jack Webb as Joe Friday of Dragnet fame used to say, “Just the facts mam just the facts”. We just need to employ the technology “facts of life” that are used outside of the classroom on the inside as well.
Several relatively new technologies will help us in our quest. Leading the pack are the new short throw projectors that can be multi-purposed to use as white boards. The can produce an 80” to 100” picture with the projector located less than 2 feet from the wall. The projectors let you annotate and change projected material on the fly and they can be connected to the internet. The best part is that the material onscreen can be saved and downloaded for access by those ubiquitous cell phones, laptops, and tablets that so many students have or have access to. Also on the display side of things we are seeing an increasing number of flat panel displays with interactive white board capabilities. These can be placed around the room and student work groups will have interactive access to them. This allows a teacher to work with larger classes and be just as effective as if they had a much smaller group.
With new educational software programs teachers will be able to connect the display technologies and computers inside the class room to portable devices of all types and this will facilitate collaboration among the students and mimic the way they communicate with one another outside of the classroom. All of this will promote the concept of learning at any time and at any location. Homework and research materials will be available for download and review thus freeing the learning process form the confines of a brick and mortar location.
From the AV industry perspective we need to understand both AV and IT and be just as conversant and comfortable with these new technologies as we expect the teaching community to be. We need to adopt the solution selling posture and truly be able to show how the new technological developments become a means to an end that we all so sincerely desire.
A critical part of this journey for both the educational community and the AV integrator is to have a knowledgeable partner to work with. This is where a value added distributor like Almo comes into the picture. Going beyond the simplicity of providing products alone, they specialize in providing leading edge educational products supported by a team of what I call sales consultants who can assist the integrator not only with products but with the messages and sales tools that will help them convince their educational clients of the value of what they represent.
To paraphrase the quote that “it takes a community to raise a child”, I would suggest that it takes a community to educate a child and prepare them for a live of productivity, success, and happiness. This all begins with a political will to act and then the responsibility falls on the schools systems to adopt programs, processes and yes, technologies that support the goals we are suggesting. AV and IT technology providers give us the tools and AV integrators and distributors like Almo provide the knowledge and infrastructure to bring it all together.