Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Giving Them an Earful: Three Michigan Districts Add Support to Their Technology-Infused Schools with the Latest in Classroom Sound Systems

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Giving Them an Earful: Three Michigan Districts Add Support to Their Technology-Infused Schools with the Latest in Classroom Sound Systems

Article excerpt

BLESSED WITH A $20 MILLION technology bond from voters in 2004, Ann Arbor Public Schools in Michigan put a little over a million of it toward the purchasing and installation of voice amplification systems for all 1,200 of its classrooms.

Correction!

Its not voice amplification," says Carlos Soto, Ann Arbor's technology specialist for audiovisual media, "but voice distribution." The distinction makes all the difference. "The goal is not to simply make the teacher sound louder. The goal is to achieve a uniform field of sound in the entire classroom--from the first row to the back."

Hence, the district uses the term sound field systems for its supply of 900 FrontRow 930 analog kits and 300 of the the company's digital 940 series. Each unit includes ceiling-mounted speakers, a receiver, a "pendant microphone" that rests around the teacher's neck, and one handheld mic. The installations are a big upgrade over what used to pass for audio enhancement in the district's classrooms. "If teachers wanted to do any kind of interactive instruction using their computer, they had no real sound output," Soto says. "Previously, schools would buy a $20 set of computer speakers, which wouldn't meet teachers' needs."

Soto calls the district's inventory of sound systems "the audio hub for all of the multimedia we use in our classrooms."

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Such is the case at a growing number of school districts, as classroom audio systems have become a must-include component of comprehensive technology upgrades. The point is not just to give more oomph and clarity to teachers' voices, but to have sound quality worthy of the video now commonly streaming to their computers and projecting on large display screens, or being shown from classroom DVD players.

That was the goal of Portage Public Schools, according to its technology integration specialist, Chuck Haskin. Like Ann Arbor Public Schools, the southwest Michigan district was able to pursue it with the aid of a bond measure that covered a full-scale move toward tech-enhanced classrooms. Installations began a year ago at an elementary school and continued over the spring and summer. By the start of school this fall, four campuses will be outfitted with sound systems from Lightspeed, along with desktop computers and 60-inch LCD screens.

Two more installation phases are scheduled for the next two summers. "The money's there," Haskin says. "It's a matter of the personnel--the actual people in our district who have to physically install all this stuff."

The one component of the new sound systems that Haskin says may be having as much of an impact in the classroom as the improved audio quality is the handheld microphone, which teachers generally keep for student use. The thrill of holding that mic tends to embolden even the most timid kid to speak up.

"I would use it as a carrot for the kids who don't normally want to volunteer," Haskin says. "Maybe that's just enough of an impetus to get a kid to speak up. Or maybe it's for a kid who's so soft-spoken that when he does share you just can't hear him. It's one more teaching tool, in my mind."

At Holly Area Schools in southeast Michigan, handheld microphones are even getting some credit for the recent rise in standardized test scores. Matt Mello, the district's director of technology, says the improvement is due to many factors, but one is assuredly increased student engagement, and teacher feedback assigns a good part of that to the presence of new sound systems.

"I can't tell you that for every sound system we put in a classroom, look how much the standardized test scores have gone up," he says. "But we do know that the students are more engaged as a result of testimonials from the teachers. They regularly share stories of students wanting to participate in ways that they didn't before."

Mello has seen so himself. "I can't think of a classroom I've gone into where the students weren't reaching for that microphone. …

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