program helps New Trier reengineer classrooms
New Trier High School makes LCD projection its
no more crowding around the dissection table in Mr. Clough’s biology
class at New Trier High School. Those kinds of logjams, with students
straining to see a small exhibit, are a thing of the past now that United
Visual has outfitted the school’s classrooms and laboratories with the
latest array of educational technology. When the 2 1/2-year project
is finished in the summer of 1999, almost half the school’s classrooms
will be equipped with a system that was custom designed to fit New Trier’s
specific needs and tested in a unique pilot program set up in the school.
A projection pilot
Any way you look at it, bringing
multimedia projection to half its classrooms would have a major impact
on New Trier. So, before deciding what type of equipment to purchase,
Technology Director Dr. Steven Baule, A/V Supervisor Ron Austgen, and
United Visual’s Rick Nelson and Dan Ferraro decided to do a little experimentation.
The first step was to choose a projector.
Most of the rooms in question
have at least one wall of windows, so the school needed a projector
that could perform on both sunny days and cloudy ones. The district
looked at data and video quality from a wide variety of makes and models
before settling on the Sharp conference room series. (They originally
purchased the XG-E1200U and then moved to the XG-E3000U as it replaced
the 1200 in 1999). Once the projector was decided, Rick Nelson designed
three pilot systems and, in the fall of 1997, his crew installed them
at New Trier.
first of these pilot rooms was a computer lab with nothing but computer
and video inputs feeding the ceiling-mounted Sharp projector. The
second, an English department classroom, was outfitted with a projector,
computer input, powered Anchor speaker, and a rack containing a VCR,
laserdisc/CD player, and a switcher. The third was a science lab—outfitted
like the English classroom but with individual inputs at each lab
station for Flexcam cameras, which can be routed through a switching
system to the projector. Due to the size of these labs, United also
installed an amplifier and ceiling speakers. Then the group asked
several teachers to use the rooms repeatedly and give them feedback
on what they liked and disliked.
Advanced Placement Biology
teacher Brian Woodruff was one of the first to try out the new rooms.
"It gave us a chance to see what the bugs were going to be, and
work them out ahead of time," says Woodruff. It turned out that
there really weren’t a lot of bugs to be fixed. One problem came up
when a science teacher brought in a Windows computer and found the
rooms cabled for Macintosh. Another required the addition of a volume
control pod to the rack in the classroom system. "Since New Trier
would be building so many rooms," says Nelson, "the trick
was to design something that would work well, yet keep the cost low."
United made adjustments to the prototypes as needed and teachers continued
to use them for the rest of the school year.
As the school’s 3,000-plus
students headed out the doors for summer vacation, United installation
crews went back to work. They installed the now bug-free systems in
24 classrooms, five science labs and the school auditorium. They equipped
all the new classrooms with the laserdisc player, switcher and VCR,
and the science labs with the camera switching system as well, as
those components proved their worth during the pilot. The auditorium—a
large one with 1,000 seats—got the basic classroom rack, but United
installed Sharp’s brightest LCD projector and fed the audio into the
room’s existing sound system.
The systems in use
of the nicest things about the New Trier systems is that they are
so similar. Such continuity means teachers and students don’t have
to learn a whole new set of operating controls when they move from
classroom to classroom. Steve Baule says that, after a year of use,
such easy access to the technology has brought about several obvious
First, teachers have been
able to make better use of laserdiscs and videos that are now available
for many of the textbooks New Trier uses. These kinds of materials
can make a big difference in the learning process, although Baule
says most schools don’t have the classroom infrastructure to use them
The versatility of this
technology opens up many possibilities when teachers write their lesson
plans. French teacher Adrianne Lawrence says her class used to have
to go to the computer lab whenever she wanted them to work with scanners
and computers. The lab wasn’t always available, nor was the projection
equipment, which was shared by everyone in the humanities department.
Now, her students are learning about French art and putting their
presentations on PowerPoint right in her own classroom. "This
has encouraged us to do these kinds of things more frequently, as
part of a regular lesson, rather than making a big deal of it and
planning it months in advance," says Lawrence.
In the science labs, when
one student finds what they’ve all been looking for, the teacher moves
a Flexcam into position and projects the image from that single lab
station for all to see and discuss. "We’ve used the system extensively
with our pig dissection unit," says Mike Clough. "I can
project real-time from a lab station, or I can correlate what we’re
working on with a section on the laserdisc. I just plug in a reference
number and punch it up on the screen. It has incredible resolution."
Brian Woodruff says his
biology students seem much more enthusiastic about their class time,
now that they can access the Internet directly and interact with it.
His classes used the system to practice for their AP tests in May,
accessing a website that had sample AP questions, then projecting
them so everyone was on the same page. Woodruff is hoping the test
results, when they come in this summer, will reflect the enthusiasm
his class had during the practice sessions.
Of course, now that New
Trier teachers can use this equipment every day, it’s starting to
lose its novelty. But in truth, that’s what classroom technology is
all about. Computers and VCRs are becoming almost as commonplace in
some classrooms as paper and pencil. Unlimited information is becoming
available to everyone, and having the right tools to reach that information
Making those tools a reality
is all in a day’s work for Nelson and his crew at United Visual. Once
again, summer vacation is under way at New Trier, and United is back,
outfitting 20 more classrooms with new projection systems. Steve Baule
is happy with how things are going. "Rick and Dan do an excellent
job. They’re easy to work with and accommodating when we need changes."
And Nelson and Ferraro are happy to return the compliment. "The
people at New Trier are phenomenal to work with," says Nelson.
By working well together, United Visual and New Trier have found a
unique and effective way to shop the vast technology marketplace,
bringing significant benefits to the classroom.