By Christopher Craft
As a teacher and early adopter of technology, I'm always looking for new ways to stimulate engagement and interaction with students, because kids are most successful in the classroom when they are actively connected to the learning. Over the past few years, I've watched the concept of the "interactive classroom" evolve with the adoption of many new technologies, but only now am I convinced that we can truly make this concept a reality.
Traditionally, the dominant instructional model has been the teacher delivering content from the front of the classroom. However, that model does not foster interaction and engagement. Many classroom technologies (e.g., overhead projectors, laptops connected to digital projectors) often support keeping the teacher tethered to the front of the room. Even interactive whiteboards, as versatile as they may be, tend to keep the teacher tied to the front of the room because you have to touch those devices to use them.
Coinciding with the advent of new classroom technologies has been a shift in the underlying pedagogy toward a more learner-centric classroom, where students are actively involved in their own learning. Given this shift, teachers cannot be anchored at the front of the room; they must be free to engage with students in small groups and one-on-one. However, they need to do this without losing the ability to integrate technology— and all the resources of the Internet—into their lessons.
Research has revealed that a key to motivation is interest. Interest-based learning can lead to a higher level of engagement with instructional content. It is difficult to sustain interest-based engagement with students when the teacher's focus is a laptop screen instead of the kids.
A new class of "interactive projectors" promises to finally untether teachers and create a truly learner-centric classroom enriched with technology. InFocus is leading the way in this area. Its new IN3900 series projectors are short-throw, meaning they can display a large image even when placed a short distance from the projection surface. Resolution is as crisp as a state-of-the- art computer monitor, and built-in 20-watt stereo speakers provide audio that fills any classroom. In addition, these projectors connect to virtually all classroom tools: PCs, Macs, DVD and MP3 players, document cameras, microphones, USB drives and more.
But what makes the InFocus interactive projectors remarkable is the way they turn any surface—a screen, a traditional whiteboard, even a wall—into an interactive whiteboard. That bit of magic is done with a small handheld device called the LiteBoard Wand. Using the wand from anywhere in the room, a teacher (or student) can control the computer or other devices that are connected to the projector and even write on a projected image, just as they could do by standing at an interactive whiteboard.
Engagement and interactivity transcend visuals. Sharing audio in a compelling way, whether it's insights and observations from teachers and students or a track from a media library, is easy with the integrated audio capabilities of the IN3900.
What we have with the InFocus IN3900 is a small, portable device that replaces a traditional projector, an audio system and an interactive whiteboard. The convenience and cost benefits are obvious, but for teachers, the instructional benefits are paramount because these interactive projectors free us from the front of the room.
I intend to use the InFocus projector with my Spanish classes in many different ways. One example is when I take students on virtual fi eld trips with Google Earth. Instead of standing in front of the class at my interactive whiteboard, and often blocking the view of some of my students, I'll conduct the lesson while standing or sitting among them. I'll even be able to hand the wand to students, giving them a turn to lead the class around the world. This allows students to pursue their interests, thanks to the ability to hand the interactivity right to them.
Christopher Craft is a Spanish and Latin teacher in Columbia, S.C., and works with InFocus as an educational consultant.
For more information about the InFocus IN3900 series of interactive projectors, visit http//education.infocus.com.