Issue 15

There’s more to it than just buying a projector

(Last Updated On: March 3, 2014)

Data projectors have become a ‘must have’ technology in modern classrooms but installing them can come with some unexpected challenges, warns Andre Kneepkens.

At Maidstone Intermediate everyone is breathing a collective sigh of relief as the last stage of an ICT implementation policy has drawn to a close. Twenty-two classrooms are now equipped with projectors. The surprising thing for most staff was the length of time it took from inception of idea to execution of installation.
“We thought once it was approved that we were getting projectors, we would have them in a matter of weeks,” said Claire Rowat, Year 7 classroom teacher. “As it was it took nearly 12 months, which was quite surprising.”
So, how did Maidstone achieve what many are hoping to? Are there lessons that can be learnt from their experiences that may help others avoid pitfalls?
“There sure are,” explained Janine Parker, Year 8 Senior Teacher. “One thing we noticed early on was there were no guides, and few schools had undertaken a project on this scale … certainly not in our local area. Looking back we were flying blind particularly from a project management point of view. Spending a considerable sum of money like this wasn’t something we covered when I was training to become a teacher!”
Depending on where your school sits on the technology continuum, here’s an outline of the process Maidstone followed to achieve their goal. While not applicable to all schools across the country there are elements of commonality that I hope you may find useful.

The ‘vision’
Someone needs to establish a vision for technology in your school. It can have input from others and should look forward about three years. Accept that it may not be set in stone but offers a starting point for discussion for those on the decision-making committee. Your vision may well be tweaked as you go depending on factors, which early on you’re going to be unaware of.

The C word
“Not ANOTHER committee!” I hear you cry. Yes, I’m afraid you’ll need a team as it’s just too large a job on your own. Perhaps think of a creative name for your group other than committee (we never quite came up with anything). Aim for a balance within the team. For us, we had the DP as a link to Senior Management, myself as the ICT specialist teacher, a senior teacher and a scale A teacher (who both have a strong interest in technology) and our part time technician, who could advise whether our ‘aim for the moon’ vision was at best moderately feasible or at worst guaranteed to at least clear the hedge!

Buying or leasing?
Whether you buy outright or lease will quickly come down to whose advice you seek and will probably consume a considerable amount of time early on. Each option has its pros and cons. At Maidstone, we decided to opt for leasing (three years seems standard). Although it’s more expensive in the long run, it gave us certainty for budgeting and we didn’t have to pay a large sum up front. There were also some benefits regarding insurance and repair.

Getting alarmed
The cost of alarms is to say the least, alarming! The fact that only a small number of areas at our school were alarmed and that we would have to extend this to all rooms was something we hadn’t anticipated early on. It was a major hurdle and looked as if it might derail all further plans. Fortunately, some resolve by management to see this through and a supportive BOT tipped the balance in our favour. Almost equally frustrating was the length of time it took to install the alarms once approval was given. All Christmas holidays plus the first term were over before we heard one squawk from those deceptively small speakers! By this time, the staff had all but given up hope of seeing any projectors. the ‘preferred’supplier
At some stage, you will need to establish a relationship with a supplier for your projectors, if you haven’t already. While there are plenty of companies prepared to sell projectors at almost giveaway prices, tread carefully as I believe that the personal touch and after-sales service is equally as important as the cost. We used Sitech, who came out and spoke with us, walked around each room, measured screen to projector distances and offered useful tips and suggestions. They eventually delivered the projectors (with free screens which was an incentive we could take advantage of at that time) and installed each projector on a ceiling post. The cost of the posts was also factored into the lease as we thought since we don’t outright ‘own’ the projectors why would we own the posts?

All the extra stuff
Finally, here are the things the glossy brochures don’t mention when they try and sell projectors:
1. You will need ceiling posts, which depending on several factors – such as ceiling height and material – can add several hundred dollars per projector. Also, add on the cost of someone physically climbing a ladder and screwing everything to the ceiling. It’s probably possible to twist your caretaker’s arm if you have eight or nine rooms but any more than that and you may be asking too much.
2. Consider power. We had a concern that with such a large number of projectors (as well as an increasing number of laptops) that the power mains into the school were not sufficient to supply all services. A quick visit from our local sparky eased our minds. No problems there but worth having it checked all the same. In addition, you will most likely need to have power points installed somewhere on the ceiling close to where the projector is to be mounted. Extension cords are not only unsightly they may be dangerous in a classroom environment.
3. Unless you’re installing wireless projectors, you will need a cable to connect to a computer. These may need to be custom made and will again add to the cost. Like the ceiling posts someone will need to install this cable securely and safely. One point to note is once the cable is installed where it terminates is pretty much where the teacher’s desk will need to be for a lengthy period of time. Rerouting cabling every term just isn’t an option.
4. Aren’t modern classrooms great: bright and airy, architecturally designed to maximise natural lighting. No one considered how this might affect projectors, though, as essentially they hadn’t been thought of when most schools were built. Even 2500 lumens (bulb brightness) is no match for direct sunlight, so you may need curtains in some rooms. Staff will soon let you know if they’re needed and it pays to be prepared.
If after reading this you think our experiences of projectors in classrooms sounds like hard work and a hugely expensive undertaking … you’d be right! It is demanding but there are rewards as well. Working closely alongside colleagues who share the same excitement and enthusiasm is a great feeling. Visiting classrooms and seeing captivating lessons where students take control of the technology and make it their own, is mind blowing!

ANDRE KNEEPKENS TEACHES ICT AT MAIDSTONE INTERMEDIATE, UPPER HUTT.

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