After more than seven years with interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in every classroom, Hamilton’s Berkley Normal Middle School decided it was time for a change and swapped to ActivPanels, touch-capable, LED displays, writes Lee Suckling.
“In our school, we’re really well resourced. We see digital tools as vital, and have allocated the funding for that,” said Principal Nathan Leith. “IWBs were effective and served their time well but we needed to go further.”
Berkley purchased 32 Promethean ActivPanels with adjustable height trolleys, Mac minis, and Apple TVs from ActivBoard NZ. ICT leadership team member and music teacher Jamie Strange managed the transition.
“We had 32 of the old IWBs, and in seven or eight years they ended up needing a lot of maintenance. They had lots of wires and the potential to get unplugged and exposed easily. We were constantly performing maintenance – the older hardware required more and more repairs as time went on. We were replacing bulbs, replacing projectors … spending a lot of money.”
As a Mac school, a proposal was developed for the school to do a complete upgrade with flat-panel displays and connected Mac mini desktop computers and Apple TV set-top boxes.
“We did a trade-in deal with Activboard NZ,” explained Strange. “All the old stuff was taken away and we rolled out everything to every classroom during the Term 3 school holidays last year.”
“It would have been easier to just buy five or 10 flat panels and see how they went, but our school’s philosophy is very strong regarding equality of opportunity. Every teacher and every student needed the same technology. Another important consideration is the ability for release teachers, relievers and student teachers to be able to access the technology in order to follow the usual classroom programme.”
The future is ‘hands on’
Because of the large capital outlay of Berkley’s new suite of interactive hardware, it is important the school make the most of it.
“The future is ‘hands on’ and we needed technology that’s ‘hands on’, too,” said Leith.
Strange, along with ICT staff members Brian Bowell and Reese Calden were in charge of the logistics of installing the ActivPanels, and the roll-out and professional development for other teachers.
“Security was a big consideration from the outset,” said Strange. “These are big (70-inch) TVs, and they’re very ‘stealable’. We actually had somebody try and (unsuccessfully) steal one in the first week!
“We’ve got bolts on the wall and very heavy-duty cables, and every night teachers lock the panels.”
While all teachers at Berkeley have their own MacBook laptops, it was important for each ActivPanel to be set up to its own Mac mini.
“When you’ve got a board connected to a teacher’s laptop, all of their information is vulnerable,” added Leith. “There are likely things on there that students shouldn’t see. So with a Mac mini, it can be there all the time, and it doesn’t have to be monitored.”
ActivInspire Pro, the professional software installed on the ActivBoards, is used at Berkley in combination with the Google for Education suite of apps and networking solutions. Each student has their own login and can freely use them.
In combination with the Mac mini, ActivInspire Pro allows for complete interactivity. “You can draw directly onto the board, utilise the internet and Google Drive, develop tables, and do everything using a pen or simply your finger,” said Strange.
Though Berkley has experienced some challenges with the ActivPanels – the major one being freezing of the screens – ActivBoard NZ were responsive to get these resolved.
“Service was good. If I have a problem, I phone them and they come down to the school. They even had someone fly out from ActivBoard UK to fix the screen freezing problem.”
Both Leith and Strange believe a large investment such as this needs to have strategic purpose within the school.
“You need students using and engaging with technology like this, not just teachers,” said Strange. “Otherwise you can be left with simply very expensive whiteboards.”
Lee Suckling writes for INTERFACE Magazine.
Berkley Normal Middle School
Opened in 1971 and situated in the Hamilton suburb of Hillcrest, Berkley Normal Middle School is a decile 8 state, co-educational composite school. It has approximately 720 students in Years 7 to 9.
More on ActivPanel
Promethean’s ActivPanel is an interactive flat-panel LED display that supports up to 10 students (depending on software and OS) working together simultaneously to share ideas, problem solve and edit digital content.