The Interactive Screen Debate

In News by James

When considering usage, versatility and price against standard ‘TV’ screens, are interactive screens really worth the investment?

Your schools may have already invested in interactive screens of some description, or you may be considering them as an option. Before we dive into this one, there are obviously alternatives to interactive screens such as short-throw projectors. The point of this post is not about comparing products, its more about investment versus reward.

Because there are multiple possible scenarios for your current position, lets assume you have already started investing in interactive screens. These are not frivolous investments; large format interactive screens can retail upwards of £4,000 whilst their non-interactive counterparts maybe half of that investment. If you are a school or MAT with multiple classrooms, it is not difficult to see that these are serious contenders in the annual budget.

So, are they worth the money? This is going to depend upon who you ask. Generally, IT is a difficult beast to understand and breakdown its investment versus learning outcomes, because at the end of the day, that is what school is all about. Does having an interactive screen improve student grades? Does having just a normal screen impact negatively on student grades? These are ‘soft’ benefits/drawback and usually incredibly difficult to identify and justify; each school will be different and therefore I could not possibly even begin to offer you an opinion on this.

However, I will say this;

If you were running a new restaurant and in your pantry, you had a wealth of ingredients (with a five year expiry date!) to create all sorts of imaginative menus, would you only make and sell bread? Maybe in the early stages if your chef lacked experience, but what would you do next? Admit that your chef can only make bread, watch the ingredients slowly go out of date and then only order flour, salt, and yeast in future? Or do you gradually train and encourage your chef to make new products with those ingredients already sitting there waiting to be used? What would be the outcomes in these scenarios, new customers, an enlightened chef, or a restaurant slowly going out of business?

Food for thought perhaps?

It may be a childish analogy, but it serves a purpose. So often we see schools not fully understanding IT investment, across multiple areas, not just with screens. IT Investment is not just in the capital outlay, it is also in the training of staff and monitoring of effectiveness. It is in understanding the soft benefits a well as the functional ones. Is there value in ‘showing off’ great technology on parents’ evenings or during recruitment drives? Does the simple act of having technology at the front of a classroom, inspire students to engage more?

In my experience, there are no half measures with screens. You will find it absolutely impossible to warrant buying or replacing expensive interactive screens if universally your staff do not use the functionality, and I mean just the basic touch functionality.

If you are going down the route of a sizeable Interactive screen investment, then it deserves the appropriate attention. It is a big deal, so make a big deal of it! Gee up your staff, have your DLL Team advocate the benefits and arrange for initial AND ONGOING appropriate training. Allow the more advanced members of staff to show off their skills and invigorate the others with fresh ideas, utilising interactivity. Add tech usage into your CPD programme!

It does take time for new technology to be fully adopted; when I was in primary school we had blackboards, which turned into whiteboards, which have since turned into digital screens of some description. At each stage I’m sure staff thought the old way was perfectly fine, but we know that technology often adds that intangiable ‘something’ to the classroom. If its harnessed properly it can be incredibly powerful.

Whether or not you decide to venture with interactive screens will largely depend who is asking for them and who is setting the policy on IT procurement, and how that interacts with your IT strategy.

If you’re the financial lead for your MAT, understand that you will never be able completely calculate the value of interactive screens across your schools. If you’re a teacher asking for one, understand that your finance team will have a tough time justifying the expense over cheaper alternatives. There will always be an element of a ‘leap of faith’ which will align closely with the relationship that you have between staff, at all levels. The more that you understand each other, the easier these decisions become and ultimately, the better the value that is driven from investment in IT.