See Spot Run

A solution-provider’s perspective on visual learning

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

ViewSonic birdsWhat you see is what you, well, oftentimes learn. That is to say, learning and sight are intimately connected. Educators curious about a technologist’s perspective on visual learning tools might see some truth in what these three guys have to say. Erik Willey is Product Marketing Director of desktop displays — Roger Chien is Product Manager of projectors, and Gene Ornstead is Digital Signage Director — all for ViewSonic, a display technology provider. From monitors and interactive whiteboards to touchscreens, monitors and projectors, so much of what we use to learn has a visual component to it. In this insightful discussion, we look at the current scene and the most cost-effective products for schools as well as to the future of (visual) technology in education.

Victor: Tell us more about what ‘visual technology’ is. How can it help students and teachers enhance learning in a classroom environment?

ViewSonic image2Erik: Visual technology has really taken off in the last few years as products like dual-point touch and now 10-point touch monitors and interactive whiteboards, for example, are out on the market. These tools offer robust capabilities that when combined with other technologies, can show advanced features not typically found together.

Consumers are familiar with interactive touchscreens through their smartphones and tablets, so by incorporating them into the learning environment, educators enhance a student’s learning potential with familiar gestures and technology. The mind has a large capacity for visual information – touchscreens, secondary smart displays added to a desktop monitor, tablets – these tools tap into that capability. This type of technology isn’t new. It has been a staple of scientific research for several years but until now, these technologies have been too expensive and inaccessible to educators without a university or research grant. We’re just beginning to see visual technology play a bigger role in education, and we can expect it to become the new norm in classrooms.

Victor: What are the advantages and disadvantages of implementing these tools in schools?

Erik: One advantage is in creating a real interactive learning tool for students.

Students get a lot more value from a 10-point touch display or 3D projection of an anatomical image, for instance, than from a flat, 2D illustration on a screen. Visual technology allows the educator to create a better learning experience; one that uses two of our most powerful senses – sight and touch.

A disadvantage to implementing these tools lies in cost. Financing these new initiatives can be very expensive and most schools don’t have a robust team of IT staff to support rebuilding these environments. IT admin are already struggling to support their school’s IT systems and these may add additional burdens and responsibilities to an already thin team. However, virtual computing is a fast growth area for the education sector because it cuts back on management costs. So from a management standpoint this is a very attractive option for the long-term.

In contrast, one other advantage lies in the ability to match the school’s technology with technology that students use everyday. The next generation of students are growing up with smartphones, tablets, touchscreens – what good does it do for their learning to be on an archaic system or technology? Educators will need to build off what they already know.

The latest generation of desktop displays has evolved to become more integrated and connected. Android-based Smart Displays, for instance, allow students to connect to the Internet directly, and access a host of cloud based learning services on a platform that they are very familiar with thanks to the prevalence of Android-based smartphones and tablets.

ViewSonic projectorRoger: Projectors have also evolved over the years to meet user’s needs and preferences for more interactive learning. As an example, the use of single pen interactivity has changed into a dual pen system, making the interactive technology more robust with advanced applications for multiple users. Soon, we will see projectors with 10-point touch capability.

Victor: With schools facing tight budgets and phasing out old technologies, what are some potential long-term and cost-effective solutions out on the market now that educators should utilize?

Erik: There’s a tremendous opportunity in touchscreen, interactive displays and smart desktops that can connect to other technologies or access the cloud, which educators should look to utilize. Technology is becoming more efficient in terms of energy costs and cooling needs. In the long-term, the latest visual technologies will save schools money from a maintenance standpoint versus older models that use up energy and management resources.

Roger: We also see opportunity in hybrid LED projectors that can connect to any virtual server. Given that conventional lamp-based projectors have been out in the market for many years, it’s the most popular and commonly used in school these days. However, this type of projector requires a new lamp every 3,000 to 4,000 hours depending on usage, which isn’t a cost-effective option in the long run if it’s used regularly. Furthermore, some projectors require the user to clean and sometimes replace air filters every 200 to 300 hours of operation, adding up in maintenance dollars and labor costs for the school.

In recent years, projection technology has started developing and implementing an alternative solution – using a laser / LED hybrid light source – to improve on this. One distinct advantage of laser / LED hybrid light technology is in its long hours of operation. Hybrid light can operate up to 20,000 hours! With this improvement, it drastically reduces the labor and money spent on maintaining projectors in any facility. In addition, laser LED hybrid light technology is mercury free, runs cooler and consumes less power, so it’s a potential long-term and cost-effective alternative to lamp-based projectors. However, the current market price of a laser / LED hybrid projector is still considered a premium. As the technology advances and becomes more popular, the cost will go down within the next few years so that it’s an affordable solution for schools.

Victor: How do you see these tools playing out in education in the future?

Erik: We’re going to see the use of smarter, interactive technologies combined to create things like 3D imaging, projecting intricate details on a screen or whiteboard, and tools that can create or print out 3D models. Further, at the rate that all these technologies have advanced and been made accessible to the general public, the market cost will go down so that these are affordable solutions for schools.

Gene: Another area of expansion with regard to technology adoption in the classroom is the large screen interactive whiteboard (IWB). This new interactive large screen display tool offers tremendous capabilities that enhance course presentation using interactive large screen visual stimulation. The capabilities of the IWB offer multiple benefits as well. It has the ability to display full high-definition imaging and graphics and it can also provide connection to virtual computing. The shared classroom environments and distance learning can be easily achieved using “smart” integrated IWB display solutions. As cost comes down for large screen interactive display products, and educational software solutions continue to expand in their capability, we will see aggressive growth in school adoption of “smart” classrooms.

Roger: Over the years, the technology industry as a whole has experimented with 3D technology. We’ve seen this in cinemas and in consumer TVs, but now there’s the potential of bringing 3D to other categories. Current DLP projectors that support 3D will become viable options for classrooms as more technology churns out applications and products meant to work with 3D capabilities. The drawback at the moment is that facilities would need to purchase 3D glasses to work with these projectors, which is not the most cost-effective solution for most schools. The technology will continue to progress in 2013 and we should see this area expand into other verticals, including the education space over time.

Victor: Alright, thank you, gentlemen!

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