Large flat panel displays fill an increasing number of living rooms with dazzling images that bring the theatre experience into the home. Many of today’s students are accustomed to high definition (HD) – for them it has become the expected standard. As educators and schools strive to find ways to better engage students and motivate learning, they are recognizing that using interactive HD technology in the classroom could be one way to achieve this. But the search for the best choice of interactive flat panel display – one that offers stunning images, touch technology, and seamless integration – can be daunting.
We have pulled together eight things you need to know to determine whether a flat panel display is the right choice for your classrooms.
- Don’t ask “What do I buy?” Ask “Why should I buy?”
How do you intend to use the interactive flat panel display being considered? Is an interactive classroom display being considered because it is new and exciting (two of the worst possible reasons), or because it can fulfill an important instructional purpose? If the primary purpose is to show videos, a smaller size display is practical. If showing text-heavy images such as Web pages and slides is the primary intended use, then a larger display with single-user interactivity might suffice. If the goal is to have multiple students interacting collaboratively and simultaneously on the display, a large screen size – coupled with very flexible touch interactivity – is your best option.
- LCD / LED
All LCD (Liquid-Crystal Display) displays are backlit; a light source behind the actual LCD makes the picture visible. There are two types of LCD backlighting: cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) or Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). LED backlighting is the better choice, because it generally produces images with greater contrast. This type of display is also thinner, costs less to produce, consumes 20 to 30 percent less power, runs cooler, has a significantly longer life, and is more environmentally friendly when disposed of. For all of these reasons, LED backlighting has become the more standard technology.
- UHD/4K Versus HD
Ultra-High-Definition TV displays, also called 4K, UD, or UHD, have four times the number of pixels as High-Definition (HD) displays. The images are truly beautiful, but they cost more than regular HD displays. The question to ask yourself is whether that extra resolution adds enough value in the classroom and to student learning to justify the incremental cost.
When considering the latest technology, it’s critical to weigh the educational benefit it can offer to student learning against its cost. Examine how you will use these displays in the classroom, and then look at what your budget allows. By balancing these two criteria, you will arrive at the right display for your students, classrooms, and budget.
- Screen Size in Relation to Classroom Size
Educators should choose a screen size large enough that 20-point type can easily be read from the farthest point away from the display in the classroom. That usually translates to three times the diagonal screen size. Thus, a 70-inch display can serve students as far away as 17.5 feet (5.3 meters), and an 84-inch display can serve students as far away as 21 feet (6.4 meters). With this simple equation in mind, look at each classroom’s size and seating arrangements to determine what screen size will make for best viewing in that room.
- Classroom Software That Meets Your Needs
Interactive flat panel displays present the images, animations, videos, and individual and collaborative activities that help instruct and educate. But it’s the software that powers all the hardware in an interactive classroom. Key questions to ask about classroom software include the following:
- Does it have the needed features? (You should determine in advance which features are “essential,” which would be “nice to have,” and which “we might use sometimes.”)
- Can it be used school-wide, on all types of interactive classroom devices from multiple vendors?
- Is it easy enough to learn, and are the teachers willing to learn it?
- Is the user interface available in the required language(s)?
- Does it support the required devices and operating systems?
- Is its load on the school’s Wi-Fi network acceptable?
- Is it flexible enough to be used for front-of-the–room, small–group, and one-on–one learning?
- Connection Types and Why They Matter
There are three major connections that can be made to an interactive flat panel display:
- The most important connection types are HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) and VGA (Video Graphics Adapter). Interactive flat panel displays should have at least two HDMI inputs. Each HDMI cable carries digital video and audio, which simplifies wiring and provides higher quality over longer cable lengths than the analog VGA signal. At least one VGA input should also be provided for compatibility with the large percentage of PCs and laptops that are VGA-only.
- The HDMI connections carry audio as well as video, so there is no need for separate audio connections to correspond with the HDMI. VGA connectors do not carry audio, so a corresponding stereo analog audio input is necessary for each VGA input.
- It’s Not Just About the Picture
Most interactive flat panel displays have a built-in audio amplifier and internal speakers. They are not intended to be theater-quality sound systems, but are usually fine for a classroom. If the unit under consideration does not have internal audio capabilities, an external system will need to be provided. That will add to the cost of your purchase and installation, and will also add to the complexity of the resulting system.
- Interactivity in the Classroom
Picture quality, resolution, image size, audio quality, the right selection of audio and video inputs and outputs – these are all important considerations in choosing a flat panel display for a classroom. But there are several additional considerations. These three are key:
- How many simultaneous single-touch students can it accommodate?
- How many simultaneous gesture or dual-touch students can it accommodate?
- How many simultaneous single- or dual-touch students can it accommodate in the same horizontal plane?
Deploying interactive flat panel displays is a project that deserves proper planning, including the consideration of several room and application factors, and an active evaluation of the products being considered. Knowing the specifics of how the technology will be used in the classroom and what you want it to be able to do will help you make the smartest choice. When you can answer those questions, decisions about choosing, implementing, and adopting an interactive flat panel display will come more easily.
Want even more information on how to choose the right display for your classroom?
This guide provides more in-depth information, as well as lessons that take advantage of the unique features of these collaborative touch displays.