Søndervangskolen in the city of Aarhus, Denmark, is a municipal school with big ambitions. They put high demands on their students, on themselves as teachers and managers, on their facilities and on their equipment. They believe that optimizing the way students and teachers interact with the facilities is essential for improving the quality of education. But how do you create the best learning environment for teachers and students alike? If you ask Søndervangskolen’s vice-principal Martin Berhard, the answer is to work with technology – and not against it.
A permanent fixture in the classroom
Martin Bernhard knows that technology is here to stay. It’s been well-integrated in the classroom; at this point, it has become indispensable in education. Martin has been a first mover in implementing technology in the classroom, starting by equipping every student with iPads in 2012 and upgrading iPads to Chromebooks a few years later. Most classrooms were equipped with interactive displays – and remote controls, of course. “In schools, there will always be some devices that disappear or get stolen, and I didn’t want to have a bunch of remote controls lying around in the classrooms. They’d be gone the next day, and then how are we supposed to turn things on?”, says Martin.
Technology can be a source of frustrations in many schools. Remote controls disappear, people forget to turn equipment off, a lot of time gets wasted while setting up for presentations, or maybe teachers are unable to get the most out of the features available in the different devices. Technology opens a sea of possibilities, but also requires a lot of effort to adapt it to the realities schools and teachers face. So how do you successfully integrate all the tech features and functions in teachers’ lesson plans without investing extra resources? And more importantly; how do you work with technology – and not against it?
Schools in Denmark, like other public institutions, are bound by public procurement contracts. ATEA, one of the largest suppliers of IT/AV equipment in the country, won the public sector tender in Aarhus municipality. They were the ones to introduce Martin to Neets and their keypad control systems. “ATEA introduces us to these Neets keypads and say that they would be the ideal solution for us. They just need to be wall-mounted next to the display, you push a button and the screen is turned on. They serve their purpose in a very clean and simple way.”
A simple setup
Since 2013, Søndervangskolen has successfully installed over 50 Neets Control – EcHo keypads. Each button on the keypad is configured to perform a specific function, such as turn the display on or off, or controlling the volume. The keypad acts as one central and standardized interface to control all the AV equipment in a classroom.
“The school AV upgrade project started with an NEC display installation in every classroom. But obviously, we have had to replace some of the devices since 2013 and we decided to switch to two other models. The Neets keypads have been used with three different brands so far. Besides the displays, they’re also facilitating the use of iPads via wireless sharing”, says Martin and elaborates, “If we take a look at the smartboards we had installed, a good estimate would be that only 10% of their functions are used. Teachers only use them to present their material onscreen; they don’t use any of the other built-in features. That got me thinking – why should we have devices that have so many functions, but are so complicated that teachers can’t figure out how to use them? In reality, we just need a screen we can turn on and off in a smart way, an HDMI and VGA cable and some form of wireless screen sharing. And that’s exactly how they keypads have been configured; VGA, HDMI, Apple TV, an OFF button and volume up/down buttons. It’s extremely easy for the teachers to understand and to use. Being able to operate every device from one interface help teachers to think of it as a simple and smart setup.”
"Being able to operate every device from one interface help teachers to think of it as a simple and smart setup."
Integrating IT in education
When the school equipped all the students with iPads, it was important to make sure that the teachers understood how to use them actively and make the most of their potential in the classroom. The school invested heavily in teacher training, where all the teachers became certified Apple Teachers. In 2016, the school became the first of its kind in the country to be recognized as an Apple Distinguished School, meaning they have achieved excellence in terms of management and leadership, target achievement and successful integration of IT in education. This was a heavy investment for the school, as Martin explains.
“We invested heavily in IT competency development for employees when introducing iPads in the classroom. In comparison, introducing the Neets keypad control systems was a piece of cake. We installed them and sent an email round saying, ‘Press to turn on and off, press for VGA, press for HDMI press for Apple TV and that’s it.’ We didn’t need to invest in anything form of training to make sure teachers understood how to use the keypads”.Out of all the equipment in the classrooms, it’s the simple, wall-mounted keypad interface that has proved to be most valuable, according to Martin. “One of the reasons we chose the Neets control systems was their compatibility with Apple TV and other wireless devices. It gives us a lot of freedom and flexibility in the classroom. Students can connect to it and use it to show the teacher what they’re doing and get feedback on their work. It also saves a lot of time overall for the teachers, as switching between inputs is instantaneous.”
No news is good news
“Compared to typical Danish culture and behavior, I think people in school environments are very good at pointing things out if something doesn’t work. In our school specifically, we are very development focused. If there are problems and challenges, we work to fix them. We encourage a culture of openness, where people can step freely step forward and say it if something is not working for them. So if I don’t hear anything, it’s because it works. It’s a positive sign – I would definitely have been informed if there are ever been the smallest issue”, explains Martin.
Absence of feedback confirms that the Neets keypads work well for the teachers, but that does not stop Martin from elaborating on the other positive benefits of installing Neets Control – Echo keypads in the school. “Smart buildings and smart homes are a growing trend, and I’m sure wall-mounted keypad control systems are something we will see even more of in the next few years.”
He continues, “Today, the technology market is saturated with different devices and brands. People have Macs, Chromebooks, PCs and all sorts of other devices. You need something that works every time, regardless of device type or brand. At the school, we often have substitute teachers and we also make some classrooms available to local social clubs in the evening. It’s essential that technology can support every kind of device. Looking at the way the technology market is developing, I’m 100% sure device-independent AV systems is something we will only see more of in the future.”
Martin Berhard, Vice-Principal of Søndervangskolen in Aarhus
Technology and Economy
There are also several economic benefits, according to Martin. “24/7 displays are on for circa 10,000 hours a year. Now, let’s imagine they’re only on for 8 hours, instead of 24 hours a day. Energy consumption is reduced by 66% when having a control system that automatically shut down all the displays at the end of the day. There’s definitely a big long-term economic gain, especially when you look at a product that is so durable and so easy to implement. We’ve only had the keypads for 7 years, but in the technology world, 7 years is a really really long time.”