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Pricey tool smart, fun for schools
By ERNEST HOOPER
Published July 14, 2007
A record 1,000 people attended Audio Visual Innovations' annual training and technology expo at the Saddlebrook Resort this week, including a number of salivating teachers.
No, the frothing didn't come from a seminar about pay raises (although we all know they need a bump in salary). It was the latest offerings from Smart Technologies that had the teachers thrilled.
I couldn't blame them.
For more than 15 years, a number of schools have longed for Smart Boards, interactive projection screens that basically allow teachers to deliver Internet access to an entire class. At just under $2,000 for a Smart Board, the expense prevents every classroom from having one, but the teachers who do have one rave about improved learning.
"Technology is not the wave of the future anymore, it is now with our kids," said Marianne McDowell, a sixth-grade teacher at Gainesville's Howard Bishop Middle School. "You can put anything up there, and it captures their attention right away because our kids are visually oriented. The kids all want one for home."
The latest Smart Board innovation, Senteo, goes a step further. With handheld controls about the size of a television remote, kids can punch in responses to questions and take quizzes without leaving their seats.
Best of all, the system allows for instant assessments. Teachers can evaluate responses and know exactly how many students understand the information. They also can identify the students who aren't grasping the material without making them give answers at the board.
"I would love to have that (the new technology) in my classroom," said Shannon Carmona, a first-grade teacher at St. Petersburg's St. Paul Catholic School who has used the Smart Board for four years. The Smart Board is interactive, "so when I say to the kids, 'Okay, we're ready to learn,' all their hands go up," she said.
"When I turn that projector on, they're immediately excited and engaged."
Creating excitement and introducing new technologies is all part of Audio Visual Innovations annual event. They call it "AVI University," and it continues to grow since its inception seven years ago. The technology expo rivals what you might see at a major trade show, and seminars range from practical applications to power point presentation tips.
The throng that arrived at Saddlebrook on Thursday included educators, architects, government workers, military personnel and really anyone eager to see the latest in digital signage, teleconferencing and other technology.
"I think that the way people are using this audio visual technology is spreading," Audio Visual vice president Michelle Oswald said. "It's not as misunderstood as it once was. It continues to be at the forefront of everything that's new and cutting edge and exciting."
Founder and managing chairman Martin Schaffel founded Audio Visual in 1979, working out of his apartment in Lakeland. Today, the Tampa-based technology provider is a $250-million company with 20 nationwide offices.
Nearly 800 of Audio Visual's employees will be on hand today to conclude its three-day event, and while pleasing customers is at the core of its work, the company also likes the fact some kids are going to find school more fun thanks to its efforts. Which is really smart.