Anyone who has been in a classroom in the past decade already knows many schools have long ago replaced blackboards with smartboards.
If Panasonic has its way, they will all soon get an upgrade.
In an effort to get a bigger chunk of the dollars districts are spending on technology, Panasonic plans on upgrading its lineup with an "interactive classroom." It's a product suite that features three elements: a 65-inch plasma screen, enhanced audio instruction for teachers through a microphone pendant, and a 10-inch Windows-based G1 tablet for teachers.
"Think 65-inch flat screen that you can actually write on, stream live video, you can do a lot of different things," Reginald Jackson, the national K-12 business manager for Panasonic, said. "Basically, anything you can do on a whiteboard or chalkboard, you can now do digitally, except on a full HD display."
Panasonic plans to introduce the product lineup this winter, with hopes of schools installing them next spring.
The company is not the only Jersey player in the game.
Samsung believes its Chromebooks, a thin laptop selling for less than $300, can address education needs while reducing maintenance costs associated with larger hardware.
And Lakewood software company Achieve 3000 is built on the idea of providing schools with differentiated instruction programs aimed at improving reading and writing literacy.
The companies are trying to solve the riddle that bedevils school districts everywhere: How to upgrade technological capabilities in an era of more mandates and less resources.
Joshua Koen, technology coordinator at Passaic City school district, is glad to see the emphasis.
Koen said schools generally need devices that can be customized to individuals, are easy and inexpensive to maintain, and have the latest advantages. To that end, his district last year purchased 1,000 Chromebooks for student in grades 7 to 12.
"This is a very appealing device for education," Koen said.
The Passaic County school district is upping that purchase this year so all its 4,800 or so seventh to 12th grade students are equipped with Chromebooks.
Diane Ashby, national education business manger at Samsung, whose North American headquarters is based in Ridgefield Park, said companies are taking notice.
Samsung, widely known as a consumer-oriented company, is increasing its focus on business-to-business and other large-scale customers, with school districts high on the list.
"The way we teach is being changed to engage the digital natives," Ashby said.
A big part of the classroom technology evolution is driven by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a program broadly aimed at modernizing education to better prepare students with skills demanded by employers. Forty-five states, including New Jersey, have adopted the initiative, which heavily emphasizes technology.
Achieve 3000 is built on the idea of catering to a student's leaning pace, thus benefitting from Common Core's emphasis on individualized environments.
Whereas most conventional reading evaluations fall under broad categories like "below average" or "above average," Achieve 3000 Chief Product Officer Jim O'Neill said the company's programs are more nuanced.
Achieve 3000 programs, which are attached to browsers and soon will be available on an iPad app, can also adjust the text of a lesson to a level each student can follow regardless of differences in aptitude, thus saving teachers time. The programs are ideal for take-home assignments, he said.
"You can open this up anytime, anywhere," O'Neill said. "It provides access to a lesson that isn't restricted by the hours of the school day or walls of the classroom."
Newark-based Panasonic last year reorganized its internal walls to include a division targeted at K-12 education products, a change that helps the company align itself with Common Core criteria. The company was already making projectors and interactive whiteboards, but growing need forced a sharper focus, Jackson said.
Panasonic hopes its "interactive classroom" will appeal to budget-conscious school districts. Jackson said districts will be able to buy products separately or together for about $8,000.
The centerpiece is the plasma screen, which is intended to replace the standard setup of an interactive whiteboards accompanied by a projector. It costs more upfront, but Jackson said the flat screen is expected to reduce long-term expense since it can operate without a projector, which requires regular repair.
Panasonic is also developing an Android-based 10-inch tablet for students. It will be modeled after its A1 tablet, currently geared for business and military clients at prices that exceed $1,000, but will be geared toward students at a much lower price.
"We're really just getting our feet wet, so to speak, in terms of knowing what the potential of this market can be," Jackson said. "We think this is going to be a significant contribution to our top and bottom line."
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