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Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD makes teaching and learning more interactive, with Kramer technology

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“I’ve got a centralized server, I can administrate, monitor, and troubleshoot every Kramer device from my own desk using Kramer’s VIA Site Management Software.
Shawn Finch | Network Engineer, HEB I.S.D

Background

Established in 1958, the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District (HEB ISD) spans 44 square miles, encompassing the three adjacent cities of Hurst, Euless, and Bedford in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. Serving more than 24,000 pre-K and K-12 students and more than 3,300 employees, the district currently comprises 20 elementary campuses, five junior highs, and four high schools. In addition to its classroom-based facilities, the HEB ISD has seven buildings that house administration, athletics, and a maintenance complex. Fast growth over the past five years has seen a six percent increase in enrollment, or just shy of 1,300 students. Two new educational campuses are now under construction to accommodate this influx.

Nearly 20 years ago, a redundant, currently 20Gb, fiber optic network was installed throughout HEB ISD setting the stage for today’s advanced AV over IP technology solutions. Until two years ago, the only technologies in the classrooms were SMART Boards, document cameras, and interactive projectors.

Goals

For over a decade, Vikki Durham, an Instructional Technology Support Specialist, has worked on location with teachers, students, coordinators, and administrators to integrate technology and train staff across the district. According to her, when she started as a teacher at HEB ISD 30 years ago there was “absolutely no technology other than a TV, a computer, and a whiteboard.”

To help understand the changing technology needs of teachers and administrators, a district-wide survey was conducted. Results from the study were used to set goals and expectations from the district’s leadership who stated that “they wanted the teachers to be up out of their desks and integrating and communicating and collaborating with the students – actively monitoring,” says Vikki.

To keep students and teachers alike engaged, the district had to find a secure, robust solution allowing maximum mobility. Vikki was hopeful that this would meet real teacher needs, saying, “A lot of teachers didn’t like being in the front of the room. Some teachers wanted to be in the back of the room and some teachers wanted to be in the middle of the room.”

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“They wanted the teachers to be up out of their desks and to integrate and to communicate and collaborate with the students – actively monitoring.”
Vikki Durham | Instructional Technology Support Specialist, HEB

The Solution

1,633 Kramer VIA GO units were installed in classrooms across its 36 buildings, to allow teachers to actively engage with students and wirelessly share content onto the projection surface in the classroom.

Flexibility, scalability, and affordability were key requirements for making this choice, according to Shawn Finch, the Network Engineer who oversees HEB ISD’s massive technology infrastructure, as he was evaluating competitive products. “With a district as large as HEB, it was completely unacceptable to have to configure each device one at a time,” he says. “Kramer has this centralized enterprise server and all the VIA GO’s phone home to it, so when I need to make a change, I can go to one place and I make the adjustments for an entire school, or multiple schools, or the entire environment at once. ”

Beyond the benefit of working on a centralized system, the district also needed a solution that would live up to its secure wireless network. “We require an SSL certificate. We require usernames and passwords. And many of the competitors’ boxes felt more like they were made for small offices and home use.” According to Shawn, the Kramer VIA GO difference was that “It was able to handle our enterprise-class wireless security settings, and in addition to that, it has an Ethernet port. The benefit to that is it connects to both at the same time, so we can have a physically wired cable in the back to provide very reliable network connectivity.”

Technological advantages aside, for HEB ISD, there remained the simple fact that across the long-term Kramer’s price point for VIA GO fell far below its competitors. “We also needed to be looking at price to make sure it was something that we could afford over a period of time,” Vikki highlights. “Kramer filled that niche too because it provided us with a hardware opportunity that probably would last longer and you didn’t have to get a subscription associated with software licenses.”

Value

Using VIA GO teachers can untether from their central docking station and move freely throughout the classroom while presenting materials from their own devices and actively interacting with students. “The student Chromebooks have the ability to mirror the projector as well, and so you could have the teacher on one side with, say, a problem that had not been solved,” says Vikki. “A student could project up there alongside that teacher and solve the problem where the whole entire class could see it.”

Kramer’s VIA GO also provided HEB ISD with a solution compatible with a diverse array of operating systems. According to Vikki, “Some of the competitors could handle Apple devices and PCs but couldn’t handle Chromebooks. Some of them could handle Apple devices and Chromebooks but couldn’t do PCs. This is the only one that we’ve been able to find that would allow us to use all of our platforms.”

The accompanying VIA App software also solves the problem of multimedia playback on an already-congested network. “We used to roll an entire cart of 30-plus computers into a classroom when the teacher wanted to play a video,” says Shawn. “But what Kramer’s developers did that was very clever is they allowed you to stage your multimedia content on the app, and then when you’re ready to play it, it tells VIA GO to get it for you.”

The VIA GO units also have the benefit of being wall-mountable, which is especially helpful in a classroom where expensive equipment could be easily damaged. “You know a kid will step on them and they’ll get crushed,” Shawn explains. “We wanted these units someplace safe and out of the way. On the wall is a great way to do that, or, in our future campus, up above the ceiling – above the projector.”

With hundreds of teachers across the district being introduced to VIA GO over a short period of time, one might think there would be some difficulty in transitioning to the new technology. However, that did not prove to be the case. “There was a little bit of a learning curve, but it’s really not hard,” Vikki points out. “Some early adopters, of course, jumped right on it. Some teachers have been a little bit slow to use it, but they’re getting there because they see the value of it.”

There is resounding consensus from teachers and administrators alike that over the past two years, Kramer’s VIA GO has been instrumental in encouraging active learning in HEB ISD. “We have been pretty successful,” Vikki concludes. “When I pass by 10 to12 classrooms, I’ve got at least six to eight using it on a daily basis. This is great for classroom management. It frees the teachers up to actively participate with the students.”

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