It's a Generational Thing: Advances in Classroom AV

Classroom AV started with a TV in a locked cupboard and a tape player wheezing away on the front desk giving us the received pronunciation in french. (Ou est la toilette, s’il vous plait?)
  • Tape decks of the 1970’s were soon superseded by something in stereo (whatever that is) and the TV got a little bigger.
  • In the 1980’s, we added a VHS recorder (or Betamax if you were an unlucky bursar)
  • By the 1990s some classrooms even had a full blown music centre.

But none of these can really be called either integrated or complete, so we’ll ignore them for the purposes of classroom AV.

The first step change in Classroom Audio

PE210 first generation classroom audio
PE210 first generation classroom audio

In the 1990’s some clever spark (in Phonic Ear, as it happens) remembered that a teacher’s voice is an important asset in the classroom. And that many children have trouble hearing at any one time (whether because they have gummy ears, have a hearing impairment, or have yet to complete development of their auditory system – which is complete at around 15 years of age… it is true that some teenagers are not listening to you – mainly because they can’t))

First Generation Classroom Audio

The first Phonic Ear system – the PE210 was born. PC Werth introduced the PE210 and sold a number of these systems to specialist education audiologists. The PE210 uses a radio system and body-worn microphone to wirelessly transmit the teacher’s voice to a wall mounted amplifier and then to speakers dispersed around the room.

Benefits of the PE210 were that all students could now hear the teacher equally well. And children with a hearing aid could be connected to the system with a “personal FM” system to join in too. However, there are some inherent problems with RF-based systems: predominantly that they suffer interference from other systems (in other classes), or from strip lights of all things, and so on. Additionally, because RF can pass through walls and there are only a few frequencies available before you start broadcasting your maths lesson to the Coastguard, the number of RF systems you can have in one site can be limited.

Second Generation Classroom Audio

FrontRow Tempo_sml
FronttRow Tempo

PC Werth and Phonic Ear developed RF-based systems, culminating in the Tempo and SpeechWave systems that are available today. (they have some benefits in large, open plan classrooms to this day). We improved the microphone design and added inputs for other sources of sound, like the class TV and even a computer, so that other educational resources could be amplified as well as voices. Thus creating a richer learning environment.

Meanwhile, Infra-Red transmission was employed on the Phonic Ear Pro system to overcome shortcomings of RF. The same concept of microphone – to amplifier – to speakers means that everyone can hear everything better. the advantages of IR is that interference between classrooms is gone and so is the risk of interference and buzzing. better sound, better learning.

Generation 2 1/2 Classroom Audio

Rapid advances in processing power meant that IR systems went digital in the late 2000’s with the FrontRow Pro Digital (PhonicEar became FrontRow). Advances meant that things like optivoice (to ensure the all-important speech signal is better) and anti-feedback (to stop the system squeaking when you talk from underneath a speaker), could be added.

FrontRow Pro Digital with child mic
FrontRow Pro Digital

This meant that our classroom audio systems were now being used for more advanced applications like Podcasting and were also the perfect accompaniment for the new active whiteboards – which did all sorts of tricks and were hooked up to a PC, but were frequently also hooked up to weedy speakers that were worse than useless. And they are still often mounted at the front of the class too (both are money saving measures), which defeats much of the object of presenting better sound to all (unless the objective is to blast out the front row with tinny and distorted sound and leave the students behind frustrated, in which case they are quite good).

Third Generation Classroom Audio

And so to the modern era.

Every teacher has an active board, PC and whopping internet connection. we are all Tweeting, sharing, liking and poking. It is even encouraged for students to bring their own devices in (BYOD – it’s got to make the school manager happy). The internet is a core resource. Homework is done on computer. Collaboration and sharing are key words. And yet 70% of information still passes from the teacher’s mouth.


FrontRow JUNO
FrontRow JUNO

How to bring this all together?

FrontRow JUNO is the world’s first third generation classroom AV solution.

It is an IR based system, so that sound is transmitted clearly. Teacher’s can be heard better than ever, over the background noise of all those new computers in class. It is digital so that it manages feedback and has simple controls to optimise the voice.
An now, Third generation means that it also does more than this: Third generation systems are about integration and connectivity.

  1. JUNO is designed with full connectivity to plug and play with ALL existing AV infrastructure in classrooms today – including computers, active boards and traditional TV’s or music centres.
  2. JUNO works with e-learning and dispersed learning (MOOCs, e-learning, online courses and so on) by offering a lesson capture facility: your lesson can be recorded (no cameras are involved – unless you want them), to form the basis of your online content. Students can review, revise and learn at home.
  3. JUNO works with you it is light and portable. You can even control it with voice commands.

So over the last 25 years or so, we have come from first generation voice enhancement systems to a fully integrated third generation multimedia platform that still puts educationalists, their voices and their knowledge at the centre of their class.

To find out more, try our AV solutions for yourself (which also includes traditional, portable PA systems & acoustic treatments) or discuss communication in education, contact PC Werth



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