Protecting the Connected Classroom

How to mobilize existing technology resources for security and emergency response

Electronic security in the K-12 education environment often stops at the doorway to the classroom, due to a combination of economics, concerns about student privacy and possible objections from the teacher’s union. Teachers may use panic alarms in case of emergency and can be trained in lockdown procedures, but for the most part, the video surveillance component of security in the classroom does not exist.

Protecting students is always top-of-mind for K-12 schools, but the elements of that protection must not interfere with the teaching environment; in fact, security should be incorporated into the day-to-day function of the school. Video cameras help administrators and teachers watch what is happening in the hallways, stairwells and even remote parts of the facility, but what would be the effect of a video camera inside the classroom? Would it change the classroom dynamic or make the teacher’s techniques more cautious or timid? Would that possible negative effect overshadow the benefit of having the camera in an emergency situation once or twice a year?

Although surveillance technology has been missing, technology in general is everywhere in modern classrooms. Video has been embraced as a learning tool to record lessons and for distance learning. Document cameras enable teachers to project maps, textbook pages and other learning materials for all students to see. Infrared wireless classroom audio systems amplify the teacher’s voice for students to hear clearly. Students use computers and hand-held tablets during their lessons, and interactive computerized whiteboards are taking the place of chalk and white boards. In general, an integrated audio/visual system is part of the new technology-driven classroom environment, and campus-wide IP connectivity provides network access anywhere on the school grounds.

This greater use of technology in the classroom can also help to boost school security. In an emergency, some of these classroom instruction technologies can be leveraged to increase security and to empower a more effective emergency response. Video capability already exists in the classroom that could be used to enable greater school security; it’s just a matter of managing technology to overcome privacy objections and to maximize its effectiveness in case of emergency.

Technology’s Role in Education

Today’s classroom uses a range of newer technologies to enhance learning. Video can be used in the classroom to create an archive of examples that teachers can use to boost student performance and to improve or enhance teaching techniques. High-definition video cameras can enable educators to provide pre-recorded lessons to homebound students or for distance learning, to record student performances and to enable students to collaborate with or debate interactively with their peers from any location in the world. Also, a document camera, which is essentially similar to a video surveillance camera, can be focused on various teaching materials to enable them to be projected on a screen.

These emerging uses of video ensure an increasing presence of cameras in the future; however, there is sensitivity in the education environment to the possible effects of constant surveillance in the learning environment. Therefore, although they are present in the classroom, these cameras are not operating all the time; rather, they are being used only when needed for specific tasks.

In addition to video cameras, modern classrooms have a variety of other audio/visual components. For example, a wireless audio system that amplifies the teacher’s voice can include a wireless pendant microphone worn by the teacher. Full control of power, mute and volume controls are located on the microphone, and the teacher’s hands remain free because the microphone hangs around the neck.

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