Classroom Display Systems Buying Guide

There are many, many choices available for classroom display systems. A few you may be considering are:

  • Projectors
    • On a cart
    • Mounted
    • Regular, Short throw, and Ultra Short Throw
    • Interactive
  • TVs
  • Wireless Mirroring Devices
    • Added on to any system
  • Interactive Whiteboards
    • With mounted projectors
    • Interactive flat panels (like a giant tablet)
    • Mobile (devices that stick onto whiteboards to add computer interactivity)

Installing a classroom display system is typically an expensive proposition. Displays may be in place for years and have a good chance of outlasting the teacher who inhabited the classroom when they were installed. That means it is a major decision that should be considered from several angles:

  • Needs: What are the needs of that specific teacher, grade level, or content area?
  • Space: What will the system do to the classroom space? Will it reduce other storage or display space?
  • Maintenance: Will the system require costly maintenance and upkeep?
  • Training:  Will the system require costly and time-consuming professional development?
  • Modularity: Can you start with a simple system and add on to it as needs grow and change, or do you have to go "whole hog?"
  • Cost: How much are the system components? Even more important may be how much it costs to install or remove!

Here's a rough matrix (just Michael's opinion!) on how each kind of system stacks up:

Needs Space Maintenance Training Modularity Cost
How many classroom needs does it address? How much usable space will it take up? Requires costly maintenance or replacement parts? How much training does it require? Can be moved or added on to? How much are the components and installation?
Projector - cart Low Medium Medium Medium High Low
Projector - mounted Medium Medium Medium Low Medium Medium
Projector - interactive High Medium Medium High Medium High
TV - flat panel - mounted Medium Low Low Low High Low
Wireless Mirroring Device Medium Low Low Medium High Low
Interactive Whiteboard - projector High High High High Low High
Interactive Whiteboard - flat panel High High Low High Low Very High
Interactive Whiteboard - mobile Some Low Low High High Medium

Before settling on a classroom display system, you should discuss the idea with the faculty that will teach in that room. What kind of content do they want to display? What kind of interaction do they want? What devices do they want to interface with?  Here are a list of key needs for display systems. Ask your staff to rank these to figure out what they want and need! You can also give this list to students, since they'll be using the system, too!

1 Show content from computer/tablet to whole room
2 Show content from a paper/book to whole room (document camera)
3 Reliability/low maintenance requirement
4 Low cost (can be changed if broken or needs change)
5 Maintain current storage and display space
6 Mirror content wirelessly so teacher can teach and walk
7 Mirror content from student devices
8 Draw/annotate over computer content
9 Write/draw over projected content
10 Interactivity with websites, games, activities for students - specifically at the big screen, in front of the room!
11 Interactivity with teacher created content (created in Smart Notebook, Promethean Inspire, etc.) for students

TVs

If items 1-5 are the primary needs, you may want to consider mounting 1 or more flatscreen TVs. They are low-cost, do not dim over time, easy to see in bright rooms, and can be installed in high, out of the way areas that are often unused in classrooms.

Wireless Mirroring Devices

If items 6-7 are priorities, add on a mirroring device like an AppleTV, Chromecast, or Miracast. Teachers and students can display from anywhere in the room, allowing more mobility and flexibility in the classroom.

Document Cameras

If item 2 is a priority, you may think you need a document camera. Document cameras typically allows you to connect to a projector without a computer. But if you are using a computer or iPad and other connections anyway, why not cut the document camera and use a special stand with a device you already have? Or if you are using a computer, you may want to use a low cost webcam instead of an expensive stand-alone doc cam.

Projector + Whiteboard

If items 8-9 are your focus, look at mounting a projector over a traditional whiteboard. You get a large display area for your computer content, and the reliability of markers to annotate. Ultra-short throw projectors are the most expensive, but easiest to mount and the high angle prevents large shadows when you get between the projector and display surface.

Interactive Whiteboard

If items 10-11 are a high priority for your teachers (along with 8-9), an interactive projector or whiteboard may be the right choice. Interactive projectors are great because they can work with traditional whiteboards without taking up additional space, but may require special pens or be less reliable than full boards. Ensure that your teachers are going to be fully utilizing its features, and that your school is willing to put up with the expense, training, and space demanded by these systems!