New technology at Mississippi school helps teach through masks

Published 5:58 am Sunday, October 3, 2021

Starkville High School student Peyton Willoughby sat in his 10th grade English class on Sept. 23 not worried about struggling to hear his teacher because of new technology installed in the classroom.

As his teacher discussed poems and literary elements, information flowed throughout speakers across the entire room, giving Willoughby the assurance that he was obtaining all of the necessary material.

“For me, I really love (this new technology),” Willoughby said. “I think it’s absolutely amazing because the teacher can be up and vocal and moving around while still maintaining that audibility … it makes the teaching much more engaging and more enjoyable.”

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Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District recently installed audio enhancement electronics, an innovative technology to strengthen the learning experience, throughout 12 classrooms and the library at SHS, as well as 12 classrooms at Armstrong Junior High. This technology allows teachers to clearly project through masks, offering all students a learning environment free of miscommunication.

SOCSD received a $100,000 grant from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund to pay for the technology. The relief fund was established in 2020 to help schools negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The technology works with speakers installed in the ceilings evenly dispersed throughout the classroom. A teacher wears a microphone fob around their neck, and their voice comes out of the speakers.

SOCSD finished installation on the technology at the beginning of this school year, Director of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning Leanne Long said, and teachers completed training soon after to know how to properly use the equipment.

“I think all students being able to learn and all students being able to hear what is being presented no matter where the teacher is in the room helps not only with retention of content but also with the teacher’s management in the classroom,” Long said.

Along with the speakers, Audio Enhancement also contains a video aspect. The district is installing the cameras this week, which will then allow the teachers the ability to livestream or record themselves using the microphone and camera. The teacher can not only record slide presentations but themselves teaching the material as well.

Director of Educational Enhancement and Innovative Research Brandi Burton said this recording capability will give students who may be virtual due to quarantine the opportunity to engage in learning just like in-person students.

“When we decided to go with this software, we saw it was more of an immersive experience for virtual students than just logging on to a Zoom because you do feel like you’re in the class with your peers and you can not only see your teacher talking but the screen as well,” Burton said.

The district discovered Audio Enhancement after Superintendent Eddie Peasant and Assistant Superintendent Anna Guntharp attended a conference where the technology was being used in fall 2020.

Burton said administrators of SHS and AJH decided which classrooms the cameras would be installed in.

“We let them choose which classrooms they thought would touch the most students and be most impactful,” Burton said. “Both administrators had different strategies, but we let them make that decision. What’s common between both schools is that there are multiple teachers for every English, math, science, social studies — those core topics — and special subjects like Spanish.”
Students and teachers alike have positively responded to the technology, Burton said.

Spanish teacher Doug Houston said he has enjoyed the equipment being in his classroom. Teaching a foreign language in a mask can be difficult at times, but with Audio Enhancement, he said he does not have to worry about the students misunderstanding him.

“With wearing masks and teaching foreign language, they need to be able to hear all of the intricacies of how you pronounce things,” Houston said. “… This really helps because you can hear the enunciation of each word.”