The days of projectors only being used in classrooms to show movies or what is on the teacher’s computer screen are long gone.  With the advent of interactive projectors, improved light source and connectivity options, and software tools that take projection to new heights, it is an exciting time to be a teacher and a student.

Modern Projectors and their Technology

First, let’s cover the advances in the technology.  There is an incredible amount of power and features packed into these fairly small boxes. Projection display technology includes several components that can be categorized into three benefits:

  • Image Quality – There are several things that make up image quality: the resolution, the lumens (or brightness measurement), and the contrast ratio. Projection displays are now offering full HD resolution and high lumen projectors, from 3,000 – 4,000 lumens, are becoming affordable for the classroom. When considering brightness, it’s important to choose a projector technology that has equal color and white lumens such as 3LCD to ensure the best image quality with bright vibrant colors. In addition, contrast ratio is changing rapidly, especially with the advent of new laser projectors.  Laser projection displays offer incredibly bright images, with up to 20,000 hours of virtually maintenance-free operation and a dynamic contrast ratio of up to 2,500,000:1. And laser technology means projection displays can offer high lumens with little energy use for large venues such as gymnasiums and theatres.  Collectively this results in images that are incredibly crisp and accessible even in a well-lit classroom.
  • Image Size – When it comes to classroom projection, size really does matter. Students need to be able to see the content being presented no matter where they are sitting in the classroom. Ultra short-throw projection displays provide an image of 100 inches with virtually no shadow interference. This makes them a great solution for making a wall interactive when the projection display is on. Some projection displays also now offer split screen functionality which allows the teacher to project two images from different sources side-by-side. And, for schools looking to make an entire wall interactive, there are options like DuoLink which allows for the placement of two projectors side-by-side to create one massive seamless surface up to 280 inches (diagonal).
  • Connectivity – Projector connection options are really advancing. Most displays offer multiple HDMI ports to support multiple high-definition A/V devices. Also, there are now MHL ports being offered to enable educators to connect an MHL-enabled device such as smartphones and tablets to the projection display.

Projection Displays Can Change the Way Students Learn

Now comes the fun part – there are so many cool things being done with projection displays and, as laser displays become more available, this is sure to explode. Projection displays incorporate tools that help students and teachers interact with each other and with the content being displayed.

New software tools allow teachers to manage student devices for two-way content sharing – both pulling student screens to the display and pushing content to each student device.  This is great when educators are teaching a math lesson, for example. The teacher can teach the lesson to the whole class and then push a math problem to each device. When students complete the math problem, teachers can show multiple students’ work on the large display.

This is extremely important in today’s Common Core era where educators help students learn from both correct and incorrect answers. This also provides great discussion opportunities for students to delve deeper into the problem being solved.

(Next page: Projectors for tech beginners; projection for virtual trips and AR)

For Those New to Projectors’ Potential

For educators new to projection technology, there are simple ways to interact with content being projected. Students can connect in real time with experts and other classrooms around the world via tools like Skype. This has amazing power to bring knowledge and other perspectives from around the world into the classroom.  In addition, virtual field trips can take students to far-away places for studying history and culture.

There are lots of Open Source Resources (OSR) on the market today to take advantage of projection displays. If your students want to make a presentation light up, there is free OSR software called MusicBeam that allows them to replicate an eye-catching laser light show using a projection display. In addition to putting some wow into a presentation, it can turn a high school band concert into a rocking good time. It can provide students who might not otherwise have the ability to participate in extracurricular activities, such as band, with a way to contribute by working with the software to create the light show.

And for rainy day indoor recesses, there is the ability to create an indoor planetarium with a free software program called Celestia. This is a free space simulation that lets users explore the universe in three dimensions.

Also, Stellarium is free open source planetarium software that shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what a student sees with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope. By using one of these software programs and pointing a projector to the ceiling, teachers can turn any classroom into a planetarium on the fly.

Adding Interactivity

Interactivity in projection displays allows teachers and students to create presentations that let the audience participate and contribute to the finished project.  Here is a video of a creative teacher doing a Harold and the Purple Crayon lesson with preschoolers.  The video is a testament to just how exciting it is for even young students to be a part of the creation process. With the addition of touch interactivity, it makes it even easier to incorporate a technology-driven lesson into the preschool curriculum and provide students with a hands-on learning experience.

Also, schools are taking interactive projection displays that offer PC-free annotation and putting them in informal learning spaces where groups of students can collaborate and annotate without the need of a computer. These are great for small group brainstorming sessions and for working through ideas in places like makerspaces.

Students Becoming Professionals

When projectors are merged together to make large scale images, the variety of things students can do with them is only stopped by their imagination.  When schools create a large interactive wall they can turn it into an end-of-year message board or collage where students can leave notes or post pictures of themselves from their years at the school.  The image can then be saved and sent out to families as a keepsake.

To build school spirit at the beginning of the school year, the school can project a large image of the school mascot on the wall and then have students trace it.  Then students can paint the image and create a mural around the mascot’s activities for the year.

Students can also work with the A/V departments at their schools to create visual displays for sporting events or virtual sets for play productions.  Each year, Pensacola Christian College’s staff and students work together to create what they call Eagle Mania.  This presentation, created with multiple projection displays, is on par—if not better than—anything you see at NBA games.

All of the skills students are learning when designing these productions are ones that will benefit them in the workforce.

Augmented Reality for the Classroom – the Next Step in Teaching and Learning

Projected augmented reality, also known as projection mapping, is a really exciting proposition for schools.  Unlike virtual reality, which is often a very singular experience, augmented reality allows many to experience the same augmented reality.  This technology is in its infancy, but over time it has the power to merge the virtual and real world to bring images to life.

Researchers, universities and companies are busy at work finding ways to bring augmented reality into the classroom.  For instance, to help students understand topography, researchers at UC Davis created the Augmented Reality Sandbox. It uses a standard short-throw projector, a 3D camera and a PC with OSR software to allow students to change the landscape to see what transpires. If you don’t have the resources to build your own, there is a map on their site that shows where Augmented Reality Sandboxes already exist.

Students with the ECHO Sandbox.

Watch for news from a company called Lightform. They are hoping to bring projection mapping to the masses with an affordable computer that includes a processor and a high-res camera. This allows the projector to map onto any surface.

Finally, laser technology opens up entire new dimensions of projection display placement flexibility, form factor, image size and image quality.  As an industry, we have just started scratching the surface of what is possible. With projection display’s compact size and extremely large images, the future of student learning looks incredibly bright.

About the Author:

Jason Meyer is the education product manager for Epson America.