Assistive listening technology can provide a better learning experience for all students, whether they have hearing loss or not.

Now Hear This—The Future of Classroom Audio Systems

A conversation with Tony Zeikle, Senior Vice President of Revenue at Lightspeed Technologies, Inc., in this FETC24 Takeaway

One of the biggest announcements out of FETC24 this year involved Lightspeed, the leading provider of instructional audio solutions that create equal access to learning, and their launch of Cascadia—a networked instructional audio platform that not only projects the teacher’s voice within the classroom but also empowers teachers to call for help and communicate outside of the classroom directly from their lanyard microphone.

I had a conversation with Tony Zeikle, Senior Vice President of Revenue at Lightspeed Technologies, Inc. about the features of the new product, its integration with existing school systems like phone networks and paging solutions, and its potential benefits for teachers and students, especially in light of challenges posed by the pandemic. We also touch upon the evolving landscape of educational technology, including the role of audio in augmented reality, virtual reality, and language learning. Have a listen:

More details about the launch:

Cascadia delivers all the benefits of instructional audio and integrates with existing life-safety and building communication systems, providing the ability to initiate mobile, silent emergency alerts and make two-way calls to the office from anywhere in the building.

“The need for teachers to communicate with resources outside of the classroom continues to grow, whether in an emergency or simply when help is needed,” said Shaun Fagan, Senior Vice President of Product and Lightspeed. “With Cascadia, schools can now meet this need by providing teachers with a communication tool that offers mobility, simplicity, and immediacy.”

Cascadia connects to a school’s network, providing centralized monitoring and control, along with key integrations to critical building-wide communications. The Cascadia platform provides:

  • Timely alerts from anywhere in the building
  • Communication to the office with two-way calling
  • Real-time teacher location during an active alert
  • Power over Ethernet Plus (PoE+) to leverage network infrastructure
  • Integration with classroom multimedia
  • Student sharing with Sharemike

“By integrating with leading life-safety and building communication providers, our solutions provide schools with the flexibility to leverage their existing investments and build the best systems to meet their needs,” said Fagan.

This networked communication system can enhance existing safety protocols and procedures, which is vital for students and parents. Students (87%), parents (96%), and educators (98%) all agree that school safety is extremely important to them, according to the 2022 State of School Safety Report by Safe and Sound Schools.

Below is a machine-generated transcript:

00:00:05 Speaker 1 

OK, Tony. Thanks so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it. Looking forward to off, etc in a couple weeks and I know lightspeed’s going to be down there. Maybe we could just get right into it, talk a little bit about the news and any announcements that that you guys might be promoting on the show floor. 

00:00:22 Speaker 2 

Absolutely. You know, we go to FTC every year. We love the opportunity to be able to interact with a lot of school districts and just across the entire industry of the Ed tech space. And you know, we are well respected and known for what we do in the classroom with instructional audio, putting a microphone on a teacher and providing a low volume, highly intelligible speech through speakers. 

00:00:42 Speaker 2 

So that every student in the classroom can effectively hear the instruction. 

00:00:46 Speaker 2 

The new product that we’re launching this month and it’s just gone on to our website this week is called Cascade, Cascadia and it’s an instructional networked platform. It’s our first foray into being a networked system, so that our our technology directors can have visibility into all of their instructional audio solutions. 

00:01:05 Speaker 2 

Across an entire school. 

00:01:07 Speaker 2 

And also adding some additional features. You know, the thing that we really realized was as we put microphones on, teachers and teachers are wearing a microphone, you know, both in their classroom and around the school is that that microphone can have some additional features and abilities beyond just that. We have an important piece of real estate. 

00:01:27 Speaker 2 

So to speak, by having that microphone right here at a, you know, hands distance away. 

00:01:33 Speaker 2 

For the teachers, So what we’re doing is adding some components of being able to integrate our microphone for safety and security purposes and that can be incorporating it in as a discrete silent alert that can notify the office that there’s something wrong in a classroom or somewhere else in the school. And we’re also integrating it with the school’s phone system so that the. 

00:01:55 Speaker 2 

Teacher is actually able to make a teacher initiated call to the office. 

00:02:00 Speaker 2 

Sometimes a little bit more information is required. You know with that discrete alert or something like that, and the teacher being able to have a quick conversation with the office and it could be something as minor as a student needs help in the hallway. It could be just instruction, maybe a teacher or a student’s heading to the office just so that quick information can provide a little bit more. 

00:02:20 Speaker 2 

Information for the teacher and staff to be able to communicate the thing we really realized coming out of the pandemic. 

00:02:27 Speaker 2 

Was that gone? Are the days that a teacher just walks into their classroom at the beginning of the day doesn’t interact with any other adults the rest of the day? And you know, they’re just with their students in that classroom. The dynamic has changed and teachers need support, whether it’s for behavioral purposes, whether it’s just standard communication across the school campus. 

00:02:48 Speaker 2 

And we realized that we could add some value there by adding some additional buttons and additional features onto our microphone. 

00:02:56 Speaker 1 

You know, it sounds like a pretty significant upgrade. And when you talk about significant, you’re also talking about sophisticated and and and complicated especially I guess when you’re tying in phone systems or IP based, if any of our readers or listeners here are responsible for those sort of IT systems. Can you give us some of the the? 

00:03:16 Speaker 1 

Weak speak when it comes to how those are being integrated. 

00:03:19 Speaker 2 

Yeah, absolutely. What we really desire to do is stay in our space from an instructional audio standpoint. That’s what we’re known for. That’s what we’re respected for. So we’re really staying there. But what we have done is identified that we can integrate with existing paging and intercom solutions through our network system. So that from a wireless standpoint, we use deck technology for our wireless. 

00:03:41 Speaker 2 

Transmission, but from the amp we’re now connected through the through the network and integrate with that paging system so that we’re integrating with what the school is already used to using. 

00:03:52 Speaker 2 

And being able to navigate and then those buttons can do different things based upon what the school desires it to do based upon their safety and security protocols and those kinds of things. One of the things that we really wanted to make sure that we did through this process is there can be complexity on the back end for sure, but how do we keep it simple for the teacher? How do we make it so that it’s very easy and intuitive? 

00:04:14 Speaker 2 

For them to use, you know, one of the things that we realized was when it comes to school wide communication, there’s different ways that teachers were interacting, whether it be, you know, maybe a walkie. 

00:04:24 Speaker 2 

Bucky and those are kind of bulky and they might be taking them to recess or different places across the school. They’re not very wearable, so to speak, but they serve their purpose. You think about other things that they’re using sometimes they’re using their own cell phone, which sometimes isn’t on the school’s network, isn’t a school. 

00:04:45 Speaker 2 

Piece of property. 

00:04:47 Speaker 2 

And there’s some challenges tied to apps and things like that. On their own personal device that can be challenging for a school to navigate, and then, you know, they have their phone system maybe or their, you know, in the school and it’s fixed. And it’s not a wearable technology, so to speak. So we felt like there was a little bit of a gap in terms of just communication that we can make a little bit simpler. 

00:05:07 Speaker 1 

Yeah. And you mentioned the pandemic in in some of the the changing behaviors. 

00:05:12 Speaker 1 

Is that something that that as as a company as as a technology company who’s emphasizing these technologies as being an enhancement, has there, has there been a change in terms of maybe convincing faculty members who maybe were resistant? Like why do I need a microphone? I’ve always, I’ve always taught my algebra class for for 30 years and never seem to have necessary like. 

00:05:34 Speaker 1 

And always felt awkward about. So maybe now that they’re more comfortable and see those benefits. 

00:05:39 Speaker 2 

Yeah, really kind of two purposes that the pandemic really highlighted the need for this technology. One was when teachers were wearing masks in their classroom, you know, that mask was at 10 decibel drop in their voice. And also you had the loss of the visual cues of the mouth through that mask. And so I think that necessity of audio and the challenge of communication through the pandemic. 

00:06:02 Speaker 2 

Just heightened teachers awareness of why this technology is important. One of the first responses we’ve gotten for years when teachers put a microphone on and they hear that low volume, highly intelligible speech coming through, is that they didn’t have to repeat their instructions nearly. 

00:06:17 Speaker 2 

This much students were more attentive and at the end of the day the teacher had more energy. They realized I don’t have to raise my voice all day, every day for my students to be able to hear me, you know another, you know, we talked a little bit about maybe the rise in behavioral issues in a school. You know, I I went to a lot of Superintendent conferences towards the tail end. 

00:06:37 Speaker 2 

Of the pandemic and. 

00:06:38 Speaker 2 

After the pandemic and a lot of superintendents would just say we are just seeing an A significant increase in behavioral issues tied to all of the challenges that the pandemic had for students, their home life and all the things that they were going through. And, you know, there was an increase in room clears just. 

00:06:55 Speaker 2 

You know things that are every day in a school that you know a lot of people maybe don’t hear about, but they’re the challenges that teachers are facing every day and they’re very aware of it. So increased communication across the school campus was one thing that we just wanted to really focus on. And, you know, one of the things that I’m sure that you’ve thought about too, and you’re hearing from other companies. 

00:07:16 Speaker 2 

As well. 

00:07:16 Speaker 2 

Well, is how technology needs to evolve. You know, we talked about AI and ChatGPT and how that’s being incorporated into the classroom. And there’s a lot of different things. And I think coming out of the pandemic and in the next few years, we’re gonna continue to see a lot of really innovative technologies that are going to change the way that the classroom is shaped and the way teaching and learning. 

00:07:38 Speaker 1 

Yeah, because especially we’re talking about the future of education technology conference, right. And I’m I’m looking forward to getting down there and now that we’re. 

00:07:45 Speaker 1 

Kind of finally free to a certain degree from the pandemic and kind of start to look forward on some of these technologies, the augmented reality, the virtual reality audio is a big part of all of those things, right? So I mean you can, are you anticipating other new kind of applications where? 

00:08:06 Speaker 1 

Audio will be part of that. 

00:08:09 Speaker 2 

Yeah, absolutely. You know, the other component is just making sure you have clear audio for extended learning. You know, students that are outside of the classroom. How do you make sure that audio is clear on both ends? You know, if you have a group of students that are in another classroom across the school campus or, you know, in a different part, or if you have a teacher that’s remote. 

00:08:29 Speaker 2 

How do you make sure audio is clear through that whole process and we continue to think through that and we have a lot of various innovative solutions that we provide to be able to make sure that that can happen. One of the things that. 

00:08:42 Speaker 2 

Provided during the pandemic was our T3 solution, which is basically being able to provide a student with every a microphone. Every student in the classroom, and that became really applicable for remote learning where you might have a teacher that’s remote because if a student has a question that teacher needs to be able to hear it and. 

00:09:01 Speaker 2 

Being able to interact that way and really making the classroom setting different than what it has been in the past, and I think we’ll continue to see that evolve and change. But audio is at the heart of a lot of. 

00:09:12 Speaker 1 

Things one especially too. I I’ve noticed that when you look at various AI applications, various transcription applications, I mean specifically just Microsoft Word, the character recognition. 

00:09:28 Speaker 1 

It’s kind of across the Rubicon, right? I mean, it used to be like it was pretty good, but you’d have to spend a lot of time kind of cleaning. 

00:09:36 Speaker 1 

I notice now that just I mean the the character recognition when it comes to audio transcriptions, it’s just really spectacular. But the key comes down to. 

00:09:47 Speaker 1 

The microphone and what that technology can capture, right? I mean, so that’s kind of like the the front lines of any of this stuff working at all. 

00:09:56 Speaker 2 

Yeah. And you think also even about, you know, English language learning and the way that’s evolving in in K12 right now, I think over 10% of our student population. 

00:10:05 Speaker 2 

And now is falling into that category. So how can we do translation services through that process as well? So there’s a lot of exciting things that are happening through all of that. 

00:10:17 Speaker 1 

And the one piece of the the audience here that I don’t think needs much convincing are the students themselves. 

00:10:26 Speaker 1 

Right. I mean this is just. 

00:10:27 Speaker 1 

This is the technology is not a novelty to them. I mean, of course we’re all going to be speaking into microphones. 

00:10:34 Speaker 2 

Absolutely. And you know, I think students, especially now with, you know, headphones and everything else, they’re used to a more immersive experience when it comes to audio. So how can we deliver that to them, whether they’re in the classroom, whether they’re at home or whatever medium that they’re doing in the learning environment? We need to be thoughtful of that and engage them where they are. 

00:10:53 Speaker 1 

Well, lots of exciting stuff. Uh, I look forward to seeing you in person, not just on the on the zoom platform where we can kind of go more in depth. But thanks for your time to kind of. 

00:11:04 Speaker 1 

Let our listeners and let our readers kind of know what’s on the on the forefront here when it comes to audio. 

00:11:09 Speaker 2 

Absolutely. And what you know will be on the showroom floor, but we’ll also have a demonstration room where we can show Cascadia and demonstrate it on a first hand level in an enclosed space. So we look forward to being able to meet with many people at FTC. 

00:11:23 Speaker 1 

Excellent, Tony. Thanks again. Appreciate it. 

00:11:25 Speaker 2 

Thank you. 

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