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With school budgets slashed, teachers cut, and class sizes up, classroom overcrowding is becoming a fact of life in many parts of the nation. The growing number of students in the classroom — regardless of how focused they are — means more shuffling, more coughing, more movement, and more noise that interferes with their ability to hear and learn. 
While some money is available from the economic stimulus package designed to bolster education technology, as well as through local bonds in some states, schools have to apply those funds against a long list of needs. But while broadband connections, up-to-date computers, and e-books are necessary, a growing number of students may lose out on the most fundamental part of education—hearing and understanding the teacher.
As students in the back of class hear even less and teachers strain their voices to be heard, some educators are finally taking action by putting affordable, infrared wireless, classroom audio in the classroom.
“With larger class size and more background noise, it’s up to the teacher to project her voice to the back of class so every student can hear,” says Kelli Murphy, a high school chemistry and AP science teacher in Aliso Viejo, CA. “But unlike actors who can do a show then rest, teachers must project their voices all day long for the entire school year, which can be tiring and ineffective if the voice gives out.”
“A wireless infrared audio system now helps every student hear me clearly anywhere in class, and I no longer have to raise my voice,” says Mrs. Murphy, who uses a hands-free system by OWI Inc., a Carson, CA-based leader in advanced audio systems. “My voice stays strong till the end of the day, every day. I spend more time teaching and explaining, and less time repeating, which is especially helpful in lab work.”
Back to Basics
In good classroom acoustic environments, students with normal hearing recognize only 71 percent of the speech they hear. In poor listening environments, perception can fall to less than 30 percent.
Teachers need to be heard and understood for students to learn. How basic is that?
While many states have required classroom audio including amplification or headsets for students with hearing impairment, students with normal hearing remain unassisted. But what happens when students cannot hear the teacher clearly because they have the misfortune of sitting in the back of an overcrowded classroom?
Such students can quickly become bored or disengaged from the lesson, which reduces learning, lowers test scores, and contributes to behavior problems and the drop out rate.
To compensate for larger class sizes and more background noise, teachers must raise their voices. While this may work temporarily, it can lead to voice strain and more teacher absences to recover. One U.S. study found that teachers took an average of two sick days a year due to vocal disorders, with healthcare and replacements costing $638 million. 
More teacher absences, of course, diminishes student learning, while increasing cash-strapped schools’ outlay for substitute teachers.
Now Hear This
While educators have long heard that classroom audio can enhance instruction and reduce teacher fatigue, traditional systems have been too costly, complex, or cumbersome for widespread adoption. However, unlike previous wired systems, awkward headsets or hand-held microphones, newer, more affordable, wireless infrared systems such as OWI’s now allow more natural, hands-free speech. They do so with a clear, continuous signal, even when turning side-to-side anywhere in the classroom.
“The wireless system is so easy to use,” says Mrs. Murphy. “I just hang a pendant microphone around my neck, walk and talk in a normal voice, and every student in class can hear me through two speakers. It leaves my hands free so I can write on the whiteboard, demonstrate a lab, or operate a laptop while instructing.” 
“It doubles as audio support for classroom multi-media presentations when I put the pendant microphone by the laptop speaker,” she adds.   “If I want a private conversation with a student, I just switch it off at the pendant.”
Because the system supports two wireless inputs, it can be used for co-teaching.
“Another teacher and I use the wireless system to co-teach our Halloween lab, where we combine two classes to demo light and chemo-luminescence,” says Mrs. Murphy. “It’s a seamless presentation, where we’re both heard, and it saves the cost of doing an extra lab.”
The system is more natural, comfortable, and effective than those using a headset or hand-held microphone, according to Mrs. Murphy. “The wireless pendant microphone is so small and lightweight that I sometimes forget I have it on,” she says. “But when every student hears me clearly, it helps with attention, understanding, and classroom management. It saves my voice so I have more to give my students.” 
Classroom audio and installation such as OWI’s can be surprisingly affordable for educators, due to secure, plug-and-play design and laborsaving infrared wireless technology.
“Because it’s self-contained and there’s nothing to be hard-wired, it cuts installation time in half, compared to typical installs,” says Kevin Murphy, the audio installer from Paramount, CA-based Herzog Electric who installed Kelli Murphy’s classroom audio system. “Basically, mount the console, route the wires to the speakers and infrared device, plug in the wires, and you’re done.”
Unlike freestanding or rack-mounted systems that can be tampered with, the classroom audio system’s console is wall mounted in a secure, lockable enclosure where it won’t take up closet space and there’s no tangle of wires.
“There’s plenty of power in its 70-watt amplifier and two speakers for a big classroom like a chemistry lab,” says Mr. Murphy. “Add another two ceiling or surface mounted speakers, and you’ve got audio for a big multi-purpose room.”
“Classroom audio systems like OWI’s are an economical solution for educators who want to ensure that students can hear them clearly despite growing class size, and for educators who want to protect their voices,” he concludes.
Due to OWI’s commitment to providing easy to use, affordable classroom audio, they’ve joined forces with other leading audio-video companies to create CLASSPAC, an interactive website that makes it easy for educators and installers to design, budget, and specify the system components of their desired, plug-and-play, classroom audio-visual systems.
For more information about OWI or its products, contact OWI, Inc. 17141 Kingsview Ave., Carson, CA 90746; phone (310) 515-1900; fax (310) 515-1606; or visit the web site:

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