GSE receives new high-tech audio systems

Deve Swaim and Nicole Rigelman unpack a new “Flexcat” audio system for their STEM classroom with Lightspeed representatives Shaun Fagan and Tom Koller. Students will research ways to use the new systems for lessons in K-12 classrooms.

As teachers learn to work with larger classes, a Tualatin company finds ways technology can lighten the load

Dean Randy Hitz announced a generous donation of five high-tech audio systems from Lightspeed Technologies in Tualatin today. The systems will be used in a dedicated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) classroom in the GSE. The four “Flexcat” systems and a “Topcat” system will be used by education students and faculty in developing new ways to use this emerging technology to improve classroom instruction.

The Topcat audio system is designed to assist teachers in communicating more easily and personally with all students in the classroom without shouting. The Topcat speaker is installed in the classroom ceiling and accessed via a wireless infrared microphone worn by the teacher on a lanyard. The system distributes the teacher’s voice clearly and evenly throughout the room no matter where s/he moves. S/he can speak to a single student or give clear instructions to the entire room with the same vocal effort. The Topcat provides a better, more personal communication experience for the students, and teachers have noted a remarkable decrease in vocal fatigue at the end of the day.

Lightspeed also donated four units of their newest technology, the “Flexcat” system. The Flexcat system consists of four or six speakers called “pods” that can be placed throughout a classroom for group work. The pods have the same audio broadcast capability of the Topcat, but they also have small microphones that enable the instructor to pick up student discussions. A teacher can check in with student progress without encroaching on or interfering with the dynamic of the group. The Flexcat system also enables two teachers to access the system at the same time. This is the first generation of the Flexcat product, which will go into broader production at a later date.

The donation is a unique opportunity for a research partnership between GSE and industry. “This will be the first time teacher education faculty can find out how these systems work in the classroom,” says Tom Koller, of Lightspeed. Faculty can help student teachers develop better ways to incorporate instructional strategies.

GTEP instructors Rigelman and Swaim are enthusiastic. “Right away, I can see that the Flexcat system will enable teachers to better differentiate instruction,” says Deve Swaim. “Teachers can make on-the-spot assessments of student learning and make immediate adjustments, if they realize students are not getting something. They won’t need to wait until papers are graded the next day.” This can be a real time saver for teachers.

“From a research side, this partnership has much potential,” says Dean Randy Hitz. He noted that working with Lightspeed could have many positive benefits: new product development ideas for Lightspeed and advances in instructional techniques for teachers. “We are already starting to work on interfaces with other devices,” said Tom Koller of Lightspeed, who anticipates integrating with other Lightspeed products, as well as mobile devices and video in the future.

Lightspeed Technologies was founded in 1990 to make aviation headsets and wireless microphones for entertainers. In 1994, they began developing audio equipment for classrooms. Their Redcat and Topcat systems have already been used successfully in many classrooms locally and across the country, helping to improve classroom communication. Their products are developed locally and much of the manufacturing is in done in Oregon.

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