The race between flat panel displays and digital projector screens to become the leading visual display technology in classrooms has been getting heated as of late. While screens have been ahead in the battle so far, TVs and their manufacturers are putting pressure on the market. This is primarily due to what is said to be their superior interactivity features, which is a huge advantage for teachers and students alike.

First, a few words on the stakes involved.

In order to meet the demands of a changing and increasingly globalized employment and economic landscape, decision makers in K-12 schools and colleges across the country must be proactive and begin to think outside the proverbial box. One of the defining challenges of the current era is in closing the education gap that exists both within the U.S. and in relation to other countries – China, Russia, India and many European countries, for example. This gap must be closed in order for America to continue in its role as one of the world’s foremost engines of innovation and resevoirs of expertise.

The question being explored below is which platform is best suited –- TVs or screens -– towards reaching the goal of fostering more effective learning environments in schools. Better equipping teachers and students with 21st-century learning and teaching tools, and decisively closing the ominous international education gap, are vital to the continuing prosperity and economic health of the U.S.

One quick example is illustrative here. In 1969, Americans emphatically won the space race by landing a crew of astronauts upon the Moon and bringing them home safely to Earth. They did this despite having computers that were literally millions of times less powerful than one -– just one — modern smartphone. Today, such devices currently reside in over 2 billion pockets worldwide. It is said that where there is change there is opportunity. While the digital and computer revolution is still unfolding, it is high time to harness such unbelievably powerful innovations in a wise and smart manner to boost learning outcomes and enhance educational opportunities for as many people as possible.

Now onto some of the potential advantages of each platform inside the educational arena.

There are currently several factors at play, from maintenance issues, display size, adaptability, price and interoperability when it comes to deciding which platform is best suited to classrooms across the nation. The upfront investment costs of a large TV for every classroom –- which needs to be software-driven, hardware-agnostic, networkable and fully interactive to compete — are usually much higher than the same or similar set-up using screen technology. This means less affluent school districts may de facto opt for screens for their students and teachers. It is important to consider the maintenance costs, however, that come with these devices. Bulbs are long-lasting –- a few thousand hours –- but are fairly expensive to replace and thus present a concrete added cost and maintenance factor for school officials to consider.

Two issues are likely to be decisive to the issue of which platform is best suited to enriching and enhancing the school-room tech ecosystem that is emerging. These are interoperability and interactivity. When teachers get a look at what interactive, software-managed and hardware-agnostic large displays can do in their classroom –- be it enhanced collaboration, instruction and sharing possibilities –- almost all understand that the entire teaching dynamic is currently undergoing a huge shift.

The term “hardware-agnostic” refers to something that is going to become more and more important in education and elsewhere. It means any student can collaborate, share or interact with any other student or interact with the classroom display no matter what operating system their laptop or device uses, be it Windows, Android or Apple. While some school districts have already invested in cheap, internet-connected laptops for every student –- Android-powered Chromebooks being a popular choice –- others have lagged behind or prioritized other issues. This leaves the problem of interoperability still to be resolved.

To sum up, at this stage TV manufacturers have a lot of ground to cover to catch up to screen projectors in the classroom. While screens have the size and price advantage, they don’t work as well when in environments with a lot of ambient light. Flat panel displays are immune from this problem but are more expensive, at least initially.

As screen size is hugely important for large classrooms full of students sitting dozens of feet from the screen, though, once manufacturers of classroom projectors create a truly hardware-agnostic device that wirelessly connects to students’ devices in a controlled and easy manner allowing for straightforward collaboration, sharing and full interactivity, they will likely own the best solution going forward.

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