Schools Using Wireless Microphones

Monday, July 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Lizette Adkisson started teaching three years ago, she had to raise her voice over the sound of the ventilation system and fidgeting fifth-graders.

Now with the help of wireless microphones, Adkisson is sure the students hear her and believes they are grasping the concepts better.

The microphones are installed in all 44 classrooms at Fenton Charter School and at least 300 schools across California. Increasingly, their use is national, as well.

``I don't have to strain my voice anymore,'' Adkisson said. ``I just speak in a normal tone and it grabs their attention. And I don't have to repeat myself as much.''

The microphones — which include lapel, collar, hand-held and headsets — are being used in Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington.

Though students have gone for decades without microphones, experts say the world is much noisier now. Ventilation systems, lawn mowers, street traffic, and overcrowded schools are just some things that have contributed to noisier classrooms.

``Teachers are blowing their voices out. They didn't do that years ago,'' said Brian Van Waay, president of TeachLogic, the company that installed Fenton's systems. ``But now, they have to talk over all this noise.''

At any given time, at least 30 percent of elementary children in regular classes have some degree of hearing impairment because of middle ear infections, said Ken Ullrich, a clinical audiologist in Wenatchee, Wash. In special education classes, it goes up to 70 percent.

``It's long overdue,'' Ullrich said. ``I know that classroom amplification will do for children's listening and learning what classroom lighting did for children's seeing.''

On one recent afternoon, Adkisson slipped the set over her head, bringing the small microphone inches in front of her mouth. She neatly tucked the black transmitter box in her dress pocket. Her voice was amplified about 15 decibels through a rectangular-shaped speaker hanging in the center of the room.

``When she gives directions, I don't have to walk up there and ask again,'' said one of her students, Reymond Maldonado, 9. ``And, I don't have to scoot up in my chair to try to hear her.''

Adkisson and many other Fenton teachers often allow their students to use the microphone when reading or asking questions during class, a practice that has proved popular.

``It encourages participation and gives them confidence,'' she said.

There seems to be evidence backing the anecdotal claims of better grades, behavior and self-esteem.

In 1977, the government funded a project that studied the effects of louder teacher voices on performances of students in grade school.

During the three-year study, scores of students in younger grades increased in listening, language and word analysis when teachers used microphones. Other amplified classrooms showed better scores on math concepts and computation.

More recent studies have also indicated improvements in speech recognition, reading comprehension and learning behaviors.

The microphone systems range in price from $700 to $1,400, depending on style and accessories. Newer systems, which use infrared lights or sensors to transmit sound rather than FM radio technology, can run up to $1,600.

William L. Rukeyser, coordinator of Learning in the Real World, a Woodland, Calif.-based group often critical of ballooning school spending, said officials should be careful when choosing technology.

``The real strength of education still lies in person-to-person contact,'' he said. ``If people think that technology is going to replace it, they may be headed down the wrong path. If they believe it will enhance it, then they may be going in the right direction.''


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