Rural Tennessee district finds its perfect edtech solution with ActivPanel LX

Rhea County School District Customer Story

Published: April 25th, 2024

Tucked in the rolling hills of rural, eastern Tennessee, the seven schools in Rhea County School District (RCSD) serve more than 4,000 students. A longtime Promethean partner, RCSD could only fund technology improvements when a new facility was being built due to budget limitations. “Some of the projectors and whiteboards we had in play had been here for 15 years, 20 years,” said Dallas Hicks, technology director. Many devices were beginning to fail after years of use well beyond their expected lifespan, and troubleshooting maintenance for so many different tools was an ongoing challenge.

RCSD needed a technology upgrade. “We’ve wanted panels for a long time,” said Hicks. “But financially, we just couldn’t pull it off.” Then, prior to the 2023-2024 school year, the state of Tennessee revised its education funding model, giving RCSD the chance to act on a technology plan they’d been strategizing for several years. While Hicks initially hoped to complete the project in five years, approved funding stretched the rollout over seven to 10 years.

Hicks considered several interactive displays, but the ActivPanel LX pulled ahead of the competition. The panel provided flexibility to use any computing device; an intuitive user experience; and a crisp, bright display. “There’s such a drastic difference visually in the classroom,” said Hicks. “How vivid that image is and how much it helps students learn was such a selling point for me.” He’d found the ideal classroom solution, and the affordability of the ActivPanel LX meant the project could be completed sooner than planned. “The panel came in at such a reduced cost, we’re able to push this out, we think, in two to three years,” said Hicks. “That is such a huge deal for us.”   

Adaptable edtech meets teachers where they are

Throughout the fall of 2023, the IT team, including Hicks and Michael Tipton, an instructional technology trainer, installed more than 120 ActivPanel LX interactive displays, making their hoped-for strategic design a reality. “We were excited about being able to transform our county, and it all fell into place this year,” said Tipton.

To me, the LX is the perfect panel. It just has everything you need and really nothing you don’t.

Michael Tipton

Since RCSD is a Google district with one-to-one Chromebooks, its teachers were already comfortable with the Google interface. Therefore, IT staff chose to pair EDLA-certified OPS-A computing modules with the panels, making them even more user-friendly and straightforward. “Teachers have Google stuff stored on their panels,” said Tipton. “It makes it really easy for them to use the flipcharts they want, get to Sheets, things like that.” This versatile setup allows teachers to use the edtech in ways that best suit their style and their students’ learning needs.

Second-year teacher Elizabeth Koukas is focused on creating learning materials for her 9th grade English classes and appreciates being able to choose to use devices she’s comfortable with. “The board is really simple to figure out,” she said. “Being a newer teacher, it’s really easy to just get overwhelmed with what you’re doing in the class.” Currently, she plugs her computer into the panel but anticipates adapting her system. “Whatever is on my desktop I can throw onto my board, and that works best for me,” she said. “I’m taking it slow, but as I get more familiar, I’ll probably flip to OPS-A.”

Upleveling teacher training with unified edtech

If you put an ActivPanel in a room, most teachers can function pretty well without a lot of training. They just start using it because the interface is so easy.

Michael Tipton

While teachers—even those who were apprehensive—got started quickly, Tipton is committed to helping them continue to build confidence using technology. Before the upgrade, planning district-wide professional development that applied to everyone was difficult because of the range and age of devices. Now, having a common platform has streamlined support.

Tipton and the IT team held the first full day of training shortly after the panels were installed and are also planning ongoing professional development. “When we add training, it makes them that much more at ease with all the different features and gives them another tool they can use to reach students,” he said. Going forward, he’s incorporating advanced sessions on using the panel, as well as Explain Everything and ActivInspire software.

Koukas is happy with the tools and training that the district is providing. “I ended up going to the OPS-A training and, I have to say, it was one of the most helpful professional developments I’ve had,” she said. “The Promethean presenter was super clear, and it was really interesting walking through all the tools that you can use.” No matter a teacher’s skill level or teaching experience, the strategic support makes an impact. “They prioritize our needs here,” said Koukas. “We’ve got a great administration who cares for us and is willing to get technology as soon as they can.”

Adaptability ensures longevity

Pairing the EDLA-certified OPS-A with the ActivPanel LX makes it easy for Tipton to customize software and apps with what teachers want. “Everything is starting to all work together,” Tipton said. “Promethean has always done a great job of not making it about them and making it about something that works in every classroom.” Not long after panels were in place, a high school teacher asked him if there was a way students could share their screens to the panel. He quickly installed a Chrome extension to the panel and students’ devices, and she was able to integrate screen sharing immediately. “She loves it,” he said.

As the district’s needs shift, security protocols change, and the landscape of education evolves over time, RCSD only needs to update computing modules and devices, since the panel doesn’t have a built-in, internal system. That provides the district with confidence that the ActivPanel LX will stay relevant far into the future, ensuring its investment. For teachers like Koukas, this future-proof system provides reassurance that materials they create today will be usable for many years. “I make my slides in Google, so as long as Google is around, I feel pretty secure that all of that is not going to disappear,” she said.

ActivPanel LX is engaging for teachers and students

Like her students, Koukas is a digital native. Being able to rely on the panel to do what she needs, when she needs it in the moment, keeps her focused on her students rather than having to manage technology, and keeps her students actively tuned into their lessons. Koukas regularly pulls up resources that help illustrate and clarify concepts in the literature students are studying.

“The panel is very helpful in giving a visual representation of what we’re reading in class,” she explained. “A lot of times, they’ll ask questions on the spot, and I can pull up an image to help it make sense, or a definition or video, right on the panel.”

In just the first semester of use, the ActivPanel LX has streamlined the technology ecosystem at RCSD, opening the doors for greater student engagement, teacher confidence, and simplifying the work of the IT team. The final 90 panels will be installed ahead of the 2024-2025 school year, achieving RCSD’s goal of panels in every classroom. “Overall, we’re seeing a lot of good and a lot of excitement,” said Hicks. “And, the more teachers use it, they’re starting to say ‘Wow, this is really a game changer for me.’”

Is the ActivPanel LX right for your school? Learn more and request a demo today.