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Classroom Control Systems: Tackling the Multiple-remote Syndrome

Technologists must maintain classroom equipment that is usually not standardized. Meanwhile, school administrators are constantly fielding requests for new types of equipment. 9/20/2006 1:09 PM Eastern

Classroom Control Systems: Tackling the Multiple-remote Syndrome

Sep 20, 2006 5:09 PM, By Linda Seid Frembes




Tech System First Year Total Costs At the University of Minnesota
For a larger image, click here.

It’s bad enough that we have this problem at home—a remote for the TV, one for the DVD, and another for the stereo system. In the classroom setting, add a remote for the projector, perhaps one for the motorized screen, one or two more for the amplifier, lighting, and window shades. More and more, K-12 and higher-education facilities are turning to control systems to help tame the chaos.

“There is a lot of technology in the classroom already; at some point, it becomes a hurdle for the instructors, technologists, and administrators,” explains Mikhail “Michael” Shtyrenkov, education market manager for AMX, a control systems manufacturer based in Richardson, Texas. “For instructors, there are too many devices and remotes.”

Technologists must maintain classroom equipment that is usually not standardized. Meanwhile, school administrators are constantly fielding requests for new types of equipment. Control systems solve problems for all three groups—instructors can use a centralized point to control all devices, technologists have a standardized way to maintain those devices, and administrators can track the usage of devices and make purchasing decisions based on hard data.

Several large colleges have adopted AMX control systems, such as the University of Wisconsin, Arizona State University and the University of Minnesota. “Colleges were amassing AV systems first and then they realized that they needed a control system,” says Robert Noble, vice president of product management for AMX, explaining, in part, the popularity of control systems at the higher-education level.

For Crestron, a control systems manufacturer with headquarters in Rockleigh, N.J., the education market is growing quickly. “A large percentage of our customers are higher education but it is now trickling down to the K-12 level,” says Michael Frank, regional manager/commercial market development manager for Crestron. “More consultants are coming to us for K-12 projects because they have seen our systems work at the college level.”

The biggest reason for the slower adoption rate in K-12 is funding. Colleges have more funding options than K-12—whether via grants, endowments, or student fees. Recent cuts in state funding are putting the burden for financing AV systems onto the local cities and counties. Frank adds: “Second are activities like distance education that is happening more at the higher-education level and is driving the need for more technology in the classroom.”


Classroom Control Systems: Tackling the Multiple-remote Syndrome

Sep 20, 2006 5:09 PM, By Linda Seid Frembes




Tech System Three Year Total Costs At the University of Minnesota
For a larger image, click here.

Assessing the Benefits

While installing a control system has tangible costs such as hardware, programming of the software, and maintenance, there are tangible as well as intangible benefits over the long term. At the University of Minnesota, AMX programmers have been on campus since 1995. At that time, control systems were used to handle complex ITV rooms. Over the years, the university was slowly increasing its classroom technology.

In 2000, the University made a decision to implement a major plan to invest in classroom technology and to reap the benefits of standardization and economies of scale. $7 million was invested over five years to improve 300 centrally scheduled classrooms with technology. “We started with fewer than 25 percent of rooms with mixed technology,” says Jim Gregory, engineer and separtment manager for Classroom Technical Services in the Office of Classroom Management at the University of Minnesota. “There was an effort to standardize. Now we have 84 percent of rooms with standardized projection-capable classroom AV systems.”

To fully understand the benefits of a networked control system and the impact it has on technical support, Gregory conducted an analysis of costs on classrooms with and without control systems (see images). He compared each type of classroom at the one- and three-year mark. Costs were broken out by implementation (hardware, programming, and labor), annual repair (equipment that is actually broken), and annual assistance (costs represent the total hourly cost for technical assistance that is independent of broken equipment—i.e. instructor error). Greater up-front investment was shown to decrease long term operating costs.

General problems requiring assistance include volume control issues, a device plugged into the wrong jack, incorrect media selected, or a projector not powered up properly. “With a control system, these problems can be solved via help desk in realtime during class without having to send a tech or engineer to the room,” Gregory says. “Rooms without networked control systems are dependent upon the professor to call in any problem. Faster notification minimizes downtime in the classrooms, and maximizes return on investment.”

Gregory’s department is an internal service organization that must charge back $1.2 million of annual classroom costs. His technicians and engineers bill out at standard industry levels. Removing the need for someone to make a trip to one classroom represents a cost savings to the university, especially because there are 120 buildings on their large and sprawling campus.

Intangible benefits present themselves in the form of realtime theft reporting and tampering. Gregory noted that his department has used the networked control system to turn off all classroom electronics at 11 p.m. and to not turn on again until 7 a.m. the next day to prevent non-educational use of the systems. And since the classrooms are open for general use, there are concerns with theft and tampering. Using AMX’s MeetingManager software, Gregory created a report using data from the control system that indicates which classroom controls were accessed overnight. This data allows campus police to pay extra attention to those buildings. “We have $1,500,000 worth of projectors under protection using the networked control system,” said Gregory. “We have not lost a projector to theft since implementing the system.”


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