Saved by the Bell: Classroom Audio Over IP, Part 2

At the Calvary Baptist School and Church in Conroe, Texas, they needed a way for campus-wide announcements, fire drill signals, and piped music for special events; the Barix Annuncicom and BellComman 10/21/2010 5:21 AM Eastern

Saved by the Bell: Classroom Audio Over IP, Part 2

Oct 21, 2010 9:21 AM, With Bennett Liles

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Saved by the Bell: Classroom Audio over IP, Part 1
When IT manager Jerry Boyd set up the computer network at Calvary Baptist School and Church, the school had no way to make announcements or signal the beginning of classes...

At the Calvary Baptist School and Church in Conroe, Texas, they needed a way for campus-wide announcements, fire drill signals, and piped music for special events; the Barix Annuncicom and BellCommander Software had the solution. IT manager Jerry Boyd is here to give us all the details on the installation and programming of the system.

SVC: Jerry thanks so much for being back with me for part two talking about the Barix system that you installed at the Calvary Baptist School in Conroe, Texas, where you’re the IT manager. And in part one we didn’t get too far into the control software; what was used for that and what sort of features did you like about it?
As we were doing the research on which bell system and announcement system to go with I ran across two companies. I was very interested in Barix in the hardware side, but the local sales office for Barix in this area in Texas is Acro Vista and Acro Vista also produces the BellCommander Software. BellCommander is a very easy to set up database, and it’s very simply a schedule and has selections built in to the software for the Barix equipment. You can set up the BellCommander Software to use the audio card on a PC or other devices, but the Exstreamer 100s that we use are right there on the dropdown list; it cannot be easier to make the selections. From in that software also we’re able to establish the static IP addresses. There are two places where we selected those with a browser; you can bring up the default IP address that’s assigned on the Barix device and then from that you can assign a static address to it and just tell the BellCommander Software which device that you want to use at which particular zone. You establish all of the zones and the subzones and the individual IP addresses; from that aspect we were able to set up which Exstreamers we wanted to use for elementary and which ones that we wanted to you use for high school, and then we have a third zone—the outdoor zone—for announcements and bells. [Timestamp: 2:41]

I saw some screen shots from that and it looks very simple to set up. You’ve got various modes this thing can be used in; I think they listed sound card mode, network relay, analog phone, SIP phone and so forth; you can apply it to different situations. I think you said you have several different audio zones and one building is segmented into two zones, so how did you do the more analog side of things when it gets back to amps and speakers?
The Barix Exstreamer 100 has RCA ports on the back for output, and we used the cable that was shipped with the Exstreamer to go right into the back of a small PA amp and as a matter of fact, I got the amplifiers from Radio Shack believe it or not. They had the best price and the right wattage. For most of our systems, we use 40W and 100W amplifiers, and each zone in our system has anywhere from two to four speakers. Most of them have four speakers per zone, and we use a single-channel amplifier to produce the sound. Once the sound’s decoded on the Barix device, it’s regular noise that we can begin to work with, and from the amplifier we just use a standard audio cable. For safety and durability, I used Monster cable. I didn’t want to have any issues with impedance, and I don’t have any runs in this particular design that are longer than they should be, so from the amplifier to the speakers it’s typically about a 25ft. to 35ft. run. So everything is as centrally located within each zone as it possibly can be and using just a standard PA amp. Our outdoor zone and one of our indoor zones in our main building are powered by a 250W amplifier that has multiple channels, and that allows us to set on a couple of speakers a lower volume and then on the outdoor speakers a higher volume. And then our outdoor speakers are 100W weather-resistant speakers; inside we’re using, for the most part, flush-mount 40W A-dome speakers. [Timestamp: 4:58]

OK, just regular ceiling speaker stuff?

So what extra load does the Barix gear put on the IP network? That’s something that would be sure to come up with any prospective installation.
In our case, it didn’t change a whole lot. As a matter of fact, since we designed the network at the same time, we were able to design that side of the network with that load in mind. From what I’m seeing on our server and on our throughput, it really has a low impact because the Barix equipment streams smaller packets, but it streams a little faster so I don’t see an impact at all on our system. And I think most IT managers, most network managers, are going to be pleased with this smooth throughput that Barix is going to have. The thing to consider would be that you are streaming audio, so while it’s not a huge file and it is in a streaming mode, it is going to put some load on to your network, but it’s not going to be a huge impact. [Timestamp: 6:03]

And I read about the BellCommander Paging Station software. How does that work?
We have two locations where we have licenses for the paging station, and the purpose for this, from the principal’s office, is to do announcements and to do prerecorded announcements. The prerecorded announcements we use are the pledges that we talked about earlier, and when we have events that we know about long enough in advance, we’ll do a quick announcements. I store those in MP3 format and just put those into the BellCommander System, and it incorporates those into the schedule where I’ve placed them. We can also do impromptu announcements. If a student needs to be called to the office for a particular reason, then the principal can make that announcement. We also have a paging station at the school secretary’s desk for the same purpose. [Timestamp: 6:58]

Saved by the Bell: Classroom Audio Over IP, Part 2

Oct 21, 2010 9:21 AM, With Bennett Liles

And you did the installation and all the programming? This was a completely inhouse project?
Right, one of the nice things about the Barix hardware in combination with the BellCommander Software is that there’s no code that has to be written in order to put this system into work at any point in time, so I was able to get the BellCommander database up and running within, I estimate, six hours. I had the whole system with the schedule ready to run. So not labor intensive in that regard, and I would say part of that six hours was my learning curve. The use of the database and learning to use the software was a very low curve as far as learning other software is concerned, so it was real easy to get into and get started with the BellCommander Software. The Barix equipment, it ships with a smaller user guide, and I found that the online material for Barix—they have PDF files and other materials that are readily available right from their website—made it really easy for me to understand what protocols and what functionality, what hardware that I needed in place, and then again, what software changes that I needed to make. And the configuration of the Barix devices right over the Web was so easy it just step me right through getting those set up. The lead time in setting up a Barix system is as close to zero as you can get. [Timestamp: 8:32]

  Related Links

Saved by the Bell: Classroom Audio over IP, Part 1
When IT manager Jerry Boyd set up the computer network at Calvary Baptist School and Church, the school had no way to make announcements or signal the beginning of classes...

So I guess you don’t need to have any man behind the curtain pulling levels and twisting knobs to operate the system; it’s pretty much transparent; they’re just using the familiar equipment they’re used to. Who makes all the scheduling changes?
Well I lead the administration with the illusion that there has to be 20 IT guys behind the scenes doing all this work, but in actuality, it’s just me. [Timestamp: 8:53]

Oh we won’t tell them.
The schedule changes are made by the school administrator and the school principal, and more often than not, they leave me with plenty of time to make schedule changes. [It’s] very easy in the BellCommander System to put an alternative schedule in for a particular day or for several days. You’re able to name a schedule, put all the sounds in at the particular times that you want, and then apply that as either the standard schedule, and it will run that five days a week or six or seven days a week if your application needs that; and then as you put the exception schedules in there, it just knows to run those and it runs that exception schedule instead of the standard schedule; and then there are a few occasions where they’ll come to me and say, “Oh, by the way, we have to do this at 12 o’clock,” and of course it’s 11:55, but I run down to the keyboard and do my magic and Barix does the rest of the work. [Timestamp: 9:54]

All right, well, it sounds like you didn’t have to do a whole lot of training of people or anything on this.
The only training that I’ve had to do inhouse is to demonstrate, and I do give some support for the principal of the school for doing prerecorded announcements. And in those announcements we use an audio capturing software, and then it converts it to an MP3 format for us, and of course she doesn’t need to know how to do that; all I want her to have to do is push the microphone button make the announcement. We encourage her to write those down and practice those a couple of times. When she gets it the way that she likes it, I take it and do the rest of it with it, but since she doesn’t have to do that very often I do sometimes have to reiterate the steps and walk through that with her again as we do if it’s been several weeks since she’s had to do something like that. The only other training that I had to do is I showed the principal and the secretary how to do emergency notifications and run the fire drills from the system; other than that the only other interaction that we have is the students responding to the sounds. [Timestamp: 11:03]

And you said something about this in part one, but how long did it take from the very beginning of this thing to where you are now with the installation of it?
We started the original installation two years ago, and the first installation start to finish—including the amount of time we were spending on the IT network, which that backbone had to be in place before we could implement this—the original installation only took about 4 maybe 5 weeks during the summer to accomplish. The setting up of the Barix systems and each individual zone took about 4 or 5 hours, so it’s not terribly labor intensive. But last summer we made some additions to our system and again this summer as we had some changes and some needs that we wanted to improve this system; we added the Annuncicom and the Instreamer and added one additional zone. [Timestamp: 12:03]

Fairly smooth going to be a system covering that much physical area. So how are the faculty and students responding to this? What’s their take on it?
Everybody is excited; I haven’t heard a negative comment yet. Students like to know where the boundaries are, so having the bells and knowing that they have a particular amount of time and of course being students, they want to use down to the last second. But they enjoy this system because they know exactly where they’re supposed to be at a particular point in time, and the Bell System serves as a reminder to them what that daily regimentations going to be, and we’ve also included a sound in there that lets them know that they have one minute until they’re tardy and that’s a benefit to them. Some of them do have to go from building to building and make a couple of stops and that just lets them know that they have another 60 seconds before they have to answer for any trouble. [Timestamp: 13:00]

Right and you probably got some that want to see how close they can cut it.
They do; they’ll stand by the door and wait for the extra bell. But our administrators really like this system; they like knowing that the bell is going to ring in a particular point in time and the additional notifications that we have, for example on our elementary zones. We have a few notifications toward the end of the day, and it’s not a bell; it’s a more mild tone, a chime, comes in letting the teachers know that they have about 15 minutes before they need to get the elementary students to the car line, for example. And then we have a dismissal bell, which having the additional notifications helps the teachers there and then our local fire marshal had very positive things to say about the preparation, the installation of the system, and the improvements that it’s made to our emergency drills and emergency notifications and procedures. [Timestamp: 14:00]

Well, it’s always great hearing about a system that was a good idea to start with and was properly installed and has really made a practical different in the peoples lives there. So Jerry, I appreciate your being here. Jerry Boyd with the Calvary Baptist School and Church in Conroe, Texas, and the Barix Annuncicom installation there. Thanks for giving us all the details on it.
Well thank you Bennett; I appreciate the opportunity to be on the show.

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