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Expert Roundtable: Trends in Education

Four industry experts weigh in on what's moving the market forward. 9/01/2008 8:00 AM Eastern

Expert Roundtable: Trends in Education

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jack Kontney

Four industry experts weigh in on what's moving the market forward.




Atlantic Technical Center features LCD video projectors and voice-lift audio systems in every classroom.

For Atlantic Technical Center in Coconut Creek, Fla., AVI-SPL designed a system that features LCD video projectors and voice-lift audio systems in every classroom.

The education market for AV installation is both segmented and expansive. In terms of needs, goals, and requirements, there are distinct differences between K-12 and higher education. Both segments are expansive in that they are seldom limited to pure AV. With the concept of student safety paramount in the minds of parents and administrators in the wake of the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University tragedies, AV contractors are also asked to integrate AV systems with life-safety and mass-notification systems.

Our roundtable discussion includes four specialists in the education market from three major integration firms: Ron Pusey is vice president of NSCA and president and CEO of Communications Specialists in Mechanicsburg, Va.; Shane Boyce, CTS, is the primary sales engineer at Atlanta Soundworks in Fayetteville, Ga.; and finally, integration giant AVI-SPL is represented by Stephenie Scanlon, president, and Joel Dougherty, southeast regional VP.

SVC: Would you characterize the education market as a growing part of your business? If so, what forces are driving that growth?

Pusey: We have experienced steady growth over the past six to eight years, but that has leveled currently. It is still growing, but certainly no way near as fast. There are, and have been, two primary growth areas: security and life safety, and multimedia.

Scanlon: Yes, it is growing. In the K-12 market, schools are under pressure to raise and/or maintain test scores to meet state and federal standards. So the use of technology, particularly interactive whiteboards and peripherals such as document cameras, are a growing product category.

Dougherty: We see tremendous growth in the higher-education marketplace as well. Traditional brick-and-mortar institutions are facing increasing competition from nontraditional online institutions, creating demand to add interactive technologies into classrooms and lecture halls. As a result, colleges and universities are making substantial investments in technology.

Boyce: Absolutely. We have experienced tremendous growth over the past couple of years that has forced us to adapt our business model. The demand for our solutions has exceeded our expectations. Referrals and recommendations from existing clients, as well as upgrading existing legacy systems, are the biggest contributing factors to our growth.




Expert Roundtable: Trends in Education

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jack Kontney

Four industry experts weigh in on what's moving the market forward.




James Madison University outdoor loudspeakers

These outdoor loudspeakers are the most visually obvious component of the mass-notification system that Communication Specialists installed at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. The system also integrates email blasts, text bursting, and outdialing to inform everyone on campus in the event of an emergency.

How would you characterize the differences between the K-12 and higher-education markets?

Scanlon: K-12 is growing in systems opportunities, but [it] is still primarily a value-added product sale environment. However, we do have markets where we do a high volume of classroom installations. Depending on the area, K-12 is a heavily bid-oriented product sales situation. Higher education is more oriented to systems-integration opportunities.

Boyce: The budget process requires that K-12 schools be savvy when investing in technology, because they have to live with their decisions for many years. This makes it more difficult for them to migrate to different technologies. Most K-12 schools purchase district-wide solutions, compared to universities that purchase AV systems based on academic departments or individual spaces.

Pusey: Method of usage is probably the biggest difference. In K-12, typically the district technologist will set the parameters — including the technology chosen, how it is installed, and how it is used for educational purposes. At the university level, these parameters are more directly controlled by the professor or department head.

In security/life safety, there's another significant difference: In universities, the students are adults and control access to their personal information, but in K-12, students don't control those decisions. Integrating email, cellphone numbers, or text access is critical to creating a successful mass-notification system — which is increasingly important in today's education environment.

Inside the classroom, what general changes have you seen in the AV integration requirements of education institutions over the past several years?

Dougherty: While traditional, localized AV systems are still common, we have seen a definite trend to more collaborative and on-demand technologies, such as streaming and archiving. These technologies require a very different approach for successful integration.

Boyce: The trend is toward visual learning. Increasingly, teachers are incorporating on-demand content, interactive whiteboards, videoconferencing, and streaming video into their lessons. To support these media in the classroom, it is important to have adequate displays and proper audio reinforcement.

Pusey: In general, the learning environment is becoming more interactive. We're seeing large-format display devices with integrated control systems, speech reinforcement, multimedia source selection, and visual delivery. Increasingly, these systems are integrated with electronic whiteboards and response-system software through laptop, desktop, and tablet computers.

What technologies are driving these changes?

Boyce: It's really driven by increases in available bandwidth. More and more, AV is becoming part of information technology, and at most educational institutions, the IT staff supports the AV systems. Video on demand, video over IP, and remote management of equipment help minimize the support requirements. Most IT directors recognize the importance of managing digital content and AV systems over the network and require that future projects incorporate these features.

Dougherty: The availability of inexpensive network bandwidth and improved QOS [quality of service] have been the most significant factors in the ability of institutions to cost-effectively and reliably deploy these new technologies.

Pusey: The typical student today is a computer gamer with an iPod in one hand and a texting phone in the other. Simply put: The learning environment needs interactive technologies — both to hold a student's attention and prepare them for adult life. We actually work with school districts that issue iPod Touch devices for each student and utilize web activities for interaction of the lesson plan.




Expert Roundtable: Trends in Education

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jack Kontney

Four industry experts weigh in on what's moving the market forward.




Which new technologies or products have you found especially applicable to leveraging your work in the education market?

Dougherty: We prefer proven, reliable technologies over the bleeding edge. Interactive whiteboards and related peripherals are very strong for the K-12 area. In many cases, the simplest solution is the most efficient and effective. We have had tremendous success with AV control panels in a custom lectern, which houses the AV equipment and instructor's computer.

Pusey: What we really provide is transport for voice, video, and data. The convergence of AV technologies onto the data network has made us adaptive to the IP world. VoIP telephony, streaming video, and IP video/security solutions are the most significant product categories.

Boyce: District-wide content management and video distribution over IP has been a key solution that we offer to the education market. Video distribution often leads to incorporating presentation systems, TV production studios, and digital archiving systems.

Let's look at some specific technologies. Have recent advances changed the nature of distance learning?

Boyce: With the increase in available bandwidth, distance learning is now a viable option for homebound students and those with careers. We can now implement Flash-based solutions that don't require any software to be loaded on the student's computer, which eliminates software-support issues. All the student needs is a standard web-based camera with a microphone. Even without a camera, chat features allow communication with the instructor, who has the ability to share documents and screenshots.

Dougherty: The term “distance learning” can mean different things to different people. That being said, the trend in today's typical distance-learning system is moving away from highly sophisticated two-way communication and toward a one-to-many streaming environment.

Pusey: Distance learning has changed. Several companies now offer low-cost videoconferencing at 30fps across 100MB connections. And because most schools are running T1 and T3 lines into every classroom or access point, we're seeing it used increasingly at the university level. In the K-12 environment, it's now much easier for a rural high school that needs to offer a course for just three students to deliver that content by connecting to another school.

How has digital signage affected the education market?

Boyce: Digital signage is an effective and efficient way to share information with students and staff, especially as part of a mass-notification system. The ability to quickly inform people of special events, schedules, procedures, and life-safety instructions is imperative. Combined with other communication techniques, digital signage streamlines the process of distributing important information.

Pusey: Certainly this technology has invaded virtually everywhere, including schools. With the cost of LCD plummeting, digital signage in common spaces, sporting areas, and high-traffic areas has now become much more popular. The software for these products has also become much more robust while becoming much easier to use.

Dougherty: We have seen only modest deployments of digital signage in the educational marketplace, but there's clearly a lot of potential there.




Expert Roundtable: Trends in Education

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jack Kontney

Four industry experts weigh in on what's moving the market forward.




Are short-throw projectors finding their way into schools?

Pusey: Absolutely. We are big advocates of this technology as it eliminates the educator's shadow at virtually all angles, allowing students to see the displayed information at virtually all times.

Boyce: Yes, advancements in short-throw projectors have created excitement in the educational market. The only reason we are not seeing more of these in the classroom is the cost difference between short-throw and traditional projectors.

Do the increased technology needs of educators require a stronger commitment to training? Is your company active in this area?

Scanlon: Yes, and to meet this requirement, we have a number of trainers on staff dedicated to training — for example, on interactive whiteboards. It's a major initiative at AVI-SPL.

Boyce: Yes. Once an educator has been teaching in the classroom for several years, it can be difficult to convince them to integrate the new technology into their existing lessons. We are committed to spending as much time as needed for the educators to feel comfortable with the new technology that we are providing, so they can effectively utilize it in the classroom.

Pusey: This is probably the single biggest issue that is missed in the whole process. For more than 10 years, we have kept full-time trainers on staff for this specific purpose. Moreover, we learned probably the hard way that these trainers must be licensed teachers. Currently, we employ a Virginia State licensed educator with 11 years of classroom experience and a strong technical background. This gives us the ability to teach a lesson plan during school hours to actual students, thus training the educator in their own classroom.

What emerging trends do you see for this market in the next few years?

Dougherty: The convergence of IT and AV technologies will continue to grow in importance. The need for a unified approach to network and AV system monitor-ing and maintenance will certainly be part of design criteria moving forward.

Boyce: I see a continuing push toward video over IP, digital-content management, and IP control of devices over networks. We have seen the demand for these solutions increase over the past few years. As schools continue to increase the bandwidth of their networks, the convergence of AV and IP will continue to infiltrate the educational market.

Pusey: I would have to say that the tremendous focus on a safe learning environment is the most significant growth market for the foreseeable future. Mass- notification systems that provide audible internal and external voice messaging coupled with email blasts, text bursts, and outdialing integrated to a single solution is without a doubt our biggest growth area in both K-12 and higher education.

How has the emergence of IP control and information technology changed your business model?

Pusey: Most significantly, we have had to redefine our staffing requirements to meet not only the physical installation and upfit requirements, but we've also had to address the software, programming, and analysis world of the non-physical installation — data collision, transport failure, network architecture, and so on. So for us, training and certification in TCP/IP, Microsoft MCSA and MCSE, and certainly Cisco CCNA are virtually a must.

Boyce: We embraced the emergence of IP control and information technology early on. We recognized that the convergence of IP and AV would be prevalent because most educational facilities rely on the IT staff to support AV systems. Continuous education for our technical staff has been key to offering IP solutions for our clients. During the initial design phase, we are able to educate clients on the added benefits of IP control and management. Having an understanding of IP control and information technology has been a great sales tool for our firm.

Dougherty: The emergence of IP control has presented us with unprecedented ability to serve our clients. We make every effort possible to establish a true partnership with our clients. By establishing this type of relationship and gaining access to their network, we can provide a multitude of services such as system monitoring, usage reports, and true help-desk support.


Jack Kontney is contributing editor, audio, for SVC and president of Kontney Communications, a content-creation and marketing firm specializing in professional audio, video, and electronics. Email him at jack@kontneycomm.com.




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