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Software-based Control Systems for the Classroom

The increasing number of AV devices in a classroom has made control systems a popular item for teachers and administrators. Control systems are used to provide multifunctional support to everything f 2/04/2009 7:00 AM Eastern

Software-based Control Systems for the Classroom

Feb 4, 2009 12:00 PM, By Linda Seid Frembes




Photo courtesy of 1UControl

Photo courtesy of 1UControl

The increasing number of AV devices in a classroom has made control systems a popular item for teachers and administrators. Control systems are used to provide multifunctional support to everything from the flatpanel display and projector to input devices such as the DVD/VCR player, streaming video from the Internet, and the document camera. 1UControl in Granger, Ind., began the development of its software-based control system nearly 10 years ago. The company's flagship product, the Virtual Remote Control Center, has been on the market for the past three years.

"Ten years ago, we saw that classrooms were moving away from centralized video systems. VHS and DVDs were becoming cheaper so schools were opting for in-classroom systems," says Kevin Cleary, president of 1UControl. "So we began the development of a software solution that can handle the needs of in-classroom AV systems."

The Virtual Remote Control Center is a software-based solution that runs on the teacher's PC. The software controls IR and RS-232C compatible equipment, allowing the teacher one-click access to the functions on each device. The control pad is a graphical interface that sits on the teacher's desktop and provides clear, consistent control while switching from one AV device to another.

1UControl's software works in conjunction with a network converter, as well as a video capture card that can tune the classroom's cable TV and record incoming cable signal. "We understand that it's important to teachers to create content," Cleary says. "Teachers can record content as it happens and save it to a digital content server. They can also capture streaming media using our streaming media decoder."

The company's streaming media decoder supports Windows Media and MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4.

"Teachers can record presentations in the classroom and create a portfolio to track students' progression through the year," Cleary says. "Teachers can also use the software to record current events and create a new lesson plan. It's a great teaching tool."

1UControl also offers administrator software, giving school administrator's a global view of all equipment installed in their school district. Using the Device Usage report, an administrator can monitor which devices are used and by how much, as well as view the power on/off status of any device. Cleary also notes that the administrator can override the classroom control for district-wide emergency broadcasts. "The emergency broadcast can turn on every projector and show a full screen of the emergency channel. If security cameras are installed, you can also pull the camera feed into the analog viewer," he says.

The same function can also be used for non-emergency situations such as district-wide morning announcements.




Software-based Control Systems for the Classroom

Feb 4, 2009 12:00 PM, By Linda Seid Frembes




Photo courtesy of 1UControl

Photo courtesy of 1UControl

For classrooms that are adding new equipment, 1UControl has a built-in IR learner. "We designed it so that a user can program a new button. If it's a new VCR, for example, you can take the remote for the device, point it at the plug-in learning unit, and the system learns the IR code," Cleary says. "It really is easy for a teacher to program their own buttons."

For district-wide equipment installations, the software's IR control database also simplifies the process. The code is added at the administrator level and is pushed out to every classroom, eliminating the need for individual programming at the classroom level. The administrator can also set the design and function of the new device's controls.

1UControl's newest feature set is what Cleary calls the Whiteboard Feature, which is available in software versions 2.0.7 and above. This new feature allows the teacher to display a control interface on a whiteboard or tablet PC. The buttons displayed on the whiteboard can be programmed similar to the desktop control pad, or they can include macros that support common actions such as switching from one device to another.

Another unique feature is Minimal Mode. "You can shrink the remote down to the size of a calculator, but it is always available on your desktop," Cleary says. The Virtual Remote Control Center is sizeable in minimal mode, and the preferences can be set so that the PC starts up in minimal mode.

Users can also create a profile for individual rooms that contains preferences for the equipment in that room. This feature, best suited for traveling teachers, makes it easy to work in various classrooms throughout the day without the need to reprogram control buttons.

Cleary says that the strategy for product features and pricing is giving anyone control. "Schools can purchase it at an affordable price point," he says.

Users who are interested in trying 1UControls's Virtual Remote Control Center can download a 10-day trial from the company's website.




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