AV Asset Control on a University Campus, Part 1
Sep 14, 2010 12:00 PM,
With Bennett Liles
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Called “one of the rising stars of education” by U.S. News and World Report, Atlanta’s Kennesaw State University recently began an upgrade of their AV control systems to include the new Extron TouchLink touchpanel controllers. Chris Walston and Chris Lewis of the university’s multimedia development group are here to give us all the technical details on the installation.
Chris Walston and Chris Lewis, thanks for being with me here on the SVC Podcast. You’re with Kennesaw State University, the multimedia development group there. Exactly where is Kennesaw State, as if you and I didn’t know?
Chris Walston: We’re located near Atlanta, Ga., about 30 to 45 minutes northwest of Atlanta in a little town called Kennesaw. [Timestamp: 1:08]
And it’s huge; a lot going on there. Kennesaw State was named in, I think it was U.S. News and World Report as “one of the rising stars in education.”
Chris Lewis: Absolutely, yeah we are a big time up and coming university. We are the third largest school in the University of Georgia system. This semester, I believe we’ve gone above 23,000 students, so we’re growing quite rapidly here. [Timestamp: 1:32]
So what does the multimedia development group do there?
Walston: We do a little bit of everything. We do all the AV systems—the whole campus, pretty much. We do, in terms of classroom technology, we are pretty much our own inhouse design build firm. We do everything from, again, design-build—we pretty much don’t outsource or contract out anything on that aspect—we also do all event support on campus. So pretty much everything related to AV on campus, we do. [Timestamp: 2:01]
Well that sounds like a very busy job with a lot to keep track of. What type of AV control systems do you use at Kennesaw?
Lewis: We use everything from the higher-end systems like the Crestrons to Extron TouchLink touchpanels. We use all those types of systems on campus. Our standard classroom, our new standard classroom, actually uses the Extron TouchLink touchpanel systems. We really like those because it gives us a lot more flexibility with the graphical user interface so we’ll be able to deploy these across campus and basically give a lot more options to faculty, staff, and our end-users. [Timestamp: 2:40]
And I know you can do a lot with those things—especially after you’ve been to the class they have where you can learn everything you can do with it. What are you controlling with those? What sort of AV gear do you have in those classrooms?
Lewis: Well, our standard classroom would have, usually, an LCD projector or an LCD display—at least one; in many instances, we have dual or quadruple displays—it depends on the application. We have document cameras; some people refer to those as visualizers. We have a standard instructional computer laptop input, and our new model includes a Blu-ray DVD player. So we try to give our students basically anything that they would find anywhere, so whatever they can throw at us, we try to give them options to be able to project that. We have distributed audio systems, and all of our systems on campus have wireless microphones as well. [Timestamp: 3:33]
Well that’s a lot to keep up with. I know you’ve got the—as far as the visualizers, what have you got, the WolfVision I think it was?
Walston: Yes, we use WolfVision, the VZ-8Light3, it’s the current model document camera we’re using in our standard classrooms. And we also have certain rooms, like primarily our biology or chemistry labs, we’ll have the WolfVision Eye-12 ceiling light document camera installed in those. But that WolfVision is the manufacturer we have standardized on across campus. [Timestamp: 3:59]
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Yeah, I love those WolfVisions. We use those VZ-8Light units down at Clayton State, and they’re so easy to operate. I never have to have any long training sessions; everything’s pretty much “What you see is what you get.”
Kennesaw State’s come a long way. How has the class technology changed there over the last several years? Have you had a lot of new stuff going over the past couple of years?
Walston: We certainly have. We typically try to look at the design of our standard classroom every year or two and make changes, and some of the recent things we’ve done—looking at capturing a mixed audio feed from the classroom from the microphone and program audio capturing that back on the instructor machine for later upload back to the server. We’ve also recently gone to a full digital video solution for our standard classroom system. So those two are probably the biggest things. Typically in the past we’ve had—our standard classroom has revolved around an Extron MLC pushbutton controller with Crestron systems where needed, when the pushbutton controller just maybe wouldn’t handle the certain requirements of a specific system. We’ve pretty much gone to an all-touchpanel-based standard classroom now that Extron’s introduced their TouchLink model. So those are two or three biggest changes we’ve had over the past couple of years. [Timestamp: 5:16]
What were you using in there? The MLC 226 panels, the bigger ones?
Walston: Yes, we do have some MLC 104s across campus in board rooms and things like that. But for the standard classrooms, we’re using the 226s. [Timestamp: 5:28]
Yeah, I’ve got mostly the 104s on the campus down south of town from where you are. And the rooms that have any kind of DC control lights and shades, we’ve got the 226s with the light control down that middle row of buttons. Uniformity is a really good thing on campus; it makes it so much easier to train people on. So how do you handle instruction for the faculty members on the AV control systems?
Lewis: We have a couple of guys that work under this department. That’s their main mission, is to go out—they do preventive maintenance and maintenance on the classrooms—but they’re also front end support for our faculty and students. So as they are requested, they go out and train faculty, staff or students on how to use the systems. But to be honest with you, 90 percent of our faculty, staff, and students know how to use the room without any instruction, just because they’re so easy to use. [Timestamp: 6:20]
Yeah, that always makes things a lot easier on the AV folks when the people get something they can intuitively take to and not have to figure it out as they go. But I’ve always found that if anybody gets confused and they get embarrassed in front of the class because they don’t know how to work something, that embarrassment quickly turns to frustration and even anger.
Walston: Absolutely, yeah; us being a service department and we try to build these systems to mitigate that on the front end. We want our faculty, staff, and students to be comfortable with the technology. We want them to be able to focus on their content and whatever their instructional materials are. So we try to build our systems so they are intuitive, so anyone can come in and use them and get right to the meat of what the matter is as far as their lectures and seminars. We don’t want people really having to take a lot of time to learn how to use the systems. [Timestamp: 7:13]
AV Asset Control on a University Campus, Part 1
Sep 14, 2010 12:00 PM,
With Bennett Liles
So what exact model of those Extron touchpanels have you got? Have you got the ones mount flush into the wall?
Walston: Yes, we’re using the 700MVs, which will do a wall mount or a lectern mount; we’re using them in lecterns. We have a custom-built piece of furniture that we use, so we use the 700MVs, which will mount directly into that. [Timestamp: 7:33]
Did you have to go to the Extron TouchLink class or anything like that or did you figure it out all on your own?
Walston: We’ve all been to that when it came here to Atlanta last year. Every single one of us has been to the training. Some of it was just based on our experience with using level Configurator in the past with a 226—we were able to figure a lot of things out on our own. But being able to go to the class certainly helped and answered a lot of questions and filled in some gaps for—particularly with GUI Configurator. But overall the configuration software was very simple to learn and to use. [Timestamp: 8:07]
Well sometimes the faculty members may get a little spooked when they see a touchpanel. When they see something with the hard buttons, they know nothing is going to change. So do you find that some of the faculty members maybe get a little apprehensive when they saw a hard-button panel there before, and then they come in and see a touchpanel?
Lewis: To be honest, we haven’t really found that yet. We try to make sure—and Extron does a great job with the interface. So our faculty have really come a long way since we’ve been doing this for 10 years here at KSU. The interface that Extron puts out there is very similar, I feel, in relation to the 226 so they’re able to come in and just seamlessly take over and start running it—with more flexibility, frankly, than they had with the 226. So that’s what we’ve found so far. [Timestamp: 8:55]
At Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, they’re upgrading the AV control systems and installing Extron’s TouchLink touchpanel controllers…
When faculty members come in and they want to learn the system, what kind of issues do they normally have the most problems with? Is it the controller or is operating the actual equipment, like document cameras and things like that?
Walston: If you’re using the touchpanel, it very much is the GUI design. You have to keep in mind that we are higher-ed and not home theater, so keeping the GUI simple is the key thing when you’re having a lot of different faculty members coming in throughout the day, throughout week who all have different abilities and different needs being able to use this system. So that’s why, for example, a TouchLink—originally we thought we would probably do a lot of our own GUI design, but in fact, we just ended up using their templates for the most part because they were simple and they did what we needed them to do. [Timestamp: 9:39]
Really saves a lot of time. And you guys have started using the SMX series Extron switchers. How are those being used?
Walston: As we mentioned earlier, we like to revisit our standard classroom design every so often, and one of the things we’ve decided to do recently was to go all-digital video. And after looking at some of the different digital video switching products on the market, we decided to go with the Extron SMX series—mainly because of the chassis frame and the ability to swap different cards in and out. We thought it was the best solution for us now and going into the future. So we’re using those with an 8×8 HDMI card and an 8×8 audio card for right now. All the video in our standard classroom is all-digital from the source. There is actually one analog input that is a VGA input—we’ll call it a legacy input—for all our laptops that may not have a digital output, but even that input is actually being scaled up to HDMI. So that’s pretty much how we’re using them; it’s being controlled over IP through the TouchLink processor, the IPL 250. And so far they’ve worked really well, we have not had any problems with them they’ve been a breeze to set up and control, and everything is working really well with them. [Timestamp: 10:49]
All right, Chris Walston and Chris Lewis of the multimedia development group at Kennesaw State University. It’s been great having you here for part one. In part two, we’ll get into some of the more routine aspects of the job and maybe talk about some future applications like classroom capture. But I really thank you both for being here for part one.