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AV, IT and Learning

Networked media systems at work

Perhaps the most potent use of the AV/IT is in networked media systems for education and training.  Whether people are learning new ideas or perfecting skills, or both, the combination of an IT platform and AV-driven presentation supports an experience that is much broader and more interactive than the static desktop alone can ever be.

By using networks to make content accessible across the range of video and audio playback hardware, a media system can inspire and facilitate dialogue among teachers, trainers, students, and peers. Designed correctly, a networked media system provides a fluent and flexible set of tools that keeps interactions dynamic and adapts to changing teaching and learning styles. In some cases, the system itself may suggest and encourage new forms of presentation and interaction among teachers and students.
The following two cases studies demonstrate how networked media systems support two very different types or organizations in their management of physical space and learning goals.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ new training facility will introduce generations of skilled workers to the kind of superior experience only a well-designed AV system can provide.
Engineering that system was a challenge for Biamp Systems and integrator AVDB Group. For starters, the UBC facility is sprawling: nearly 1 million square feet spanning 22 classrooms, two reconfigurable ballrooms and a museum, plus specialized venues such as a tank for learning how to weld underwater. Roughly 1,500 people train there each month, with 2,000 possible following a recent expansion.
UBC also wanted the freedom to move AV gear and content around those spaces to accommodate a variety of training scenarios– including ones developed in the future.   
“The project requirements were to offer a system with tremendous flexibility,” said Mike Bucklin, a Biamp Systems application engineer who played a key role in the project. “They’re constantly reconfiguring those rooms, and they didn’t want the audio or video infrastructure to be set up in a way that limited how they could reconfigure things. One challenge was picking an audio networking protocol that could handle the sheer number of audio channels.”
The solution was Audio Video Bridging (AVB), paired with Biamp’s Tesira platform. For example, the two ballrooms each can be subdivided into six spaces. Every morning, they’re configured as ballrooms to support an address from the union’s leader. After that, they’re split into a dozen training rooms.
In ballroom mode, three projection screens are combined along one wall. In training room mode, the six projectors in each room can switch to support individual presentations. Either way, the projectors can be connected to lecterns that house Blu-ray players, iPods and other playback gear.
Both ballrooms have approximately 17 channels of Shure UHF-R wireless, as well as another 20 channels of digital wireless. Each ballroom has six Tesira EX-IN expander units to support the lecterns, which have two mics apiece. Analog floor boxes enable the lectern mics to connect to the system, while the EX-INs use AVB to funnel the audio back to the Tesira DSP.
The ballrooms can be set up and controlled from server rooms or any of the lecterns. Each ballroom also has multiple wall inputs that also can be used to route and mix the Tesira inputs.
The two server rooms include Crestron controllers that manage the Tesria devices. The ballrooms have six projectors each but no cameras;  AVB provides the ability to add them down the road.
The AVB-based network design also eschewed a rat’s nest of twisted pairs with a smaller, more manageable amount of Cat-5 cables. That architecture also helped achieve the goal of flexibility because it’s easier in the future to repurpose cable, for example, to change a lectern’s function.
Even so, with so much gear, channels and variables, another challenge was making everything manageable for UBC’s AV team.
“With the capacity that the AVB network provides, they have the ability to use a simple software configuration to send any audio channel anywhere,” Bucklin said. “It’s not siloed into individual ballrooms the way you might expect.”
It also helps that the UBC’s AV staff knows what they’re doing.
“They’re a pretty technology-savvy media staff,” Bucklin said. “They’re a bit more hands on than your typical media manager.”
Getting everything up and running was another challenge, such as getting all of the devices to communicate properly over the network.
“I don’t think I would have done anything differently, but I think I would have put more emphasis on coordinating the network configuration ahead of time,” Bucklin said.
In that respect, the project is yet another example of why AV pros need basic IT skills, such as the ability to set up and troubleshoot networks, or make AV peacefully piggyback on a client’s LAN.
“That’s why AV guys are becoming network configuration technicians,” Bucklin said. “If AV contractors can’t tell IT managers how it should be configured up front, then it turns into a whole lot of issues in the end. We need to be able to speak intelligently about networks and tell IT managers very clearly what our expectations are.”
The facility also could be an opportunity to set expectations among carpenters and other skilled workers when it comes to AV systems. By understanding what’s possible and preferable, those trades could be more accommodating when an AV consultant or integrator suggests moving a window and changing a wall treatment to control ambient light and echo.
“I don’t know if that would shift their view of how technology systems are implemented,” Bucklin said. “But I could certainly see them relating their experience at UBC with seeing a poor-performing system and saying, ‘I’ve seen that done much better.’” –Tim Kridel

The University of Massachusetts Amherst
The University of Massachusetts Amherst unofficially opened the doors to its Integrative Learning Center (ILC) in last fall after three years of testing at the behest of provost James Staros. The new building features classrooms that expand on traditional teaching methods by creating spaces designed around the team-based learning (TBL) paradigm. In use for most of the fall semester, the university’s IT department has now had ample opportunity to tweak, fine-tune, and target key areas for improvement.

Left: In order to help insure that the university faculty and staff are equipped to use the rooms, The Center for Teaching and Faculty development runs a boot-camp, as well as one-on-one training for instructors.

When Robert Davis, manager, UMass Information Technology Computer Classrooms department, shares his perspective on the history and future of TBL at the university, one of the first innovations he mentions is decidedly down to earth.
“One of the things we did—in response to both faculty and student needs—is [to make sure] that the tables here are completely flat,” Davis says. “We’ve taken away the center console. Faculty and students both said that it sometimes limited the ability to talk across the table, and to really feel like you’re part of a team.” They replaced all those controls with pop-ups. “If you happen to be a physics professor and want to load the table up with gear, you can push all of the laptops into the center, which allows space for other devices. We’ve also had a class that involves gaming. And this system allowed them to bring in Xbox or PS3 [devices], and use them with the video/audio system that you see here.”
Similarly, a key challenge is a familiar one: getting classes to clean up after themselves. “I know that it sounds pretty basic, but if it’s not done, it takes time out of the next class coming in. These whiteboards are more than just whiteboards. It’s not like a typical scenario, because they are also used to project things around the room. You really need a fresh start. The more freedom and options you give for using the technology, the more chance that the system is not all uniform when the next class comes in.”
Davis explains that the technology only works to its full potential when the instructors know how to deploy it. Davis remembers seeing a group of students griping outside of one of the pilot rooms, and asking them how they liked using the room. “And they said, ‘Ugh, it’s the worst room ever.’ And that perked up my ear. What the instructor was doing was lecturing at one of the whiteboards, and when one was full, they just walked to the next one, and so was not using the room at all as a TBL room as it was designed. So that was what made it so unpleasant for the students because they had to look [all around the room]. The individual wanted to teach a standard lecture course. But that was about the only issue—when they tried to use it for straight lecture. There are ways you could do a straight lecture if you used the equipment properly. That particular teaching style just wasn’t suited for that environment.”
In order to help insure that the university faculty and staff are equipped to use the rooms, The Center for Teaching and Faculty development runs a boot-camp, as well as one-on-one training. Professor TreaAndrea Russworm, PhD, has three years of experience teaching in TBL rooms, and finds that the dynamic setting vastly improves the students’ experiences because it makes them less adverse to collaboration and engagement.
–Garen S. Sahagian

As a student who attends classes in the older TBL rooms, I’m in a unique position to observe the improvements brought to the new spaces. The most immediately noticeable change is the addition of stadium-style displays mounted above the instructor’s station, which in turn draws the eye to the significant changes in the instructor’s station itself.
Matthew Misiaszek, a classroom technology manager attached to the ILC, ran me through the flashier bits of hardware debuting in the room. The various devices are deftly tucked into corners, cabinets, and cable-cubbies to save space for teachers’ equipment. The station features an iClicker base, lavaliere charging mount, WolfVision doc-cam, and portable touchscreen, all perched neatly on the edge of the desk; meanwhile, the region/code-free Oppo Blu-ray player sits comfortably in the cabinet below, joined by the wireless presentation system and Mac mini unit. It all seems pretty snazzy, but in the end, I had to ask:
Garen S. Sahagian: Is there any particular piece of hardware that stands out as exciting in the new TBL rooms?
Matthew Misiaszek: The new touchscreen. It’s got an intuitive GUI…In the test rooms it was kind of like a TV switcher, with clumped up rows. This is a lot more polished and intuitive. Everything’s easy to see.”
Misiaszek proceeded to demonstrate the exhaustive yet refreshingly intuitive functionality that the Crestron TSD-2020, a 20-inch HD V-Panel touchscreen display, had to offer. Controlling everything from the light levels to the tilt, pitch, and zoom of the Echo 360-enabled Vaddio cameras, the device provides an impressive array of options that can be adapted to a variety of teaching styles.
“Another new feature is the annotation function. Any source can be annotated via a stylus pen on the touch screen console. Anything that you write onto the touch screen is now added to any destination display you choose. You can also choose the kind of input the touch screen recognizes. You can have it respond to the stylus, your finger, or both. Since the arm of the touch screen is so articulated, you can lay it flat and write on it like a piece of paper.”
And apparently this bracingly fresh tech came at just the right time for the ILC integrators. HB Communications won the bid for the contract to integrate the ILC, and passed over several choices for the control panel, including models by HP and 3M, before finding the perfect fit.
“It’s so new, this is actually the first use of these touchscreens by this company—with this annotation feature—on the planet. I believe it was shown at InfoComm at a trade show, and it hadn’t been implemented anywhere. We were in dire need of something at the time. So, HB [Communications] works closely with Crestron, who told them that they were releasing a larger version of their touch screens with more features. And so the whole building got outfitted with these.”—Garen S. Sahagian

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