Developing a Standard Design Approach
Aug 2, 2006 3:33 PM, By Linda Seid Frembes
As more colleges and universities recognize the need for AV systems in the classroom, the push to install the latest and greatest technology campus-wide can quickly become the AV staffer's nightmare. Not only is there a dizzying array of AV technologies available, but there are other factors to consider before designing and installing a classroom system. "There are strong design links between a university classroom and a corporate training facility or boardroom," says Brad Weber, founder of muse Audio Video. "If you think about it, both are trying to achieve the same goals."
Standardization of an AV design is not a new idea in the corporate world, and the education market is fast adopting this approach. According to Weber, the main benefits of standardization are twofold. First, a standard user interface (be it a control panel or the AV layout in the room) often allows for greater acceptance from the teaching staff. "A professor can walk into any classroom and know the system, regardless of which room," Weber notes.
Second, standardization of equipment means the university can keep an inventory of the same parts, as well as use group buying power to get a better discount. He adds: "It's a good idea to standardize on projectors since the biggest ongoing operating cost in an AV system is often lamps."
Perhaps the biggest question is how to determine the best standard design approach for a college or university. "It all depends on several factors," Weber says."Often, the bigger schools can get away with less AV in the rooms. Conversely, smaller schools need more automation due to the lack of available AV staff."
The standard design approach varies tremendously from school to school. Some typical factors in the decision-making include:
What is realistic to spend for a typical classroom? On different campuses, Weber has seen standard classroom systems run from $5,000 per room up to more than $50,000 per room.
In a university setting, there is probably not one typical classroom shape or use. AV staff must determine the common denominators of all classrooms, whether they are lecture halls or science labs. To help determine commonalities, Weber uses questions such as:
- Does the campus have "typical" classrooms?
- Are most classrooms on the campus the same general size and shape?
- Do they all have the same general seating arrangement?
- Can the room layout change based on the class? Or might it require several variations on the standard to address different types and sizes of classrooms?
- How much of the equipment is permanent to the room, perhaps integrated into millwork, and how much is portable?
- Are there rooms that require things such as assisted listening devices as required by the ADA?
Weber often sits down with potential users and determines functional wants and needs. An AV staff at a university may want to assemble department heads to determine what the teaching staff in each department may need. For example, in a medical school setting, color is crucial. There is a big difference if something appears pink when it is supposed to be red. Meanwhile, the math department may just need black and white with magnification. "Flexibility is key," Weber says. "A university should find a core design that can be modified for each user group"
To determine operational needs, Weber offers the following questions for AV staff and faculty to ponder:
- Who will operate the systems? Are they tech-savvy or beginners?
- Who will provide tech support? Will campus scheduling support fulfilling specific AV requests or specific rooms with AV? If not, is there staff available that can reconfigure a room based on special requests?
- Is a centralized support or help center of worthwhile value?
In general, standardization addresses many issues for large or growing campuses. However, there can be some drawbacks that must also be considered—the biggest of which is that a competitor may come up with a product that offers improved performance or lower cost. At that point, the university may be too invested in the current standard to make a switch. "There is also a chance that the manufacturer on which you standardize could go out of business, so choose your vendors and manufacturers carefully," Weber adds.
Finally, the work is not done once the standard design and AV equipment are chosen. A facet of standardization for the install and support piece should be considered to ensure that each system works in the same general fashion. For example, if there is a touchpanel is every room, then the user interface should consistently present inputs and outputs in the same place on the screen. "Adopting methods like this makes the system easier to support and keeps the teaching staff comfortable," Weber concludes