Higher Ed Technology

3 Ways AV Can Draw People to Campus

Schools have come a long way from the days of AV technicians pushing around carts with overhead projectors or VHS players and tube TVs. Today, the audiovisual technology supporting modern pedagogy is integrated into learning spaces. And students and faculty are more likely than ever to experience towering video walls in student centers, high-brightness projectors lighting up lecture halls, and advanced visualization systems that enable immersive, interactive learning.

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Photo Courtesy of North Carolina State University

Video wall at North Carolina State University’s Hunt Library

In fact, such technology has become an expectation. “Students come with an expectation that technology will be available to them,” said Craig Park, principal at technology consulting  rm The Sextant Group, which has worked with universities to create new audiovisual experiences. Park, who has served the Society of College and University Planning (SCUP) in various capacities, recently joined a panel at the association’s EDspaces 2019 conference titled “Integrating the Digital with the Physical to Create the Campus of the Future” and moderated by AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association.

As the panel explained, prospective students live in a tech-rich, digital world, surrounded by audiovisual experiences. Whether it’s on their smartphones, home entertainment systems, or in public spaces like shopping centers and entertainment districts, the digital lives of tomorrow’s learners lead to preconceived notions of today’s campus. Colleges and universities, therefore, are adopting AV technologies to meet expectations and attract this generation of digital natives.

For an example encompassing a range of technologies, Park pointed to North Carolina State University. “North Carolina State’s Hunt Library [with AV designed by The Sextant Group] is a good example of a university building that shows off different kinds of technology-enabled learning spaces that any department can draw from and use,” he noted. The acclaimed Hunt Library, opened in 2012 and continuously refined, includes collaboration and visualization studios, media labs, a gaming video wall and more.

Following are three ways savvy institutions are using AV technology to catch students’ attention and create the visually immersive campus of the future.

1) Making a First and Lasting Impression

AV solutions don’t only facilitate the education process. They also serve to showcase a school’s ongoing commitment to innovation, something prospective students anticipate when visiting campuses. Many of these technologies work in the background, unseen by students and instructors. Others sit front and center, forming an integral part of a class lesson or campus experience.

Breakthroughs in display technology are among the most impactful ways that colleges are demonstrating their savviness. Now broadly available, super-sized, single-panel LCD displays with high brightness and resolution as well as fine-pitch LED tiles and video walls that can produce large, bright images have become essential building blocks for learning spaces and campus-wide applications. Both technologies can be coupled with wired and wireless content-sharing software, and both are available with durable touchscreen overlays for full interactivity.

Recently, the University of Richmond finished its 56,000-square-foot, $26.5 million Queally Center, a welcome center designed to serve as a “front door” for prospective students, families and recruiters. AV experiences were central to the Queally Center’s mission and design, said Doug West, assistant vice president for Telecommunications, Media Support, User Services, and Academic Computing Services at the school.

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Photo Courtesy of Clemson University

Clemson University’s Watt Center auditorium features an interactive video wall measuring nearly 290 square feet.

“Visitors encounter video even before they enter the center, with digital signage out in front,” West explained. “AV directs them throughout the building, from the video walls and touchscreen kiosks in the front, through a hallway lined with screens, to a video wall at the end. It all leads to a conference center with 12-foot screens, short-throw projectors and supporting 82-inch displays programmed with custom content. It’s intended to be an immersive experience — and it is.”

School officials say the technology has improved the flow of people and processes, from recruiting freshmen to connecting them with prospective employers. Bringing together admissions, financial aid and career-counseling at the Queally Center and sharing AV technology assets allows the school to present a more united, cutting-edge front to students at all stages of their education.

2) Communicating Innovation

Often, when colleges design and develop signature facilities, such as North Carolina State’s Hunt Library, audiovisual technology is practically a required building material, included to help communicate the building’s and university’s mission. Clemson University’s Watt Family Innovation Center, which opened in 2016, exemplifies the school’s commitment to delivering a 21st-century education. The four-story, state-of-the-art facility garnered well-deserved attention for its devotion to interactive learning (winning a Campus Technology Innovators Award in 2016), but the unsung hero has been the AV experiences it supports.

The Watt Center was designed around and operates on a complement of nearly 200 displays, including an enormous multitouch LCD video wall, a 3D LCD video wall and 4K and full HD LCD displays. Many of these displays are interactive, equipped with multitouch technology, and offer wired and wireless access to computers, laptops, tablets and other sources. They can function as split-screen classroom whiteboards and allow wireless sharing of information, ideas and projects, as well as support digital signage, way finding, distance learning and videoconferencing.

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Photo Courtesy of Clemson University

The Watt Center’s interactive displays offer wired and wireless access to computers, laptops, tablets and other sources.

Displays are designed into nearly every level of the building, and in a wide variety of locations. For example, the first-floor lobby and atrium, which sees some 50,000 visitors per year, is equipped with five video walls of different sizes and they all showcase the display’s interactive capability in a very high-traffic environment. The second floor includes a large classroom and ad hoc spaces for student collaboration, while the Academic Resource Center features large 98-inch interactive displays showing how to use advanced instructional technology.

The third floor is the main academic area, with classrooms, workspaces and breakout rooms for student and staff collaboration. Classroom technology includes 2D and 3D video walls for advanced data visualization and geographic information system (GIS) instruction and a variety of LCD displays — both installed and on movable carts — that are wireless and touch enabled. The Watt Center’s auditorium, a 187-seat space, features an interactive video wall measuring nearly 290 square feet, used for large presentations and custom applications.

At Oregon Health and Science University’s (OHSU) Knight Cancer Institute, building designers had intended for the institute’s new 320,000-square-foot building to exploit an array of ground-floor windows to tell its story. But excessive light coming from outdoors rendered traditional signage unreadable. After evaluating display technologies at a local expo, a decision was made to install an LED video wall that wraps around an exterior-facing corner wall.

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Photo Courtesy of Oregon Health and Science University

An LED video wall wraps around an exterior-facing corner wall of Oregon Health and Science University’s Knight Cancer Institute.

“The video wall allows the institute to tell the story of the science occurring in the building and change our message as the science changes,” said Allen Tomlinson, director of Marketing and Strategic Communications at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

And in a 200-seat auditorium located on the building’s main floor, a four-screen-by-four screen LED video wall with very fine pixel pitch was installed for scientific presentations and to share data. Before upgrading to the new display technology, presenters often experienced difficulty getting rooms dark enough to show the very subtle variances that need to be emphasized, such as the delicate contrast between different cells. Now the images are sufficiently bright with accurate enough color to present under normal room lighting.

The auditorium video wall also provides the Knight Cancer Institute with a tool to engage the public. It will be used throughout the year for the institute’s busy schedule of events, including an international conference and a series of community-facing presentations called Knight School. “We’re also planning on using the video wall as a backdrop for some TED Talk-style presentations that will allow our scientists to inform the community about the work they are doing,” Tomlinson said.

3) Appealing to Gamers, Too

Perhaps the most leading-edge use of audiovisual experiences to lure tomorrow’s students is the rise of esports on college campuses. In recent years, scores of U.S. colleges have established varsity-level gaming teams and the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) was founded. Its first convention was attended by 139 colleges and universities.

As much as esports is for participants, it’s also a spectator activity, requiring a tech-enabled venue that makes watching gameplay engrossing. In 2019, Full Sail University, a media-arts college in Winter Park, FL, opened The Fortress, an 11,200-square-foot competitive gaming arena. The $6 million venue seats up to 500 spectators and is, by nature, an AV-rich facility. In addition to the gaming stations on which teams compete, fans follow the action on a 36-by-11.5-foot LED video wall, the largest of several displays. There is also an awe-inspiring circular LED display, 24 feet in circumference and arrayed in a halo above the competition dais.

“What sets this apart from both other esports venues being built on campuses and commercial esports arenas is that it’s designed to accommodate spectators and act as an educational facility,” said Bennett Newsome, Full Sail’s esports strategist. “We can support events like invitational tournaments, but it’s also a complete classroom environment.”

Indeed, the nature of today’s audiovisual technology is such that it can play multiple roles on campus. Using AV, college and university planners can create digital canvasses that support different missions — perhaps the most important of which is to connect with incoming students and the community. In addition, weaving modern AV solutions into the classroom experience exposes students to new modes of collaboration that will serve them well in the workforce.

Ron Cramer, a technology consultant at the University of Wisconsin, explained at EDspaces 2019 that feedback from alumni and local corporations about the skills students need coming out of school has influenced the application of technology. “We’re using AV technology that can help students become more effective at communicating and team building,” Cramer said. “This is the kind of environment we want to produce for them.”

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Photo Courtesy of Oregon Health and Science University

A video wall in the Knight Cancer Institute’s auditorium provides the brightness and color accuracy needed for scientific presentations.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Spaces4Learning.