An Enlightening Experience

Today’s educational facilities aren’t exactly your father’s educational facility. In fact, given the way technology has exploded in just the past decade, they’re probably not even your older brother’s educational facility. Few, if any, of today’s students are even familiar with the antiquated chalk-and-blackboard teaching technique that worked so well for scores of previous generations. Quicker than you can say “color copier,” modern technology has revolutionized the way teachers teach and students learn. VCRs, LCD projectors, overheads, CD-ROMs, PowerPoint presentations and countless other high-tech gadgets have transformed the basic educational experience into a regular multimedia production.

To varying degrees, school districts, colleges and universities worldwide are making considerable financial investments to acquire all the latest presentation equipment. In the process, they’re discovering that the rooms where these technologies are employed are just as important. Traditional classrooms, training rooms and just about any other space dedicated to the educational process must now be “public multi-media centers” that can accommodate the myriad technological advances of today’s presentations, and tomorrow’s too.

Since virtually all of the technologies sweeping through the presentation arena are visually based, an educational space needs proper lighting to be optimally effective. However, lighting is usually the one component in an educational space that’s overlooked, and often with good reason. For older facilities seeking to retrofit, the additional expense of tearing apart walls to wire a new lighting control system just isn’t warranted. In new construction, architects are reluctant to specify lighting controls that may be too technical for most people to understand and too complicated to operate.

However, just as presentation technologies themselves evolve almost every day, so too do advances in lighting controls. Recently, a solution was introduced that makes it possible to add a state-of-the-art lighting control system to the high-tech offerings in any educational space; one that is easy to install, affordable, simple to use and ready to be re-adapted and expanded as new needs arise.

Consisting of three simple components--a tabletop transmitter, a wallbox transmitter and a fixture- or junction-box mounted controller--this new lighting control system is completely wireless. Like a keyless-entry remote control for an automobile, it operates on radio frequency signals instead of wires, which dramatically reduces costs by eliminating the need to cut open walls for rewiring.

Installation merely involves replacing a conventional wall switch with the wallbox transmitter (a two-wire connection) and mounting controllers directly to the first fixture in a lighting zone or remotely on a junction box. The battery-powered tabletop transmitter can be placed on any surface or mounted to a podium, wall or other location and can be used from any area in a room. There is no need to stand in a specific area or point the controller in a certain direction.

The way the system works is just as straightforward. The zone controls on a transmitter communicate with controllers via radio frequency. In turn, the controllers regulate fluorescent dimming ballasts, incandescent or low voltage lighting loads to adjust light levels. Each pre-determined zone of light is operated separately, which means that during a PowerPoint presentation, for example, lighting over a video screen can be lowered for optimal viewing, while lighting above students can be left at a higher level for note taking. Teachers and professors have found this to be an ideal option. The transmitter’s zone controls offer four preset light levels--high, medium, low and dim--in addition to on/off and continuous raise/lower dimming for each zone.

The system can also integrate various multimedia components. Controllers can have up to five momentary dry output switch closures to raise and lower motorized window shades and projection screens to establish the perfect environment for any presentation situation. Instead of going from window to window lowering shades, to the wall switch to turn off lights and then lowering the projection screen to begin the presentation, the user can make all of these alterations from one location simply by pressing a few buttons.

By virtue of its design, the system mitigates any fears that tomorrow’s technology will render it obsolete. Each control zone on a transmitter is addressed to a controller (or controllers) in the field during installation, and can be reconfigured at any time. A zone control on a transmitter can be addressed to an unlimited number of controllers, and any one controller can have up to 16 different transmitter zones addressed to it. Addressing controls is as easy as setting up a garage-door opener, and transmitters and controllers alike can be added, moved or readdressed at any time.

For further flexibility, the system can be fitted with an RS-232 interface that allows it to integrate easily with touchscreens and newer A/V systems that operate on the same protocol. The interface gives the system the ability to control up to 10 zones, each of which can be configured as lights, a shading system or contact closure outputs, and it can provide feedback to the host device, ensuring that RF commands have been sent. The interface can be mounted to a standard 4” x 4” junction box or flush mounted on a wall. It operates from an included 9 VAC call plug transformer.

Numerous educational facilities have found the wireless lighting control system to be the perfect solution for their individual needs. In most cases, spaces such as classrooms are used by various groups of people for different purposes throughout a given day. Usually those groups of people using the same room are going to have dissimilar lighting requirements. In addition, each teacher or professor using the room is probably going to have a different level of technical expertise. The user-friendly lighting control system provides independent control, allowing each individual to arrange the lighting and operate AV components easily according to his or her specific requirements.

The controls are intuitively easy for anyone to understand and operate. Quite simply, the system allows the user to put lighting control where or when he or she wants it. Whoever is using the system is in complete control of the lighting environment and equipment. And creating the perfect visual environment in this manner helps to maximize the effectiveness of each unique presentation.

Administrators are also discovering additional, peripheral benefits associated with this new wireless lighting control system. Installing it in classrooms where all employees have access to it sends a distinct signal that the school district, is willing to invest in technology to help get the job done, and that it will do whatever it can to help foster success. Students too are often impressed at the presence of high-tech tools.

More practically, administrators give the system high marks because of its low installation costs and its ability to adapt as facilities and lighting needs change, which reduces future expenditures.

For example, one year a school might have a room that is partitioned to serve as two separate classrooms. The following year an increase in enrollment forces the need for additional teaching space so the partitions are removed and the two are transformed into one classroom. A year or two later, the trend is reversed, the partitions put back up and the classroom turned back into two. With traditional lighting, each conversion would require the expense of tearing apart walls for re-wiring.

Wireless lighting control allows the changes to be made easily and inexpensively since alterations merely require readdressing controllers and transmitters.

The RadioTouchâ„¢ Wireless Mutli-Zone Lighting Control from Lutron Electronics Co., Inc., has been winning praise since hitting the market a little over a year ago. Teachers have grown to rely on it as an essential part of their lessons and also report using it on a daily basis. Students and administrators have also given it high marks for contributing to the learning process and adding to the bottom line because of its versatility.

Today’s technology-driven presentations and communications techniques have revolutionized the way the world teaches and learns. However, technology itself isn’t enough. It’s just as important to have educational facilities that are designed to accommodate the technology. Lutron’s wireless lighting controls can help make that happen with tremendous results and minimal cost.

Jordan Hobart is Lutron's sales & marketing manager for Education Lighting Systems. For the last year he has focused exclusively on the education market.