Selection in the Standard

In order to make selection, service, and use more efficient, and easier, colleges and universities often adopt a standard classroom setup for AV, presentation, and projection systems. This means that a professor can go to any classroom or lecture hall and know what equipment will be there and how to use it. It also means that when there’s a service call, IT already knows which equipment is there and maybe even what will need replaced. These standards also make for more uniform replacements and upgrades when the time comes to move to new equipment.

Setting the Standard
Beverly Teach, manager, Learning Environments & Technology Serv, University Information Technology Services at Indiana University (IU), says they have a basic standard that can be added to depending on the needs of the classroom. “There is a basic standard configuration for all the general-purpose classrooms that are scheduled by the Office of the Registrar that can then be built upon if additional equipment/sources are needed in certain classrooms because of particular requirements.”

Classrooms at IU have a data projector (or more than one), a Windows-based PC, a laptop connection, DVD, VCR (though she notes that VCRs will be phased out), a document camera, a sound system, and a touch-panel control system. Some rooms may include a Mac and a PC, while larger rooms include wireless microphones and lecture capture systems.

Of course, as the classroom environment transitions, these systems will change. Teach explains, “Our ‘standard technology package’ will have a different look, and we need to plan for this transition in terms of the redesign of learning spaces, the integration of technology in or available from them, and the support of faculty and students using them.” Faculty at IU are looking to make classrooms more collaborative, a move seen throughout education as of late, which will include mobile devices and wireless access.

Similar to IU, Boston College initiated a standard for classroom technology with options based on the type of room. “In 2003, we initiated our Classroom Technology Standards Project. Prior to this, only the auditoriums on campus and select classrooms had technology installed in them, and various companies designed all of these rooms. No one room was the same,” explains Dave Corkum, director of Media Technology Services at Boston College.

The four basic standards cover basic classrooms, casework rooms, auditoriums, and conference/seminar rooms. All 170 classrooms on campus have installed technology, and in 2008, they began upgrading the installed technology.

“In 2011 we instituted a new technology standard for all future rooms,” adds Corkum. “The key technology being installed with our new standard includes HD projectors, Blu-ray players, and full digital input capabilities.”

Harry Miller, director of Muhlenberg College’s Office of Information Technology, explains that their standard began with the designing of the Forrest G. Moyer Academic Center in 1998. “When we finished the Moyer Center in ’99, there were 12 rooms in a very large public area — all of them had the same set of technology. All of them had a control panel made by AMX; all the panels were identical…. We called it our tech wall, and the screen and the set of equipment were housed in a wall that was built at a 45-degree angle at one of the corners.” A fixed podium in the opposite corner of the room allows instructors to easily view the screen as well as the rest of the room.

“That standard quickly perpetuated to the point where we have 75 of those rooms. There’s a short list of classrooms that do not have that kind of technology,” says Miller. “You can go anywhere on campus, and the control panel works the same way.”

So what happens when it’s time to make some changes? What is the starting point for new or additional technology? At Boston College, there are certain procedures for requesting, design, installation, and operation of the classrooms. “There is a small committee who receives requests for the installation of technology. We typically will also meet with the department requesting the installation to determine exactly what it is that they need. The committee then approves the requests, and it is given to our Project Management team who develops, plans, designs, and budgets the project,” says Corkum. After that, it is put out to bid and integrators do the installation for the College. The Classroom Support department manages and maintains the rooms as well as trains users.

Teach explains that there are always discussions at IU about what kind of technology should be in classrooms. “We have ongoing discussions with faculty, our colleagues in the teaching and learning centers, local support providers, and others who are stakeholders on what kinds of equipment/technology should be available in these spaces and how they’d like it to function.” Information Technology Services is the ultimate decision maker for what systems get purchased and installed.

Miller adds, “What IT and academic support try to do is filter out the ‘I wants’ and try to deal with the ‘I needs,’ so we can steer objectives into standards that are useful across campus.”

Try Before You Buy

Miller says that his biggest support when choosing new AV, presentation, and projection products and systems are the good relationships Muhlenberg has with integrators and box shops that are willing to do “shootouts” between products on campus. “We’ll pick based on our research, talking to other institutions, and faculty input,” he explains. “We might choose three products. We do a shootout on campus and invite people to participate in that and take that feedback to make a decision.”

Boston College also tests out new products before a campus-wide deployment. “Typically we will either purchase an item or have the manufacturer send us a demo model,” says Corkum. “We will then install it in a select room to see how it performs. We want to see how it integrates in with the exiting equipment and also how it compares to what we are already using.” Their evaluation includes feedback from the people using the technology, input from colleagues at other universities using the product, and the professional opinion of the College’s staff. “Other factors include the cost of the item and the reputation of the manufacturer. The bottom line is that we want the equipment to be reliable and enhance the overall technology in the room, as well as being easy for the faculty member to operate,” he states.

Teach describes IU’s process. “In terms of equipment, we do as much research as we can on new products, asking for demos or product we can evaluate. In terms of offering new configurations of our learning environments, we try to create an experimental, or sandbox, environment where we can explore various classroom environments and evaluate emerging technologies.”

Teach says there are a number of questions they consider in this sandbox environment: “Are these newer technologies scalable? Can we introduce them into our existing spaces and be able to provide an integrated, acceptable support level to users? How [can we] integrate mobility for the instructor (i.e., untethering them from a technology lectern so they can walk around the classroom while using and controlling the projection technology) in classrooms that are never locked in buildings that are open from early morning to late evening?”

Collaboration with other colleges is also important at IU. “Media/technology staff from all the IU campuses meet monthly via videoconference and have an annual face-to-face meeting, which allow us to share successes and solutions to problems as well as broadening the consistency of services provided throughout the University,” she explains. “Within the Big Ten, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation has peer groups on several topics, one of with is Learning Technologies. This group meets virtually and in-person several times a year.” Organizations like EDUCAUSE, ACUTA, SCUP, and CCUMC also provide more opportunity for collaboration.

Having a standard technology set up for classroom AV, projection, and presentation systems doesn’t mean an out-of-date, set-in-stone set of products. These standards offer a framework that supports easy use and integration for professors and quick, timely maintenance and repair for IT staff.

When it’s time to update that standard, whether with all new products, certain upgrades, or add-ons, the standard framework is a guideline staff, faculty, and administrators to work from. Testing and demoing products from trusted integrators, as well as collaborating with other institutions, will help in that decision process. 

Christine Beitenhaus
is an Ohio-based writer with experience in educational and architectural topics.