Under New Management

Technology Planning & Management’s March feature story dealt with the general set up and selection of AV, presentation, and projection systems. The IT professionals we spoke with all explained that their schools had a standard set of pieces that can usually be found in each classroom, often with add-ons when something is specifically needed depending on the purpose of the room. As technology changes, these standards will evolve too, which will require a testing period and selection process.

These standards help not only with timely maintenance, they also create a consistent experience for faculty and students. Often the only other people on campus who spend more time with a presentation system besides IT will be the professors using the equipment. When something isn’t user-friendly or intuitive, then the pieces don’t get used. This goes not only for the equipment itself, but also for the management and control hardware installed in each classroom.

One company has currently been leading the way with a new approach to AV controls — open-source software. This platform, from Utelogy, is a flexible, pure-software solution that has a scalable architecture. Users are given complete control over the configuration and customization, while new features and functions are available through software upgrades, giving an open-source platform like this an edge over traditional hardware controls.

Eric Kieselhorst, director of media services at Mount St. Mary’s College (MSMC) in Los Angeles, discussed via email MSMC’s own transition to open-source software for AV management. He explains that the benefits of a software solution over hardware “arise from the ability to add new technology, swap AV equipment without the need to call in programmers for the hardware-based control systems…. Additionally, it allows for greater flexibility when rooms are redesigned or repurposed.”

Typically, a hardware-based control system will be wall-mounted; not something easily moved. “It requires opening walls in order to install flex for new cable pulls at the new site to mount the hardware, patching, painting, reinstalling the hardware, and possibly adding power to that location,” he adds. An IP-based system, like Utelogy’s platform, goes wherever there is network connectivity. As AV and presentation technology continues to change, along with college classrooms, a software-based solution will be much more efficient.

MSMC’s own transition to a software solution went smoothly. “Essentially, it was transparent to the user,” Kieselhorst says about the software. “The user approaches the tech lectern and everything needed to control the technology in the room is on the Windows or Mac desktop.” With no controls on the walls or remotes laying around the podium, lecturing professors don’t need to disengage from their class while switching to new technology.

An added bonus is that the classroom technology can now be monitored from MSMC’s Media offices desktop.

While Kieselhorst would recommend moving to IP-based controls, he suggests evaluating the entire classroom environment from a pedagogical and user standpoint. “The best control system in the world will fail to enhance instruction if faculty find the technology confusing and non-intuitive,” he explains, “or if cables are traversing the floor in a haphazard manner, or if there are no technology standards, which forces faculty to learn a new system for each classroom they find themselves in.”

So, while the newest in AV management and controls is a software application, or “AV over IP,” even the system’s flexibility with changing and adding technology can’t make up for a classroom setup that hasn’t taken into consideration the courses that will be taught and the teachers and learners in the room.