An Education in AV Technology

An Education in AV Technology

The annual Educomm conference covered podcasting, distance learning and classroom planning.
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Orlando, Florida, may be best known for its Magic Kingdom and Island of Adventure, but for three days in June it played host to another "theme park" in the form of the 2006 EduComm conference. The theme, of course, was connecting education with audiovisual and information technology. Co-located with InfoComm 2006, the world's largest AV communications and presentation technologies trade show, EduComm brought together expert educators and industry leaders to share the newest classroom technologies. More than 60 sessions offered attendees a wide variety of topics from which to choose-everything from podcasting and distance learning strategies to open-source applications and virtual microscopy.

"I'll be returning to my school with a new sense of enthusiasm for changes that I can make," noted Ed Hall, a PC support technician from Seward County Community College (Kan.).

First-time EduComm attendee Randy Malta, manager of telelearning services at St. Louis Community College (Mo.), enthused, "Best conference I've ever attended-and I've attended a lot. Almost every session was excellent!"

Cheryl Livengood, chair of the associate degree nursing department at Weatherford College (Texas), said she found "some 'outside of my box' ideas that I can use with our current system, and an introduction to a couple of new products that I want to use."

Nearly a thousand attendees took away valuable knowledge and practical advice from the sessions, while peer networking opportunities brought together educators and IT professionals from across the country and from as far away as Lebanon and New Zealand.

"It's great to see how our peers solve the same problems we have," said Philip Patton, Library and Instructional Technologies administrator at Cochise College (Ariz.).

This year, the EduComm Pavilion featured "Tomorrow's Classroom Today," an extensive display of products, services, and technologies that are helping to change the way teaching and learning take place. The exhibit, sponsored by Dell, Smart Technologies, Sonic Foundry, and Extron, gave attendees a close-up, hands-on look at the latest higher education solutions.

Now in its third year, EduComm, produced by University Business and its sister publication District Administration, has shown steady growth as a must-attend education conference. Three-quarters of those responding to a post-session survey said they had not attended EduComm previously, while nearly the same number said they would definitely be attending EduComm '07, when the conference moves to Anaheim, Calif., next June. Sixty percent of the survey respondents valued networking with their peers during the EduComm conference. Bonnie Towe, technology support specialist from Bowling Green State University (Ohio), found this feature especially useful. "It was great to hear from others about how they do the things that you are doing," she said.

Here are some highlights from the three-day event:

Keynote speaker Steve Wozniak talked to attendees about the early days of Silicon Valley startups, including his own, Apple, and the role technology has come to play in education. Woz, as he is affectionately known, co-founded Apple Computer with Steve Jobs in 1976. Knowing that the crowd was curious about his days as a digital upstart, Wozniak peppered his remarks with details about being an amateur computer engineer, first building the Cream Soda Computer with a friend (named for the beverage they drank while working), then meeting Steve Jobs.

"Someone told me about a guy who likes electronics and pranks," he said, remembering Jobs. "We met and started to size each other up. We liked talking technology, chips, and frequency counters."

By this stage in life, Wozniak was ready for new challenges. In 1972, at age 22, he drifted away from UC, Berkeley after totaling his car. "I had to pay for it," he told the audience. He took computer engineering jobs while working on side projects. He was careful to explain to a crowd of educators that he didn't "drop out." Ten years later-even though he was much wealthier and had been the subject of a Time magazine cover story-he finished his bachelor's degree. (He attended classes under the name Rocky "Raccoon" Clark.)

As a kid, he was a "book learner" who was "shy and nerdy." "Sometimes the computer is an ideal alternative environment for independent learners," he said.

His initial work with Jobs was considered more "hobby" computing than professional. Wozniak designed and built the Apple I computer-little more than a printed circuit board at that point-in 1976, and showed it off to "homebrew" computer enthusiasts. But the entrepreneurial Jobs eventually received a $50,000 order to build 50 computers. "We set up a table in Steve's garage. There was no phone there, he did business in his bedroom," Wozniak said.

Apple was on its way to becoming a bona fide computer company and one of the early champions of the "personal computer"-a low-cost item that any person could use. As the duo become famous, Wozniak came to be known as the "other Steve."

After leaving his full-time job at Apple in 1985, Wozniak became a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, and technology developer, and champion of education. "For eight years I taught students," he told the crowd at EduComm. He eventually started "teaching the teachers," who, he joked, "learn much slower than the kids."

There were other AV/IT higher ed professionals on hand at EduComm to walk attendees through the "how-tos" of purchasing and using presentation technology. Danny Johnson, IT purchasing agent for Central Florida Community College, recommended taking simple approach in his session on planning, buying, and integrating classroom technologies.

"Know your classrooms," he advised. "You don't want to dump a lot of money into something that isn't going to be used very often."

In 2001 he began researching the costs and equipment needed to upgrade the college's presentation technology. By 2004, he had opened a new building with 20 fully-integrated classrooms. Today, the community college has 153 AV-equipped classrooms. "It was quite an undertaking," he said.

Johnson came up with a three-tier plan. Some classrooms have the works, including room control systems that can monitor the equipment in use and help with remote trouble shooting. Others have interactive whiteboards and projectors. Some have even simpler setups. The average cost to outfit a room is running at about $8,000, down from $12,000 when he started the upgrades. "The prices for projectors and other equipment have come down," he explained.

He enlisted faculty opinions early in the process. Since faculty members are the people who will be using the technology, these are the people whose buy-in is paramount.

"Once you get the faculty on your side, you can bring on other committees," he observed. After sorting through what educators wanted in the classroom, Johnson turned his attention to procuring the right equipment. Research included internet searches, poring over business and professional magazines, and asking vendors for cases studies. The best approach, though, was making contacts at other schools. When it comes to purchasing, it is best to have a skeptical outlook. "The product with the lowest price might not be the best choice," he told attendees. A projector company that guarantees additional lamp life may be hiding the fact that its product "eats lamps."

"Try to stay ahead of the curve," he suggested. Knowing what other AV/IT education professionals are researching helps in the decision-making. Where are we going? Will the future be wireless in every classroom? Will professors want video on demand? Having answers to these types of questions will ensure that the right equipment-which may need to be modular or easily upgraded-gets installed in the first place.

Most manufacturers do not do direct installations, which means that resellers and integrators must do this work. "This eliminates a lot of the planning headaches," Johnson said. But while these middlemen help with the designing and planning, they are not the best for training. The vendors are best at this, he said. "Get manufacturers' representatives on campus. They can do demonstrations and answer questions," he insisted.

He urged attendees to take note of the members who embrace the training. They will eventually become the technology leaders of their departments, and will help in future adaptations and training. Eventually they become allies, helping to find specialty grants and applying for them. "This helps pay for the classrooms," he said.

"We have one state-of-the-art classroom because an educator wrote a $150,000 grant," he added.

The iPod was introduced in late 2001 as a music player. Within a few years colleges and universities were capitalizing on the potential to produce and play digital MP3 files of all kinds-lectures, foreign language lessons, even music instruction.

Georgia College & State University was one of the first higher ed institutions to use iPods for learning. "We've been doing this since 2002," Jim Wolfgang, CIO, told attendees during his session, "A pocket full of learning in an iCommunity."

"Naysayers said this would never work, that the students would use iPods for music only, and that the device was just a toy."

Four years later the university's robust program has proven them wrong. There are at last 40 iPod-related projects at GCSU, Wolfgang estimated. About 30 percent of courses are using iPods. (More information can be found at http://ipod.gcsu.edu.) Music instruction, foreign language, and education are the disciplines that have done the most with the new technology. The campus choir, for example, provides iPods and MP3 files to students so they can rehearse between formal sessions.

A project in the education department had teachers in training shadow middle school students and interview them about life and learning.

"This project was modeled after the radio program, This American Life," Wolfgang explained. GCSU called its project This Adolescent Life. Wolfgang played excerpts of interviews with students, including an interview with a student who recalled the difficulties of trying to attend class with a violent classmate.

"We are thinking of doing this as a package to help parents understand what children are going through," he said.

Getting the campus community to this stage of production and usage has taken some work. "We are not rich," Wolfgang noted. GCSU did not have an unlimited budget for this type of program. So launching it required having a good strategy. "We looked at what the needs were," he said.

His first step was issuing an RFP to the faculty. "We asked them about the challenges they would like to meet and how iPods could help." The request was answered with some specific programming ideas. One professor produced podcasts for foreign language students who traveled abroad. He knew that students who travel to other places struggle to absorb all the new information about other histories and societies. While traveling they can listen to foreign language lessons, literature, and historic information on their iPods, so lectures and tours can be used to focus on other information.

Wolfgang showed a graphic of students using iPods while touring outside the United States. One student listened to podcasts of Irish poetry while walking the Celtic countryside. "This brings relevance to what is being taught," he said.

Back at home, students listen to professors' podcasts before coming to class, so that time with other students can be spent engaged in in-depth discussion. "Students even upload podcast presentations and send them to each other before class," Wolfgang explained.

Wolfgang added that good buzz about the program helped to build excitement and encourage people to use the new technology. It helped that David Letterman learned about the program when it launched in 2002 and included some gag material and jokes about it in his Late Show monologue.

Next, Wolfgang and other IT leaders created what they call a community of iDreamers. These are the faculty and staff members who talk regularly about new capabilities and possible productions. The iThinkers group is made up of executives who are aware of the technology. Since excitement for new programs often comes from the top, it is important that this group embrace the technology. "You have to create a positive environment on campus. Someone has to carry the flag," he observed.

Lastly, GCSU has created a new kind of learning community on campus-a virtual one that allows students to bond with each other without having to live in the same residence hall. This group of students meets face-to-face every week for lunch.

Given that the program is now four years old, there are elements that are being tweaked and fine-tuned, explained Wolfgang. GCSU began its program by giving an iPod to each of the IHE's 5,000 students. But there are separate schools and courses that have also provided iPods to students, which means that some students on campus have more than one device. GCSU may switch to a model where students rent the devices are given only to students at a certain level of study.

"Classroom capture" was a session buzz topic, with presentations from vendors such as Sonic Foundry, Tegrity, and Anystream. The ability to record classroom presentations has come a long way since the days when an AV technician was required to operate the recording equipment. Now, automated systems can start and end at preset times, as well as sense the presenter's location as he or she moves through the room. Its use in distance learning was discussed, as well as its value for student review and teacher evaluation.

Presenters from Temple University (Pa.) showed how Anystream's Apreso Classroom system has made recording and distributing classroom content quick and easy, with automated delivery to the school's Blackboard system, e-mail, and FTP within one minute of end time. Technology-friendly Temple signed on as part of the Apreso pilot program two years ago and now counts on it as a widely used teaching tool, capturing nearly 1,700 hours of class material this year. In fact, Temple's Fox School of Business and Management now mandates "TUCapture," as it is known, for all classes.

Temple has surveyed more than 10,000 students from more than 120 courses regarding satisfaction, relevance, and efficacy of the capture system. The results were impressive: 80 percent believed that TUCapture improved student learning, while 70 percent said it improved classroom teaching. A third of the students said they got higher grades because of the capture system.

Go to www2.universitybusiness.com/educomm to hear replays of many of the EduComm 2006 sessions.

Toshiba's TDP-ET20 is a sleek black projector with a built-in DVD player. It features 1200 ANSI lumens, a 16:9 screen format, integrated 5.1 sound, and a short-throw distance to allow big pictures in small spaces. Suggested retail price is $1,399. Visit www.toshiba.com.

Projectors were everywhere. The EP1690 is another 16:9 screen ratio model, but it packs a powerful 2500 ANSI lumens. It offers a built in 3-watt speaker and comes with a remote control mouse with laser pointer. Optoma is suggesting a price of $1,690. Learn more at www.optomausa.com.

The PowerLite 6100i from Epson is compatible with tuners and components that transmit closed-caption content, eliminating the need for external devices. An integrated 5-watt speaker, more efficient air-filtration system, and 3500 ANSI lumens make it a nice addition to large and small venues. The suggested retail price is $3,199. Read more at www.epson.com.

When portable speakers are needed for sporting events or assemblies, the PA150 is an option. The latest in the PresentationPro line from Califone has a rechargeable 12-volt battery, 15-watts RMS of power, 16-channel selectable UHF receiver, and separate volume controls for bass and treble. Suggested retail price is $350. For more information, visit www.califone.com.

If you are using Extron's MediaLink Controllers, you can now have a Graphical User Interface (GUI) customized with your school's logo and color scheme. The web-based interface allows the user to control an AV system from a networked computer or touch-monitor, providing a secure, alternative control point to the standard push-button panel on the MediaLink unit. Pricing starts from $1,500. See more at www.extron.com.

For a nice, bright projector, check out the LX55 from Christie, which offers 5500 ANSI lumens and a 1,000:1 contrast ratio. The unit is compatible with all currently used HDTV formats and a throw ratio that ranges from 0.8:1 through 6:1, depending on the optional lens used. It also includes a wireless remote with laser pointer. Suggested retail price is $10,995. Go to www.christiedigital.com for more information.

Break free from your mouse and keyboard with Crestron's TPMC-QM series of touchpanels. In addition to controlling AV systems, the units have an embedded PC platform which allows users to surf the web and view files from Microsoft Office programs and Adobe Acrobat. They also accept HDTV signals and include MediaMarker, allowing users to draw, write, and highlight on presentations right from the touchpanel. Suggested retail prices are $12,000 for the 15-inch and $13,600 for the 17-inch (widescreen). Get all the specs at www.crestron.com.


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