How higher ed is upping its AV game
In an increasingly digital world, prospective students live immersed in audiovisual experiences. They collaborate digitally, socialize via video, and learn through interactive tools. Universities, therefore, are integrating more audiovisual technologies into campus environments to attract and engage the classes of 2024 and beyond.
“Students come with an expectation that technology will be available to them,” says Craig Park, a member of the Society of College and University Planning and a principal at education technology consulting firm The Sextant Group. “North Carolina State’s Hunt Library 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.”
The acclaimed Hunt Library, opened in 2012 and continuously refined, includes collaboration and visualization studios, media labs, a gaming video wall and more.
Ron Cramer, a technology consultant at the University of Wisconsin, says feedback from alumni and the business community about the skills students need has influenced Wisconsin’s application of technology. “We’re using AV technology that can help students become more effective at communicating and team building,” he says.
AV use on the rise
According to research by AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association, the market for AV products and services in education is growing. Analysts estimate such investment reached nearly $20 billion worldwide last year and will grow 6% annually through 2024.
In other AVIXA research examining perceptions of AV on campus, 82% of decision-makers say that it helps teachers teach; 73% say that it increases student engagement; and 61% say that AV in learning spaces helps boost collaboration.
With proper planning and coordination, universities create AV-enabled environments that engage learners, faculty and visitors.
Meeting student (and institution) expectations
But creating technology-enabled campuses requires coordination. Without representatives from the technology department involved in facility design, schools run the risk of spending on solutions that don’t meet their goals or support student engagement.
“Just a few years ago, architects would come to me and say, ‘We’re doing a capital project and I’ve got this much money for AV: What’s it really going to cost?’” explains Mark Russell, manager of learning spaces and technology services at Indiana University. “Now they’re bringing us to the table during programming and saying, ‘We’re going to embark on this project; these are the things we hope to accomplish. How much money do you need in your AV budget?’ That’s a very different conversation.”
When AV solutions support a larger university mission, the results can be exceptional. Recently, the University of Richmond finished its 56,000-square-foot, $26.5 million Queally Center, which serves as a “front door” for prospective students, families and recruiters. AV was central to the Queally Center’s mission and design, says Doug West, assistant vice president for Telecommunications, Media Support, User Services, and Academic Computing Services.
“Visitors encounter video even before they enter the center, with digital signage out in front,” West says. “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 education.
One of the most leading-edge uses of AV to attract tomorrow’s students is in support the rise of esports on campus. The National Association of Collegiate Esports was founded in 2016, and its first convention attracted 139 colleges and universities.
In 2019, Full Sail University, a media-arts college in Winter Park, Fla., 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 is that it’s designed to accommodate spectators and act as an educational facility,” says Bennett Newsome, Full Sail’s esports strategist. “We can support events like invitational tournaments, but it’s also a complete classroom environment.”
Such integration of technology—effectively injecting AV into the DNA of campus facilities—reflects how today’s students have come to assimilate digital experiences. With proper planning and coordination, universities create AV-enabled environments that engage learners, faculty and visitors.
“When we’re designing classrooms, Interiors is at the table with Technology. We can’t make decisions independent of each other,” says Russell, of Indiana University. “I don’t want to say technology is considered a utility yet, but it’s certainly moving in that direction.”
Joé Lloyd is the senior director of communications for AVIXA™, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association.