Why so many AV teams are collaborating with faculty in higher ed

Edtech leaders at UB Tech® 2019 in Orlando encouraged attendees to seek feedback from faculty and integrate user-friendly tech

A common theme during UB Tech® 2019’s AV integration track in Orlando revolved around supporting faculty to enhance teaching and learning.

When creating a decentralized audiovisual support system, the University of Georgia’s AV team ensured that “when teachers and students walked into classrooms, they wouldn’t hate it immediately, and they would be familiar with the technology,” said Instructional Technology Systems Professional William Lanham during his presentation.

A remote AV management system immediately alerts his team of classroom technical problems. “There are times when I show up when a room is down and the professor says, ‘I was just about to call you. How are you here already?’” Lanham joked. “We want to fix the problem before class time is wasted.”

Other topics Lanham covered included how his team developed a classroom database and authored AV standards.

A project team at the University of Maine System is collaborating with faculty throughout a multistage process to introduce active learning spaces and to integrate the Zoom web conferencing platform universitywide. 

“We engaged faculty to find out what they were trying to accomplish,” said Project Manager Karen Walsh, one of three UMaine administrators who spoke during the session.

Faculty wanted web conferencing, so the project team invited 50 instructors to rate three vendors’ solutions. “We wanted faculty to be part of the decision-making process,” said Walsh. 

The university system has assessed and updated over 500 classrooms and eight centers on seven campuses. 

During a session on voice control and artificial intelligence, Media and Control Systems Engineer Robert Kennedy of The University of Scranton in Pennsylvania lauded Alexa’s classroom control skill because the program understands “the technology vernacular of faculty.” So when instructors ask Alexa to turn on equipment, Alexa can effectively perform their requests. However, schools still purchase additional voice control commands, which can conflict with each other.

“My goal is to use every command in one skill so Alexa will know what to do,” Kennedy said. He is accomplishing this by creating a yet-to-be-completed skill that has Alexa tell a school’s processor machine what to do, rather than have Alexa perform the function. “In the processor, there are answers for every possible request that you can make, unlike in Alexa,” he said.

Attendees saw a live demonstration of Kennedy’s invention, during which he told Alexa to ask the processor to perform various tasks on three monitors. 

Another presentation addressed pursuing simplicity for faculty. Educational Technologist Jim Spencer of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana began with a look at the evolution of touch screens. When he reached the final stage of evolution—iPads—Spencer asked, “Doesn’t this design look like where we started in the first slide?” The audience acknowledged it did. “What looked plain and boring is now the future,” he continued. 

Spencer’s point: Simplification is key. “We serve students and professors,” he said. “Our user interfaces need to be easy to use and simple.” Spencer took this a step further by suggesting that higher ed eliminate interfaces entirely using, for example, motion control light setups, AI technology, sync detection and document cameras.

Tech-agnostic equipment

AV track presenters also discussed using nonproprietary technology. 

In a presentation on collaboration spaces, Extron Electronics Technical Trainer Karl Rosenberg suggested installing tech-agnostic wireless equipment to avoid a situation where a student with a PC can’t interact with a classroom’s Apple TV, for example. During another session, Rosenberg recommended steering clear of proprietary encoders for livestreaming because “all of your students will have to buy their own software and then perform software updates,” he said. 

AV Engineering Team Leader Jared Walley followed similar advice when Australia’s Deakin University moved AV teaching technology onto an enterprise network to better manage finances and an ever-growing tech fleet. His ultimate goal was to put equipment on a standardized infrastructure.

Walley shared the benefit of purchasing tech-integrated lectern desks as an example. “If the top gets messy, I can just have the manufacturer replace that part without having to purchase an entirely new desk,” he said. “Some areas I am spending on more now, but that will greatly reduce next cycle.”

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