21st Century Classroom
- By Rama Ramaswami
Universities go all out to upgrade video projectors with networking,
quick-response troubleshooting, and multimedia integration.
COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES are beginning to use
projectors in innovative ways not only to enrich the classroom
experience for students, but to challenge faculty to
present information more creatively and flexibly. Technology
is essential to this process: Networking, centralized
troubleshooting, and integration with other A/V equipment
are fast becoming de rigueur on campuses. And as projector
technology becomes more sophisticated, IT departments
increasingly are becoming involved in installation
and user training, while A/V units are finding that they
need staff with advanced computer and presentation
skills as well as the ability to work closely with faculty.
At Bowdoin College, an undergraduate liberal arts institution
in Brunswick, ME, video projectors are the linchpin
of an ambitious digital experiment that began in an art history
classroom about two years ago. A plan to digitize the
art department's slide library of more than 10,000 images
started with the search for a projector that could match
colors accurately, says Ruth Bartlett, the college's educational
technology consultant. The projector also needed to
be able to show two images on a screen at the same time,
and enable them to be manipulated simultaneously and
To meet those needs, the college put together various
pieces of equipment: switches and controllers
from Crestron, a Mercury 5000
HD projector from Digital Projection, a Crestron CNX-DVP4 digital video
processor, and a series of digital amplifiers from
Headlight Audio Visual.
AT DEPAUL U, the IT
As a result
of the new system,
than 80 percent.
In addition to displaying dual images on-screen, all of
the system's output needed to be fed back into a touchscreen
with software that faculty members could control
on their own. "There's very little software available
that can manipulate two separate slide shows," says
Bartlett. The college selected Offline Image Viewer
from ArtStor, a digital library of art
images, information, and software tools designed for
educators and scholars. ArtStor contains roughly
500,000 images of art, architecture, and archaeology
from a wide range of cultures and time periods.
Through Offline Image Viewer, ArtStor images can be
downloaded for personal or shared use, as well as for
creating presentations. For example, by using the software,
an instructor can display on-screen images of a Google Earth map and the Acropolis
in Athens and zoom in on one or the other at the
same time, enhancing the content of his lecture.
According to Bartlett, the system affords the faculty
almost unlimited flexibility. Split screen, zooming, and
image stitching (by using Adobe's Photoshop image editing software) allow students to see, for
instance, both the front and back of a Roman coin, or view the
minute details of an elaborate fresco.
To help replace Bowdoin's collection of analog slides,
the International Institute for Scholarly Research and ArtStor provided digitized versions
of many of the images needed, and college staff
members scanned and managed the art department's slide
library. The college's digital asset management group has
set guidelines for scanning images so that they are consistent
in format and quality. The college has now scanned
and digitized more than 100,000 images, and eventually
hopes to store all of its video data in digital format-an
enormous undertaking that will require hundreds of terabytes
for digital, still, and video storage and retrieval, in
the view of Mitchel Davis, Bowdoin's CIO.
Although the digital library system cost "a lot more than
originally planned," says Davis, it will eventually pay off
because images are now stored and cataloged accurately
and the entire collection is searchable. "We have an allgigabit
campus," says Davis. "Users can store incredibly large
files. They can write to the hard drive on the network even
faster than writing to the hard drive on their own computers."
Still, says Bartlett, "None of these systems are troublefree.
A lot of our training came from failures that we had. All
of the vendors did a run-through of the systems with us, but
we did most of the troubleshooting ourselves." The touchscreen
setup (from Crestron) also had a learning curve, she
adds. "The touchscreen needs to be programmed, so our
engineers have had to go to the vendor to be trained." And
training the faculty to use the system is an ongoing
process, she says, although the university has "pretty much
nailed that now." Overall, the projector installation has been
so successful that it is now being duplicated in science
Davis points out that the extra training that the system
requires has boosted the IT group's capability to respond
to problems swiftly. The target response time for teachingrelated
technical problems is just five minutes, he says,
with Bowdoin's computer help desk participating in delivering
emergency service. Most classroom technology
issues are resolved in less than 10 minutes.
Projectors have become important enough to be considered
a critical part of information technology at Chicago's
DePaul University (IL), a private institution with more than
23,000 students. Recently, DePaul installed projectors with
networking capability in classrooms throughout the campus.
The university's IT department heads up the technology-intensive
The projector upgrade was designed to simplify professors'
presentations, reduce technical problems in the classroom,
and lower costs, according to Joseph Salwach,
DePaul's assistant VP for information services. "We evaluated
many different models based on network capability, size,
theft-deterrent features, and reliability," he says. The winner
was Sharp Electronics' XG-PH50X
DLP multimedia projector, which not only met all of Salwach's
criteria but also offered a built-in LAN connection that
enables administrators to spot and resolve problems quickly,
with little or no disruption of classroom presentations.
At Bowdoin, a plan to digitize the art department's slide
library of more than 10,000 images started with the
search for a projector that could meet instructors' needs.
Salwach describes the projector setup as a "node on the
network backbone." Thanks to the availability of skilled inhouse
programmers, DePaul's IT department was able to
network the projectors by writing its own programs rather
than having to use off-the-shelf software, according to
Joshua Luttig, craft leader in the university's Field Services
and Enterprise Technology department. "It's a 10/100 Ethernet
connection hard-wired to a central network," he says.
"It's a protected network segment that the student can't
disrupt from home. We have central remote control of the
projectors and a central help desk location."
The system's built-in RJ-45 LAN connection and web
server allow direct control of the networked projectors from
the desktop, which means the IT department can manage
the entire network for remote control, asset management,
and diagnostics. The system helps minimize downtime and
speeds up maintenance by self-diagnosing errors, instantly
alerting the control PC or e-mailing an error message to
a predetermined recipient list. Salwach notes that since the
new system was installed, problems with projectors have
plunged by more than 80 percent.
The projectors integrate seamlessly with other media,
notes Luttig. "All of the desktop computers in the classroom
can control the projector. You can switch interfaces from the
classroom PC, to a DVD player, to a laptop." The university
has added a custom reporting function that shows projector
usage metrics such as which units are in use and where.
According to Luttig, the equipment receives preventive maintenance
every quarter; bulb life is checked from the central
monitoring location, and bulbs are replaced when they show signs of burning out. The Sharp XGPH50X
features a dual lamp design
for redundant reliability, but in many
classrooms at DePaul, the projectors
run on a single lamp or low brightness
("eco") mode, effectively doubling
lamp life and reducing costs.
As video projectors become more
powerful teaching tools, controlling
them remotely is becoming a priority
for higher ed institutions. This is both
efficient and cost-effective, says
Romane Roach, president of Universal
a Minneseota-based value-added
reseller of audiovisual equipment.
"The help desk can pull up the status
of the projector and operate it
remotely, rather than sending a
staffer to the room to see what is
causing the issue. That saves time
and money and solves most problems
quickly with fewer man-hours
required," says Roach
Another quantifiable benefit that
networked projectors deliver is the
ability to deal with maintenance issues
before they occur, Roach adds. "For
example, for lamp hours and filter
cleaning, the preventive maintenance
schedule is proactive, decreasing
the incidence of emergency lamp
changes as an instructor is trying to
teach, and avoiding the inconvenient
on-screen error messages that interfere
with teaching. In addition, proactive
maintenance keeps the unit from
overheating and causing premature
lamp failure-a costly mistake." And,
predicts Roach, keeping up with maintenance
will be critical as video projectors
become even more high-tech
in the coming years.
-Rama Ramaswami is a New York City business and financial journalist.
Editor's note: As this issue went to press, Ruth Bartlett passed away unexpectedly at her home. We offer our sincere condolences to her family, friends, and the Bowdoin community.