21st Century Classroom

Behind the Scenes

Behind the ScenesThe best teaching and learning technology can fall short if supporting furniture, fixtures, or mounts aren't helping it do its job well. Plan ahead, scan the market, and choose the products that will make your smart classroom soar.

BY NOW, THE VALUE OF INTELLIGENT or "smart" classrooms is unquestionable—a winning blend of form and function in these facilities makes the educational interchange easier for teachers and students alike. Most technologists and administrators have developed solid processes and protocols for locating, evaluating, and purchasing the most appropriate technology products for the classroom. Finding the right furniture and fixtures, however, can be tricky; options can be limited, and the right vendors can be hard to track down if you're not familiar with this market. The worldwide audiovisual association InfoComm International offers an extensive database of vendors in various market categories, but even wading into all that help can be a bit overwhelming the first time out.

Having said all that, a straw poll at the Campus Technology 2007 conference this past summer in Washington, DC, indicated that—obstacles aside—a large number of higher education technologists see the choice of furniture and fixtures as one of the most important decisions in planning a 21st century classroom (see "The Plan's the Thing"). With this in mind, we've selected 14 of 2007's best furnishing products, to get you started on your quest to find the items that will truly support your intelligent classroom technology choices.

Tables & Desks

Bretford's Mobile TablesFlexibility is the name of the game when it comes to tables and desks, and Here Mobile Tables from Bretford certainly fit this bill. All tables come with twin-wheel casters that enable educators to move them at will. Grommets alongside table legs keep cords from getting in the way. The tables also feature clips for "ganging," or connecting multiple tables together. An optional tool, the Ganging Gere, even allows for easy, one-handed connections. Tables vary in length from 48 to 72 inches; the Here line also offers whiteboards (not electronic) and workspace dividers. All Bretford products are available through Herman Miller, maker of the legendary Aeron chair. Priced from $916 to $1,024, depending on size.

Spectrum's Evolution Series Flat-Panel Monitor DeskThe Evolution Series Flat-Panel Monitor Desk from Spectrum Industries boasts a lockable monitor storage compartment that slides up and down upon demand. During lecture and study, students keep this hidden cubby down, leaving a clear work surface with plenty of room for notepads and books. When it's time to use the computer, a tug on the hidden handle reveals the monitor compartment and the monitor itself. A removable rear security panel protects the backs of the CPU and monitor from theft or vandalism. The compartment also has pipes for cable storage. Price: $1,499.

Business schools in particular rave about the IVT-C Info-Sharing System from In View Furniture, a fully integrated, 120-inch-long conference table and matching credenza with a motorized screen. Together, these pieces of furniture form a powerful, self-contained presentation system for any environment—from boardrooms to training centers. The basic table comes with an internal equipment elevator and four laptop connector plates. The matching credenza includes a motor and connector plates, too. Because the table's top is removable and the table itself is on wheels, the system is ideally suited for locations where running new cabling in existing walls is prohibitive. Contact manufacturer for pricing.

Marshall's ELCO SCM 250 Teachers' WorkstationFor teachers, the ELCO SCM 250 Teachers' Workstation from Marshall Furniture mixes form and function into one useful desk. From the outside, the desk resembles a storage locker. Inside, however, the melamine furniture has a specially constructed storage area for a CPU tower, as well as adjustable shelving, locking doors, and floor and top vents so that computers don't overheat. The table also features four 3-inch, multi-surface caster wheels—a critical element to ensure that educators can effortlessly move the piece around. Four outside handles make guiding the workstation even easier. Contact manufacturer for pricing.

The Exact Furniture Instructors Station from Exact Furniture is a multimedia podium with a large work surface and multiple storage compartments. The 45-inch-tall product features a privacy shield to keep students from peeking at teacher paperwork, locking storage compartment, well for cables, dual AC outlet, and heavy-duty caster wheels. It also contains a split lower compartment with 12 rack rails on one side and CPU storage on the other. Optional add-ons such as speakers, amplifiers, and a digital clock are available, too. The table is available in light wood grain with a black plastic top. Contact manufacturer for pricing.

Lecterns

KI's Wharton LecternRepresentatives from KI recently teamed with professors and technologists from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business to develop a standalone, height-adjustable lectern. Dubbed the Wharton Lectern, the podium can be adjusted from 37.5 inches to 47 inches high. The product boasts reading lights, swing-out beverage holders, and a gooseneck microphone. It also incorporates two power outlets and a pullout keyboard tray with right- and left-handed mouse pads. An optional touchscreen monitor from Crestron Electronics controls presentation technology and the room environment, including lights, temperature, and more. If speakers prefer, they can use their own laptops. Pricing starts at $8,999.

Miller's Millworks' Multimedia CartNo two lecterns are alike at Miller's Millworks, where a handcrafted, all-wood product line includes the Multimedia Cart, custom-built for every customer. Generally, the products stand at least 45 inches tall, and incorporate multiple interior racks for laptops, VCRs, and other audiovisual equipment. There's a flip-up convenience shelf on one side, and the working surface can be customized to fit computer monitors. The cart also can be outfitted with smooth-rolling casters, reading lights, power strips, or Ethernet ports. Greg Lund, the company's vice president, says the products are designed to be plug-and-play for instructors who are on the go. Contact manufacturer for pricing.

Sound-Craft Systems' CamberlinThe 48-inch-tall Camberlin lectern from Sound-Craft Systems is as functional as it is attractive. The podium boasts a removable reading surface, front access panel, and doors to allow quick and easy access to components and cabling. Options include a cooling fan, keyboard drawer, and folding document camera shelf. The podium itself is constructed of MDF and plywood, and all joints are glued and secured with wood screws instead of staples or T-nails. The work surfaces and shelves are covered in Nevamar laminate, a scratch-resistant covering designed to last decades. Ten standard wood veneer finishes are available. Pricing starts at $2,499.

THE PLAN'S THE THING

The best smart classroom plans tackle technology and furniture together, so one isn't retrofitting the other.

THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP in planning a 21st century classroom is the plan itself— right down to the furniture plan. Experts say it's vital to outline goals for the project, and list objectives succinctly. The resulting statement of purpose should serve as a sort of mantra employees can use to justify every expenditure and decision down the road.

Behind the ScenesThis is precisely what happened at San Jose State University (CA) in 2004 when Mary Jo Gorney-Moreno, associate VP of academic technology, sat down with other campus technologists to plan 23 smart classrooms in the Academic Success Center that opened earlier this year.

Teams of faculty, administrators, staff, and students met over the course of a few weeks to come up with a series of objectives for the new facility: a) inspire students to strive for academic success, b) increase student time spent on campus, and c) create a new kind of learning space to foster teaching and learning, collaboration, communication, and the creation of digital media.

To this list were added other basic goals, which included providing constituents with high-end hardware and software, and developing a space with a "wow" factor that incorporates elements of the Apple store and other popular brands. Gorney-Moreno says that while many of these ideas were vague, they did give constituents an idea of what types of technology and furniture were needed.

"We were able to get a sense of the kind of classrooms and facility we wanted," she says, looking back. "Before we even started thinking about specific capabilities, focusing on what we wanted from these improvements helped us get our priorities in order."

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Forbes-AV's Deluxe Multimedia ConsoleAnother lectern, this one from Forbes-AV, offers its own bells and whistles. The mostly wooden Deluxe Multimedia Console stands 47.5 inches tall and has cutouts for monitor and control panels. It also features a pullout drawer to accommodate a document camera, drawer for a keyboard and mouse, digital clock with a countdown timer, dual-intensity reading light, and pocket doors. The interior is divided into two sections: equipment racks in the right compartment, and a storage area in the left. The console is available in nine standard finishes, with solid wood fluted columns and a skirted base. Contact manufacturer for pricing.

THE PLAN'S THE THING

Once campus technologists formed this plan, they turned their attention to the other two decisions: technology and furniture. Menko Johnson, instructional technologist at the Academic Success Center, maintains that the best smart classroom plans tackle technology and furniture together, so one isn't retrofitting the other in any way. For SJSU, this meant focusing on the overarching goal of enabling students to work together effortlessly and comfortably. So on the technology side, the school built out a wireless network and put Ethernet ports into the floor. On the furniture side, groups of administrators, staff members, and students went with three different types of chairs and two different types of tables from Herman Miller.

All of these items are rollable, enabling users to maximize flexibility throughout the building. One class may have the desks together in a circle; the next class may have them in lines and rows. Whatever the design, Johnson notes that the Herman Miller tables are wider than ordinary tables—something for which project planners strived.

"Students are tired of those tiny desks," says Johnson, who adds that the university paid nearly $140,000 for the equipment overall. "We wanted a place that would make them feel perfectly comfortable; a place where the furniture enabled them to use the technology however they wanted to use it." Johnson adds that because most of the furniture in the new facility is also new, many students have expressed that they feel like they're in an office—a sensation that ultimately could prove to be helpful in the real world, if the conditioning sinks in.

Looking forward, Johnson says SJSU will continue to experiment with different kinds of furniture. As he puts it, officials can never get too curious about which products work, which ones don't, and what kind of commitment is required to make sure school dollars are being well spent.

"It's a constant battle," he says. "Right now, the furniture that works best is the stuff that enables students to collaborate and learn together. Whether that will be the case in 18 to 24 months, we'll have to wait and see."

If budgets are tight or you want to skip bells and whistles you don't need, you'll appreciate the Mr. Podium Lite 100 Series from Mr. Podium. The barebones product offers an economical solution for those schools that want lecterns but aren't willing to spend five figures to get them. The unit features a locking cabinet with space for servers and a CPU. It also features a detachable podium unit. Ample cord control makes the unit easy to use, and there's another benefit: light weight. While many lecterns weigh upwards of 50 pounds, this one tips the scales at just about 20, making it easy to move around any campus. Contact manufacturer for pricing.

Mounts

Peerless Industries' SmartMount Pull-Out Swivel Wall MountThe SmartMount Pull-Out Swivel Wall Mount from Peerless Industries combines the best features of both a wall mount and a pivot arm. In the closed position, the mount sits 2.25 inches away from the wall, neatly hiding all components and cords. Extended, the mount's sturdy arm construction smoothly glides a flat-panel television screen (from 26 to 58 inches in size) out 10.75 inches, and allows pivoting of up to 45 degrees. This feature enables the screen to be positioned for optimal viewing and also provides easy access to the back for maintenance. In addition, the product is customizable for cubbyhole mounts (requires eight 16-inch wood studs). Price: $449.

The Clamp Ceiling Mount from the H. Wilson Company is straightforward in name and form alike. Manufactured of heavy-gauge steel, the product is essentially two pieces—one that hangs from the ceiling, the other a platform that acts as a shelf for a television or computer monitor. The company claims its latest batch of mounts is the strongest ever produced—capable of holding up to 250 pounds. The clamp models (there also are locking-plate models) feature a sophisticated suspension system that comes into play when users raise or lower the mount. Contact manufacturer for pricing.

Premier Mounts' Galaxy NovaAnother mount series, the Galaxy Nova from Premier Mounts, is designed for video projectors that weigh up to 65 pounds. The low-profile mounts hang no more than 6 inches from the ceiling, and incorporate Premier's patent-pending SpiroLock torsion-spring mechanism to allow for quick and easy installation by a single individual, in only a matter of seconds. The patent-pending Radial Glide option offers easy tilt, roll, and yaw settings, and the mounts also boast transformable configuration pitch for rooms with vaulted ceilings. The products even have optional 15-inch hollow tubular extensions for larger classrooms or implementations that require cord control. Price: $179.

Middle Atlantic Products' DLBX Series DVR LockboxGot a digital video recorder (DVR) system? If so, then the DLBX Series DVR Lockbox from Middle Atlantic Products may be for you. The mount, which mirrors the dimensions of most DVR boxes yet can hold up to 100 pounds, attaches vertically or horizontally to the wall. A configurable thermal management system includes a fan and two filters, and an optional thermostatic fan engages only when the box reaches a threshold temperature. Inside the box, extensive cable management includes tie-points and cable pass-throughs. A key-locked hanging front door allows easy equipment access. Price: $249.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR FOR AV '08

Who knows more about tools and products in the audiovisual industry than the InfoComm people? At the international organization's annual conference and expo, higher ed technologists and educators can find the latest and greatest entries in intelligent classroom furniture and technology alike. Mark your calendar now for InfoComm '08 at the Las Vegas Convention Center; exhibit days are June 18-20. Registration opens in January 2008.

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