Campus AV Technology

New Campus, New Technologies, New Challenges at Ave Maria University

It's an AV manager's dream: to design and install a system for an entirely new campus, without having to work around legacy equipment and with no constraints from antiquated technology infrastructures. Such was the case for Wally Hedman, operations manager at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL.

The university was the brainchild of Domino's Pizza mogul Thomas S. Monaghan, who had a vision of the sort of Catholic institution of higher learning that could, as the university states, produce the nation's future faithful educators, leaders, and mentors. Between Monaghan's donation and a land donation from the Barron Collier Family, that vision found a home in southwest Florida, first on a temporary campus in Naples, then to its current home in Ave Maria.

The temporary campus opened in 2003 with about 300 students who moved through the four-year program. In 2005, construction began on the nine buildings on the main campus, and, two years later, in 2007, it was open for classes, with new learning and presentation technologies built from the ground up.

Audio in a Mitreform Oratory
Starting campus technology from the ground up, though, is not without its challenges, especially when the architects are creative. A particular challenge was the design of the steel and concrete Ave Maria Oratory.

"We have a state-of-the-art sound system, but one of the difficulties of the Oratory itself is that in the first place the design, architecturally, is that of a bishop's mitre," said Hedman. A bishop's mitre is the tall angular cap that comes to a point at the top. "The building is 112 feet tall, 150 feet long and 70 feet wide, which really was an engineering feat, but now you have this big echo chamber."

Powering the audio solution in the Oratory is an AV room housing three racks of equipment, including six amplifiers, two graphic equalizers, disc burner and player, a 16-channel mixer board, and a media matrix.

"We have a voice system that comes from the front of the Oratory and a reinforced music system that comes via the speakers in the back," said Hedman. Most audio is automatic. "But there is a switch that we can flip to change from the automatic system to control from the sound board."

The sound board is a 24-channel unit located in the balcony. "The sound board is often used for controlling audio for visiting choirs or the local symphony," he said. "Someone can control the microphone levels a bit more closely, listening and tweaking it and making adjustments as necessary."

Other technology installed in the Oratory includes 12 microphones above the choir. These are for recording only, since the 80-voice choir is loud enough not to require mics to be heard. But the choir practices three times a week and sometimes records the practice for later critique.

Enhanced Learning Using AV
In contrast to the Oratory, the rest of the campus buildings were all designed with straight lines and no arches. Hedman was charged with equipping the 15 classrooms and a 200-seat lecture hall.

The 15 classrooms all have control panels built into the lecterns. The controls let instructors raise or lower the projection screen, power on or off the projector, and switch sources such as DVD, laptop, or document camera, for example. The document camera, said Hedman, is pre-staged on a ledge adjacent to the lectern with precise positioning, so the instructor need not worry about angling an image from the document camera. Each room is also equipped with in-ceiling speakers and bright LCD projectors.

"With bright projectors, students pay attention," he said. "When you dim the lights, people tend to close their eyes, but if there is a bright interesting picture in front of them--even if it's just pages of a book--if they can see it well they tend to pay attention."

The lecture hall has an even brighter projector and has the same controls and equipment found in the classrooms. "The lecture hall has its own AV room off to the side with one equipment rack," said Hedman. "It accommodates two wireless handheld or lavaliere microphones.

The Results
Ave Maria now educates approximately 600 students. In the Oratory, the sound system is used three times a day for mass, along with many other events hosted in the facility. The AV design has made it easy to use, said Hedman. "Someone just needs to put a CD in the recorder and hit record, so no tech needs to be there."

He added: "For the classrooms and the audiovisual applications, our goal was to create a learning and teaching experience that would allow us to see faster learning. The grade level we are getting from the students, and response from the students, indicates that they are engaged."

Hedman also said the teachers are happy, have complimented the AV installations in the classrooms, and, surprisingly, did not require much training to use the technologies.

Pushing the System
In spite of some challenges, the opportunity to design the school's technology infrastructure from the ground up did afford certain advantages, such as creating an all-digital connected campus and opportunities for experimentation (without disrupting any existing technologies).

For example, the dedication of the Oratory demonstrated just how the digital connectivity could be put to use. The Oratory seats about 1,200 but 3,000 were on campus during the event. "We set up a tent with three TVs in it, which accommodated another 800. Others on campus watched from the cafeteria and some in the lecture hall.

"One of the neat things we did for the Oratory dedication was to take a fiber feed from the Oratory feed it over fiber into the lecture hall and convert back to copper and send it to the projector," said Hedman. "Since there was overflow, others could watch the dedication from the remote room."

Hedman said they have repeated that sort of live feed a couple of times, including at Masses at the beginning or end of the year and for graduations.

"It's always challenging to see how far we can push the system," he said. "Last May, we had a procession around the outside of the Oratory, using speakers outside and wireless antenna so the priest using the wireless headset could communicate from outdoors."

Future Flexibility
Hedman said infrastructures such as the two-way communications capabilities in classrooms and the lecture hall provide many other possibilities. Also, anywhere there is an overhead projector, Hedman can display television channels because each jack is set up for simple cross connection.

"We are putting television over UTP wiring so we do 110 channels of TV over a pair of Cat5 cables," he explained. "So anywhere I have a data jack, I can cross connect and put television there also. We don't need additional cabling, just a patch, and it's extremely affordable."

Hedman is clearly enjoying being at the helm of a state-of-the-art AV and IT system. "I've been doing this for about 25 years, so I have grown up with the technologies," he said. "We have a number of things we have done here that are truly cutting edge."

About the Author

Denise Harrison is a freelance writer and editor specializing in technology, specifically in audiovisual and presentation. She also works as a consultant for Second Life projects and is involved with nonprofits and education within the 3D realm. She can be reached here.

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