Campus Audiovisual Systems
21st Century AV on a Century-Old Campus
When a new building was planned for 102-year-old Montclair State University, it presented an opportunity to incorporate advanced audiovisual technologies to enrich and support student learning.
At 270,000 square feet, University Hall was to be the largest building on campus and the new home for Montclair's College of Education & Human Services (CEHS). The building was also to house the Office of Information Technology, the Technology Solutions Center for in-person tech support, and the Information Commons, which provides 24-hour access to numerous computers. Planned for the North Tower's seventh floor was a state-of-the-art conference center.
With such a large building, how would one even begin to determine the required and desired audiovisual technologies?
The philosophy of the Montclair IT department, said Edward V. Chapel, vice president of information technology, is to base the AV on the latest instructional design and learning theories, as well as teaching and learning best practices. Training and technical support, including remote management tools, are critical to faculty and student needs.
"But at the end of the day," he said, "any successful AV program begins and ends with the faculty input."
A brand new building meant designing the audiovisual technology plans from the start. And the way they started was by interviewing faculty about their approaches and best practices regarding teaching and learning. The interviews, university standards, input from the consultant and the design team, and the group's vision for the future resulted in an Academic AV Program Document that determined what educational technology would be needed. "In addition," said Chapel, "the university was guided by the desire and need for AV remote management, a standard AV control system and other standards for data projectors as well as plasma and LCD displays."
AV Room by Room
There are 75 mediated spaces in the building, and one thing evident from the interview process was that video conferencing was high on the wish lists. So video conferencing is prevalent throughout the building--installed in two of six 100-seat lecture halls (all six having audio conferencing), one 200-seat lecture hall (that also has audio conferencing), a 30-seat classroom (also with audio conferencing), and a rolling cart for use anywhere in the building.
Closed circuit video originates from 13 transmit rooms, and all the learning sites are receive sites. Digital signage is in place in the main lobbies of each of the two towers, and LCD and plasma screens are positioned throughout the facilities.
In the Counseling Suite there is a main presentation classroom that is connected to 10 small one-on-one consultation rooms. The main presentation room is where the faculty and students can present and observe real and mock counseling sessions in the smaller consultation rooms. Each room has a camera, a mic, and a two-way intercom. Each room is linked back to the AV head end to its own DVR/DVD burner where so each counseling session can be recorded. In addition, the faculty can watch and supervise students up to four rooms at the same time on five different computer workstations.
Seven specialty rooms also needed audiovisual elements. The Fitness Activities Lab, Exercise Lab, Food Service Management Lab, and Clothing and Textile Lab, for example, have AV unique to what is required for the activities, such as a ceiling mount speaker in the gym to receive audio, mostly for music, while clients are exercising on gym equipment.
The Food Service Management Lab has a complete restaurant kitchen. In the kitchen, cameras capture and distribute food preparation demonstrations to any classroom in the building.
There is also an AV-filled presidential dining room. "The room has a beautiful conference table with built-in microphones, integrated audio conferencing system, and the ability to connect a rolling video conferencing unit into the system," said Chapel. "Of course this is overlooking the New York City Skyline on the 7th floor."
Also on the 7th floor is the conference center, which can accommodate 500 people. It is equipped for large-scale videoconferencing and all the technologies needed for multimedia presentations. The conference center boasts a large sound system, LCD monitors, projectors, video and audio conferencing equipment, pan/tilt/zoom cameras, video production equipment, and Smart Board interactive white boards. Presenters can use lapel and/or wireless handheld microphones. The large room can be divided with moving walls, and the audiovisual technologies can accommodate the smaller spaces as well.
Three of the classrooms in University Hall are termed Classrooms of the Future. These are located in the ADP Center for Teacher Preparation and Learning Technologies. They are described as state-of-the-art, highly-mediated classrooms. They each accommodate up to 35 students and enable preK-12 and post-secondary educators to engage in multi-point distance learning programs and experiment with emerging technologies. Professors have access to video and audio conferencing, flat-panel monitors with Smart board interactive white board overlays, simultaneous display of multiple sources, document cameras, and video and DVD projection.
The three Classrooms of the Future not only have advanced audiovisual, they have different layouts to demonstrate different learning strategies. One room is arranged in a variety of workgroup formations to facilitate student collaboration and cooperative group learning. The individual tables have pop-up connection boxes for students' laptops, and there are plentiful connections on the walls as well. Another room has a more traditional furniture setup with rows of tables arranged for teacher-centered presentations and lectures, again, with connection ports on the tables. The third is designed with semi-circle seating for enhanced student communication and reinforcement of the Socratic Method.
The audiovisual control in each of these rooms is placed for convenience, and the displays are located so that the information can be viewed from anywhere in the rooms.
AV: Planning for the Future
Montclair contemplates adding high-definition video conferencing, said Chapel. "We also anticipate incorporating more mobile devices into the AV design (for example using cell phones instead of touch panels for AV Control)," Chapel said. "Montclair State also anticipates more digital signage and advancing our ... notification systems."
One of the surprise benefits, Chapel noted, was the ease of use of the classroom touch panels. "They were well received and intuitive," he said. "While training is available face to face and online, few faculty seemed to need any training."
When asked whether the department had any advice for those challenged with such a large undertaking as this, John J. O'Brien, assistant director of academic technology, said always start with the end user first and work backward. "The sooner the AV Program Report is completed, the rest of the project--furniture selections, infrastructure such conduits, networking, wireless, telecom, electrical, etc.--can continue. There simply can't be enough coordination with every stage of the design/build process."
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.