AV & Presentation | Viewpoint

How To Determine Classroom AV Requirements: An Overview

Defining appropriate room characteristics can simplify classroom design and improve the chances of its success as a teaching and learning space.

Planning a new classroom--whether it be a tiered, 65-person classroom with fixed seating, a flat floor space with movable furniture to accommodate 35 students, or any other configuration--need not be difficult at all, if you can define the appropriate room characteristics.

There are several considerations that make up the underpinning of a thorough planning process for AV-equipped facilities, some that may seem obvious but may be overlooked, such as articulating the purpose of the room, and some that may require deep technical expertise or teaching experience to answer.

Key Purpose Of The Room
Often times, the most vexing questions about which capabilities should be provided have little to do with technology and revolve around trying to answer a more basic question: How will the room be used?

  • How many students must be accommodated?
  • Should the furniture be reconfigurable?
  • Will learning activities be didactic (teacher lecturing student); interactive (among students and teacher); or collaborative (students working within small workgroups)?

One of the key drivers in designing great classrooms is being able to envision how the front of the room should be configured to support instructional activities.

Instructor's Workstation
In most classrooms, some type of furniture is located at the front of the room to support the instructor. This furniture may include:

  • A instructor's table, typically used as an instructor's home base during classroom sessions. The table may serve as a surface on which to place notes, student handouts, or collected assignments, and it's often a place for an instructor to sit.
  • Podium (lectern), a presentation platform, that may have integrated into it a computer, monitor, keyboard, AV control panel, document camera, DVD, etc.

It would not be uncommon to provide both a table and a podium in a classroom. The location of this furniture and its fixed or movable characteristics must also be determined.

Teaching Wall
In many classrooms, the front of the room becomes the focal point for the presentation of various types of visual materials. Virtually all classrooms have some kind of writing surface at the front of the space and, often, a projection screen as well. (Keep in mind that the remaining walls of a space should also be considered as presentation surfaces.)

The juxtaposition of writing and project surfaces is critical and requires an understanding of how instructors are likely to teach.

  • How much writing surface is needed? Should writing surfaces raise and lower?
  • How many projection screens should be installed?
  • What is the requirement for simultaneous viewing of writing and projection surfaces?
  • If planners want to use interactive whiteboards, should they be installed or portable?

Once consensus about these basic questions is achieved, the needs for presentation technology can be addressed. Some technologies should be integrated and fixed. Others should be accommodated on a portable basis. Infrastructure provision for the widest array of devices should be made, even though a portion of the equipment may not be purchased initially.

Display Technology
There are several ways to display video images:

  • Front projection typically using a ceiling-mounted, electric, roll-down projection screen and one or more projectors, either ceiling-mounted, or located at the rear of the room;
  • Rear projection;
  • Flat panel display;
  • Interactive whiteboard technology.

The size and location of these displays is critical to the overall design of the orientation and architecture of a room.

Audio Systems
Room audio systems include the following elements:

  • Voice amplification of a presenter using either a fixed or lavalier microphone. Ceiling-mounted speakers are typically used for voice amplification.
  • Program sound, the amplification of the soundtrack of a video, Web site, CD or MP3 track, etc. Front, wall-mounted speakers are typically used for stereo program sound.
  • Audience participation, microphones utilized by students, typically in larger rooms, to enable the amplification of students' questions and comments. Audience participation also is used in distance learning applications to allow all participants to be heard at the remote location(s).
  • Audio sources, can be varied and include:
    • audio tracks from a DVD player;
    • computer audio from the Web, local or networked programs, or media clips;
    • portable mp3 players;
    • audio and video teleconferences.
  • Audio Recording, may be a requirement.

Video Systems
Flat-panel displays or video projectors provide the display mechanism for a variety of different video sources:

  • Room-dedicated personal computer. In most cases, this would be a desktop computer integrated into the furniture within the room.
  • Portable notebook computer, provided by the instructor.
  • DVD player.
  • VCR player (still commonly used).
  • Portable personal video device (iPod, for example).

Video Origination
There's a variety of motivations to originate video from learning spaces:

  • Distance learning applications;
  • Live Webcasting;
  • Distribution to overflow audiences in adjacent rooms;
  • Archiving for future on demand download;
  • Production of for profit, commercially distributed content.

These requirements should be identified in order to determine the type, number, and quality of video cameras that should be furnished around the room and to determine the sophistication of the control, monitoring, and recording systems that are needed.

Control Systems
As classroom presentation systems become more complex, the need to control the increasing large number of devices can become overwhelming. The control system is perhaps the most critical element in achieving a successful (usable) AV capability.

The following issues should be examined:

  • Where should the controls be located?
  • Should the controls be presenter-centric, allow for manipulation by tech support personnel, or both?
  • How complex or simple should the control interface be? (Touch panel, buttons, etc.)
  • Should controls be fixed or portable?

Multimedia Network
Also at issue in overall planning are considerations related to how any given learning space will be integrated with the intra-building or overall campus multimedia network, as both a source and a destination. This can be an important planning issue, as space must be provided for a technical support area, often referred to as a Central Media Head End.

The planning process is somewhat easier if an institution has developed a set of standards for classroom presentation technology. However, even if such standards do exist, user group(s) comprising faculty who will be teaching in the new classrooms should be urged to provide their input and, perhaps even more importantly, kept abreast of the planning process in order to properly set expectations.

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