Oakland Community College: Making Smart Classrooms the Rule

With five campuses and an enrollment of over 25,000 students, administrators at Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., are always on the lookout for innovative teaching methods to help instructors enhance their classroom presentations. Over the years, OCC has used projectors, cameras, and audio/video systems throughout all five campuses. Now, focusing on advancing the personal success of their students, OCC has moved to a new level of presentation capability, which it calls the smart room.

The idea of the smart room is to have an instructor positioned at a central workstation from which he or she can use any and all equipment available to make presentations to students in the same room or at remote locations. Projectors, document cameras, VCRs, DVDs, CD players, digital recorders and computers can all be neatly tied into a control system at the instructor’s workstation from which they can switch from one component to another.

With so many inputs, the systems must mesh well together and be easily manageable. John Vavrek, a senior member of the technical group at OCC, said reliability and ease-of-use are what instructors require most of the equipment in smart rooms. OCC recently incorporated document cameras and projectors from Elmo Inc. as the main presentation technology for the rooms. “They’re reliable above all else and one instructor can operate the entire system without requiring a crew of technicians,” Vavrek said. “He or she uses the switcher to go from one machine to the other. We can even pre-record classes and send out the signal according to a predetermined schedule.”

“They get comfortable with it right away,” he added. “They like it because allows them to focus on the teaching and not on the equipment.”

OCC recently upgraded 12 rooms for the Michigan Technical Education Center, the information technology training facility on campus. The goal is for all of the classrooms at OCC to be identical. This will allows instructors to go from room to room and campus to campus without encountering different systems and configurations.

Mark Murray of National Satellite, a Detroit systems integrator that has worked on the OCC project, said the Elmo technology meets the requirement. “It serves all of the disciplines at Oakland,” he said. “In accounting, spreadsheets can be clearly seen without turning off the lights. In the police academy, instructors can show tiny forensics. In geology, students can scrutinize minute details projected on large screens.”

“Our most advanced auditorium,” says Vavrek, “has three ISDN lines for video conferencing, networking, cable TV and satellite hookups. In addition to this, we can send video images and audio from the teacher’s station to other rooms via an RF hookup.” OCC continues to upgrade classrooms on all 5 campuses. “Each evolution makes the system easier to use,” says Murray.

For more information, contact Oakland Community College at (248) 341-2000.

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