University of Texas Saves Big by Standardizing its Classroom Systems

By Linda L. Briggs

Would you install a different phone system in every room of your house? At the University of Texas at Austin, Kurt Bartelmehs, program manager for instructional technology, uses that analogy to explain why he’s worked so hard to standardize technology in classrooms across campus.

Bartelmehs says that in the six and a half years since he began standardizing technology in classrooms at UT, he has “easily saved a million dollars in equipment costs.” The University of Texas is one of the largest collegiate systems in the country, with 184,000 students attending its 15 campuses, and an annual operating budget of over $9.6 billion.

Every classroom that Bartelmehs has standardized contains a full complement of equipment, including an Internet-connected computer, an Epson 3LCD large-format XGA projector, an amplified stereo system, a VCR/DVD player, a document camera, cabling for laptop connection, and a set of inputs to plug in devices such as microscopes.

“Six and a half years ago, when I built the first room, I single-handedly supported [a science department] and over 200 users,” Bartelmehs says. When it came time to integrate technology into the classrooms, he knew he would be the single source of support. So he designed a simple system that controls all devices in the room, using a simple software interface and technology that makes it easy for faculty to control all of the room’s equipment from a single screen.

The typical UT Austin classroom now includes that touch-screen remote control system. Bartelmehs says he’s now designed 331 rooms or other facilities with that setup, using software from Crestron for the remote control systems. With the system, Bart can monitor every single room in the system over the Internet at any time.

A key component in the system is over 1,000 high-end Epson LCD projectors, used not only in every classroom on the Austin campus, but also at UT Brownsville, UT El Paso, UT Pan American, and the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio as well. The Epson projectors are synchronized with an Internet-enabled PC. Most systems are used non-stop for several hours a day for lectures, as well as student or faculty meetings.

Bartelmehs says that modernizing facilities at the University of Texas at Austin, which is UT’s flagship campus, signals big strides in moving from “old chalkboards and outdated overhead projectors throughout the campus.” He’s on a personal mission to push the standardization system forward to additional UT campuses.

For the IT group, the use of the same systems in all classrooms means virtually no down time, since equipment can easily be swapped out and replaced, and spares are always available. For faculty, the news is even better. Because every classroom works exactly the same, Bartelmehs says, faculty “can prepare a lecture for a 20-seat classroom, and give the same lecture in a 500-seat lecture hall” with absolutely no changes in equipment.

Linda L. Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif.

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