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Four Tech Trends in Education

Jul 16, 2010 2:38 PM, By Dan Daley

HD, IT, audio processing, and video capture make the grade in education installs.

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High-tech Desks

The newly opened Academic Building at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla., emphasizes digital HD video and a high-end surround audio system. AVI-SPL designed even the most basic classrooms with HD because students, already exposed to this format in their everyday lives, expect it in the classroom environment as well.

One of the more striking collateral aspects of the two-year-long economic recession has been how the spike in unemployment appears to be driving tens of thousands of new students to schools. Two-year colleges nationwide are scrambling to keep up with a 17 percent increase in enrollment this year, according to the American Association of Community Colleges, and students headed to school want to bring their personal media experience with them. The same phenomenon that brought about the home theater revolution and put high-definition video in houses of worship is causing enhanced AV to become part of the new education experience. That’s changing the nature of education and education AV, and creating an opportunity for integrators who can help conceive and deliver on digital trends such as IT, signal processing, and networking. In the process, pro AV integrators are also drawing on technology from broadcast, IT, and home theater markets to build the modern campus.

To distribute a digital HD signal throughout the Academic Building at Ringling College, AVI-SPL used 17 Gefen DVIKVM-441 DVI swiitchers with Extron 60-734-03 extenders running on Cat-5e cabling.

Trend 1: Bigger Picture and Sound

The same phenomenon that brought about the home theater revolution and put high-definition video in houses of worship has reached Ringling College of Art and Design, in Sarasota, Fla. The newly opened five-story Academic Building emphasizes digital HD video and a high-end surround audio system. The visual drama at the facility comes in part from a dozen Da-Lite Contour Electrol 88397 retractable 133in. diagonal display screens hung from the exposed rafters of the classroom ceilings as well as a 193in. Da-Lite 16x9 screen used in the auditorium. These are illuminated by BenQ WXGA projectors suspended in the rear of the classrooms and a Mitsubishi FL7000U projector with a long-throw lens.

“I’d never encountered this much emphasis on digital HD in an educational setting before—even the most basic classrooms had to be HD—but I can see how we’ll see more of it in the future,” says Jamie Knoop, AVI-SPL’s sales engineer on the project, which opened last fall. To distribute a digital HD signal throughout the 85,000-square-foot facility, the integrator used 17 Gefen EXT-DVIKVM-441 DVI switchers in conjunction with Extron 60-734-03 extenders running on Cat-5e cabling. In the auditorium, AVI-SPL used an Extron MGP 464 multiview processor.

Graphics and fine arts schools have been particularly proactive in advertising recently, and that competitiveness is being reflected as they seek to use installed technology to help differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. Knoop set up a shootout between projectors to find the one that offered the best color reproduction. Acknowledging the subjective nature of such a comparison, Knoop says they left the final decision to the school’s head of AV, Iva Lovell, who chose the BenQ WXGA projectors after comparing actual instructional program material sourced from a laptop.

Despite the extra-large video screens, the classrooms are fairly standard-sized, holding 18 to 20 students comfortably and ensuring all can see the display clearly from the rear row, about 20ft. away. In the largest classrooms, however, integrators used two screens to address the extra width. Electro-Voice SL10-2V loudspeakers serve as left-right stereo pair and surround loudspeakers throughout the classrooms. Creating a center channel for each of the two screens would have been tricky, due to the fact that the ceiling layout did not permit hanging a loudspeaker above the screens and the Da-Lites are not porous to allow use of a rear-mounted center-channel loudspeaker. The solution was to use an EAW UB42 loudspeaker mounted in between the two screens. The 170x50 degree dispersion pattern is able to cast center-channel information widely enough for the rooms. Surround audio processing is done via a 7.1 DTS system using Crestron’s C2N-DAP8 surround-sound processor and a Biamp 8150 amplifier, a setup found in high-end home theater designs.

“Students coming to school now have higher expectations about what the media systems they’ll be taught on will be like,” Knoop says. “They have HD and home theater systems at home. They expect that to be the norm, including at school. Especially for things like graphic arts, the ability to display color accurately is going to be very important going forward.”

There’s a heightened emphasis on audio at the Medical Partnership facility in Athens, Ga. In the classrooms, TSAV equipped the rooms with one audio system for speech and one for larger-bandwidth program materials. In the gross anatomy labs, the instructors use a Sennheiser ME36 mic that hangs over each anatomy table. Photo by Julie and David Fisher, J and D Images

Trend 2: Enhanced Audio

Another trend happening in education is a heightened emphasis on quality sound. The University of Georgia and Medical College of Georgia (UGA/MCG) created a new jointly operated medical college in Athens, Ga., scheduled to begin classes next month. The Medical Partnership facility is actually the converted historic Athens Cotton and Wool Mill, built in 1857. Systems designer TSAV and integrator Multi Media Services (MMS) were given a mandate to turn the landmarked space into an advanced medical teaching facility with special attention given to historic preservation.

To complement the larger 16:10-aspect-ratio screens and the Tandberg HD video­conferencing system, the classrooms have two separate audio systems—one for speech and the other for larger-bandwidth program materials. The latter consists of a pair of Bose Panaray 302 loudspeakers mounted in the front of the rooms on either side of a Da-Lite 11in. Cosmopolitan Electrol projection screen, and a second set of ceiling-mounted Lowell DSQ 810-72 loudspeakers for distributed audio from the instructor’s podium. The two distinct loudspeaker sets give the visual program material an audio cue. “With the speakers mounted in the front of the room, it draws students’ attention to the screens. It’s a directional cue,” says MMS project manager Joe Loughman. “It makes it very distinct from the information [coming] from the teacher’s podium.”

In a variety of ways, the facility has more audio processing than might be typical in an educational install. The Crown Audio CDi 1000 amplifiers have their own DSP, which augments the Biamp Nexia TC DSP processor also applied to the audio signal path. “You’d find this level of processing in some high-end corporate installations, but not usually in schools,” Loughman says. The processing includes equalization notched at around 75Hz to 80Hz to filter out ambient noise such as HVAC rumble and—peculiar to this environment—the sound of footsteps from the historic wooden mill floor above. Microphone choices also contribute to heightened voice intelligibility. TSAV chose Shure SLX series wireless handheld microphones for instructor and student hand-around use, and hung Shure MX202 condenser microphones from the ceiling. In the gross anatomy lab, the instructors use a Sennheiser ME36, a back-electret condenser microphone capsule based on Sennheiser’s KE10 capsule and used in Sennheiser’s MKE 40 lavalier and MKE44P stereo microphones, that hangs over each anatomy table.

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