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Saved by the Bell: Classroom Audio over IP, Part 1

Oct 7, 2010 4:24 PM, With Bennett Liles

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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

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Saved by the Bell: Classroom Audio Over IP, Part 2
At the Calvary Baptist School and Church in Conroe, Texas, they needed a way for campus-wide announcements, fire drill signals, and piped music for special events; the Barix Annuncicom and BellCommander Software had the solution. ...

When IT manager Jerry Boyd set up the computer network at Calvary Baptist School and Church in Conroe, Texas, the school had no way to make announcements or signal the beginning of classes, so he went right on and added a Barix Annuncicom system and Jerry is here to tell us how he did it and how it works.

SVC: Jerry, it sure is good having you on the SVC podcast, and you’re not only the IT manager of the Calvary Baptist School, but I believe you’re also a classroom instructor there. Tell me a little bit about that school. What sort of school is it and where do your students come from?
Well, we’re a private school, and we mainly have students that are also members of our church. And we also have students that are members of the community and some other churches, but by and large, we have students from word of mouth advertising. Families enjoy having their children at our school and tell other families about us and that’s how we grow. [Timestamp: 1:26]

Well, you’re the go-to guy when it comes to tech stuff there, particularly computers and networking, and this all revolves around sound over IP networks. So what problem did they have before the new Barix system was installed and what did you propose to do about it?
I started teaching there about two years ago, and the way that the classes were assembled and dismissed was basically done teacher by teacher; prior to that they had a bell, an old electric clapper bell, and the science teacher would leave his class a few seconds early and go hold his finger on a momentary action switch for the bell to ring a few seconds and then let go and he would wait about 3 or 4 minutes and then ring it again. And over a couple of years it just wasn’t convenient for him to do, so when I got there, there was no bell system in place, and our school director began to ask me about some solutions and had been doing some of his own homework looking at some of the 24V panel systems like you would find in some large companies where it has the fire department panel and then it has other alarm systems and the school bell systems and timers and things like that, but the least expensive one of those systems was going to be about $15,000 and we just didn’t have it in our budget to do that. But in doing some research, I found Barix online and also found Acro Vista, and we were able to come up with a solution. Initially I spent way, way less—about 1/5 of what we were going to spend on a hard-wired system. [Timestamp: 3:10]

And I believe you took this thing totally from the ground up; they didn’t even have an IP network for the usual office applications.
Just the summer before I started teaching, I began to install our entire network. The school had two computers that were being used by the office folks, and they weren’t even networked—weren’t even connected. So I had an opportunity to build our infrastructure from scratch, and it worked out really well in conjunction with the Barix equipment that we were installing because I was able to design the network with both systems in mind and I didn’t have to retro fit anything. The hardest part was pulling cable into existing walls, and other than that, the design and implementation was fairly easy. Our campus is a little long as far as the length of it is concerned, the way that the buildings are arranged. So working from a main rack out into the other buildings was a little bit of a stretch as far as impedance and other issues. Signal drop was a concern, but we put a repeater in to deal with that. Other than that, it was nice to be in an application where we could design everything from scratch and design both systems together. [Timestamp: 4:26]

Well, this one looks like you had a unique opportunity. Usually when you want to start sending sound or video, any kind of multimedia stuff, over an existing IP network, you’re going to have people who have been running it for years and they’re going to, maybe, want to have some reservations about how much of an extra load that’s going to put on the network and shake things up a little, but this one looks like it was just stage two of your original project.
It was, and other than the usual trepidation of, “This is not the way we’ve always done it,” then once we got the system in place, everyone was pretty ecstatic about it. There’s a certain regimentation when you got a bell that you know is going to ring on a periodic basis and it’s not reliant on any ongoing human interface. And then the students like it because the Barix equipment and the software that we use allows us to put different tones in. We have a regular bell that we use; it’s like the school bells that you and I remember when we were in school, but then we have a tone one minute before the tardy bell and it’s just a chime and it lets the students know, “OK, got to get out of the locker and get on down the hall and get into the classroom.” So they enjoy that. The administrators really enjoy it because we have a more reliable system of announcements, prerecorded messages that play on a timed basis, and also emergency notifications and fire drills and emergency drills so everyone is well-prepared for most of the occasions that would happen at the school. [Timestamp: 6:02]

OK, you’ve got that setup and organized a certain way. Now, how many buildings and audio zones have you got in the plan; are they segregated by buildings? Is that the way it goes?
For the most part, yes. We do have one building that has on one side of the building, there are elementary classes and in the other side of the building there are high school classes, so that particular building I do have two zones set up in it. We have a total of eight zones, and they’re about half and half elementary and high school zones, but the elementary class schedule does not require bells to ring throughout the day the way that the junior high and high school does. And we do have two outdoor zones, which makes ours unique. Our classroom buildings are the modular buildings like you see in a lot of schools now and those buildings are connected by a boardwalk. It’s a nice deck type of a system, where the kids are up off the ground when they’re going between classes. We don’t have to worry about weather or other situations. It’s got a nice covering over the top of it, and a lot of the students are in that particular area when the bells are ringing or other announcements are being made. And we have a some outdoor speakers and those zones are tied into some of the high school zones so they don’t miss anything if they’re walking between the buildings. [Timestamp: 7:24]

Right, because now they’re quite mobile, and students just naturally take to that; they’ve got cell phones and texting and so forth. Sometimes I think they’re just a little over communicated.
I think so too. But we do have a total of eight buildings on our campus, and the property is a little over six acres if I’m not mistaken, so there’s some distance between, but the high school classes are fairly close together and elementary classes are fairly close together so one student doesn’t have to go all the way across the campus between classes. But we still have a good amount of time between classes; the students are able to go and exchange their books and socialize with each other before they have to go off to the next class. [Timestamp: 8:09]

Is this system used in a strictly one-way mode for class period notification or do you do other things with it?
It is currently setup for one-way communications. We use it for basically three items: we have the bell schedule, we have prerecorded announcements, and then we also use a paging station where we can make impromptu announcements as necessary, and of course we have the emergency notification system. This is a work in progress, and over the last couple of years we have been able to upgrade this system as we’ve had the funds, and then also as we see some growth with our student population. And occasionally the needs of the system will change from year to year, so our future plans include some infrared communication. Also I want to put in some pull handles for fire alarms and that would trigger an alarm through this same system—looking at some additional of the Barix equipment to help us do that. [Timestamp: 9:09]

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