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Getting It Right: K-12 Schools Opt for Control Systems

Nov 1, 2006 7:16 PM, By Linda Seid Frembes


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Discussions about the adoption of AV systems in K-12 schools have grown from a whisper to a roar in recent years. Higher-education facilities began adopting AV technology many years before their K-12 brethren, who have been hampered by lack of public funding and the general notion that kids didn’t need technology to learn effectively.

The tide is changing, with the proliferation of AV systems penetrating the K-12 market at a rapid pace. The 2006 InfoComm Market Forecast Survey, prepared by AWP Research and released earlier this year, found that the two leading markets for AV equipment in North America and Europe continue to be business/IT and education. “The education market is growing quickly. Kids are motivated by technology and want to be entertained—at home and in the classroom,” says Michael Frank, regional manager /consultant market development for Crestron, a control systems manufacturer based in Rockleigh, N.J. “Schools know that they need technology, but often don’t realize that they need control over it too. Control systems are sometimes the last stop.”

Indeed, schools who raced to acquire the latest in audio, video, and streaming technology now find themselves in need of a control system to make sense of it all. “The moment a teacher stops teaching and has to think about using AV technology is when they need a control system,” says Catherine Bell, Crestron’s education market manager for the Southwest region, who also has experience covering the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic states. “Budget restraints are always an issue. Crestron pricing is at the right price point for education market adoption. The variety of user interfaces range from complex to simple, depending on budget. The control system can be as simple as a six-button keypad to switch sources, which is becoming a common application in K-12.”

Some schools are learning that opting for a control system upfront is the better route. “Our teaching staff was comfortable with software but not necessarily hardware. Putting six remotes in front of them and asking them to use the technology effectively wasn’t going to work,” says Bruce Haase, director of technology for the Orchard View School District in Muskegon, Mich., since 2001.

Since 2003, the 2,800 students at Orchard View have experienced an AV technology revolution. Prior to that date, each school relied on AV carts that were wheeled from classroom to classroom. Funding from a bond initiative has helped put a total AV system in nearly every classroom. “Early in the process, the school board and our superintendent Jack Vanderwall decided that what was good for classroom number one was good for every classroom,” Haase says.

What exists now at Orchard View is an automated curriculum delivery system running on the school’s fiber-optic network, which was in place before the bond initiative. Almost every classroom, no matter what grade, has a DVD/VCR, document camera, personal computer, overhead projector, and audio amplification system by LightSpeed. The video-over-IP system by VBrick is used for distribution of the local cable channels as well as broadcasts from the new TV production studio at the high school.

“Delivery of content is important to the video game generation,” Haase says. As such, Orchard View has also licensed the use of 20,000 video clips from United Streaming, a product of Discovery Education. A teacher can search the database by keyword and then drill down into grade-appropriate content to incorporate the right video clip into the curriculum.

“We have a strong commitment to technology and technology in the classroom,” Vanderwall says. “We visited several area school districts that had an advanced technology programs in place. We met a teacher who had taught for 35 years who loved using the new AV technology. From there, we knew we wanted a hands-on experience and a user-friendly system.”

Teachers at Orchard View already use the PC for grading and attendance. The Crestron XPanel graphical user interface on the PC provides buttons to select sources or modes. Haase also uses Crestron’s RoomView software for help desk and monitoring of the classrooms. “It provides us a remote-control capability via a help button on the PC screen,” he says. “Often, the teacher is in the wrong mode and we can remotely adjust that without having to physically enter the building.”

From a management perspective, Haase notes that the Crestron system has helped the school district save on projector bulb life: “We can remotely turn off a projector if a teacher forgets to exit out. In fact, at 6 p.m., we automatically shut down all projectors. One bulb left on overnight equals one week’s use.”

Frank adds that K-12 schools need not be afraid of control system interfaces. “A good control system is like an ATM machine; It’s self-guiding," he says. "Control systems can also help school administrators with tracking technology usage and provide useful information to help justify funding.”

Bell notes that a good place for schools to start is to join Crestron’s A+ Educational Partner Program, of which Orchard View is a member. The A+ Educational Partner Program provides an extra level of support and free training. "K-12 is different from commercial accounts because of the large number of classrooms with technology," she says. "Often these schools have unique service and maintenance needs. The A+ program directly addresses those issues."





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