College AV System Sets Example
Fort Pierce, FL-based Indian River Community College's Kight Center for Emerging Technologies adds cutting-edge AV to enhance the classroom experience for students.
AV techs working the network operation center in the Kight Center for Emerging Technologies at Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce, FL, have real-time control and access to every feed going in or out of the facility.
CHALLENGE: Build a showcase for emerging technology to enrich the learning process, and broaden the way AV is used in higher education.
SOLUTION: Create an advanced personalized learning environment with more than 20 classrooms equipped with networked AV control.
WITH THE August 2005 opening of the 108,000-square-foot Kight Center for Emerging Technologies, Indian River Community College (IRCC) in Fort Pierce, FL, ushered in a new technology era for the school. The new $20 million Kight Center features $4 million in AV systems.
“Several factors drove the design and creation of the Kight Center,” says Paul O'Brien, dean of institutional technology at IRCC, who oversees networking, telecommunications, academic computer labs, distance learning, and the school's AV department. “We recognized that the next generation of students prefers graphics over text, and are comfortable in an online environment. That puts pressure on us as an institution of learning.”
The IRCC's major challenge was to create an atmosphere where any student can excel in a personalized learning environment. This was especially important given the multiple generations of students attending the school, which range from Baby Boomers returning to school for additional training, Generation X-ers who are comfortable with most technology, and the recent Generation Y group.
“Baby Boomers may like online training because it fits their lifestyle and schedule,” O'Brien says. “They may not necessarily want the social experience, whereas the younger students want a campus experience.”
To ensure that the learning center would benefit both students and faculty, the school formed a learning and teaching technology work group while designing the Kight Center. In this group, faculty gave feedback to school administration officials on technology uses and preferences. Another major influence on the project resulted from a student survey, which revealed that 70 percent of IRCC students have access to broadband, and are comfortable with various types of media.
O'Brien worked with AV integrator Audio Visual Innovations (AVI) of Tampa, FL, on the installation of a prototype system for the Kight Center at the Clark Advanced Learning Center on IRCC's Stuart, FL, campus. It was at the Clark Center where the school deployed Crestron e-Control2 for the first time. “The Clark Center was a chance to work out any issues prior to the construction of the Kight Center,” explains Martin Lois, sales engineer for AVI.
Both Lois and Charles Horn, co-designer, project manager, and project engineer for AVI, were involved early in the construction process of the Kight Center. Horn conducted walk-throughs prior to each construction meeting, and addressed any issues with the AV install, which resulted in cost-savings for IRCC by eliminating the need to redo work down the road. “The intent of the networked AV design was to be innovative, flexible, and reliable,” Horn says. “Crestron e-Control2 was chosen based on these factors, and has proven to be a good fit.”
A grand entrance
From the first step into the lobby of the Kight Center, students and faculty are greeted by technology. The four-story open atrium is lit by a lighting ring suspended from the ceiling that can be lowered to the first floor using the Crestron control system. Although it wasn't originally designed as a presentation space, the atrium quickly became the ideal centrally-located place for high-profile meetings.
To overcome the ambient light issues in the atrium, Lois and Horn went through several design phases. “We looked at using an LED display wall, but price became a consideration with the size they needed,” Lois says. “We investigated rear-projection cubes, but access and cooling were an issue since there are classrooms on the other side of the wall. Then we looked at a stack of 40-inch LCD monitors, but the monitor bezel presented a broken image.”
Instead, AVI chose a Christie Digital 25K, 25,000 ANSI lumens projector mounted on the second floor that shoots approximately 60 feet across the atrium to a custom 13- by 24-foot Stewart Filmscreen projection screen. On the first floor, two 50-inch NEC PX-50XM3A plasma displays are used for presentations. The audio system focuses on supporting the spoken word with four Renkus-Heinz TRX82/12W loudspeakers, which are outfitted with a Sabine FBX 2400U feedback suppressor and powered by a QSC CX702 amplifier.
While the Kight Center features more than 20 classrooms outfitted with the latest AV technology, its Virtual Studio is perhaps the crown jewel of the bunch. The studio features a virtual set where faculty can literally walk inside the space and become immersed in the subject matter. The 40- by 60-foot space uses Sony DXC50WSHPAC5 cameras and a FOR-A digiWarp-EX II virtual studio system to achieve larger than life images projected onto the studio's green wall. “The Sony cameras have a head with X and Y coordinates, so when they move with the background, it creates a 3D-like effect,” Lois says. “The uses for the virtual studio range from curriculum for online and in-studio classes to a campus-wide broadcast via web streaming or video-conferencing.”
O'Brien first saw the virtual studio technology at NAB four years ago and began thinking about how he could use it in an educational setting. “We didn't want a system that was over-engineered,” he says. “FOR-A was a good price, and matched our technical desire for the virtual studio.”
The Kight Center's network operations center (NOC) provides centralized system monitoring and control of all of the AV systems in the building using Crestron e-Control2 (see sidebar). “Crestron allows us to give our customer the most flexible and cost-effective options,” Horn says. “Since classes run from 7 am to 10 pm, it can be costly to keep support staff in the building all day. Using e-Control, the staff doesn't have to be there the whole time since all rooms can be remotely managed on the network. And system features like automatic shutdowns help save on lamp and display life.”
The Crestron system is also programmed with help buttons, so an instructor can seek immediate assistance with AV equipment. “I felt that Crestron had an edge,” O'Brien says. “The user interface featured a simplistic design, but had robust capabilities. I particularly like the IP control, which really helps us out on support. Now, a tech can reset the projector from off-site without having to drive all over campus.”
The NOC serves as the central signal route for the control system, as well as the entire campus network. From the NOC, any AV signal can be fed from one classroom to another. One Tandberg MXP6000 and two Tandberg MXP3000 videoconferencing codecs were also installed in five main areas, including three large auditoriums, as well as a codec farm in the NOC to provide building-wide capability. The codecs in the NOC can be patched from classroom to classroom or from classroom to outside sites, which also helped reduce equipment costs. “Using this method, they didn't need a codec for each room,” Lois says.
As a central point of communication for the IRCC, the NOC will eventually handle feeds from each of its five campuses in Florida. Currently, new buildings built on the Fort Pierce campus have fiber leading back to the NOC. AVI also installed an Extron RGBHV 32x32 scaleable matrix switcher, an Extron C Video 64x64 scaleable matrix switcher, and an Extron Stereo Audio 96x64 scaleable matrix that can expand as needed to handle future growth.
So far, the AV installation has been a major success. IRCC was recently cited by President George W. Bush earlier this year as a model for training the nation's workforce in the latest technologies. In his keynote speech at the national convention of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in Minneapolis, President Bush stated: “Indian River Community College in Florida is opening a new center to provide cutting-edge training in robotics, lasers, and photonic technology. In other words, there's a demand for these kinds of workers, and what the community college system does is provide a fantastic opportunity for job training and new educational opportunities.”
The AACC also recently voted IRCC as the No. 1 mid-sized community college for the use of technology in 2005. “The Kight Center is our technology hub,” O'Brien says. “We'll look at anything that adds to our rich learning experience. As we move forward, we must focus on emerging technology. That's our promise to the community to stay on the cutting edge. The first time you see cutting edge technology, it will be here.”
Linda Seid Frembes is a freelance writer and PR specialist for the professional AV industry. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.