Teaching The Teachers
The John M. Perzel Education & Technology Center is the flagship technology building on the campus of Holy Family University in Philadelphia, featuring modern presentation technologies and videoconferencing with all AV systems standardized on a building-wide control system from AMX Corp.
An AMX touch panel and SMART Sympodium display sit atop a multimedia lectern in one of the specialty classrooms at Holy Family University in Philadelphia. The simple interface belies the robust AV systems running the classroom.
CHALLENGE: Outfit a university's newly built flagship education and technology building with sophisticated AV teaching tools that don't intimidate non-technical students.
SOLUTION: Rely on the building-wide control system that standardizes operation for ease-of-use, fast classroom setup, and value-added capabilities like digital signage control.
FOR DECADES, colleges and universities have led the way for technology adoption in the education market. Universities large and small have been willing to invest in AV technology with multiple uses — from curricular applications to fundraising and community outreach. The John M. Perzel Education & Technology Center is the flagship technology building on the campus of Holy Family University in Philadelphia, featuring modern presentation technologies and videoconferencing with all AV systems standardized on a building-wide control system from AMX Corp.
The growing university, founded in 1954 by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, provides comprehensive four-year degree programs in arts and sciences, business, nursing, and education —about half of the university's 3,500 students are undergraduates. “With the opening of the Perzel building, we suddenly had a showcase for technology; we could demonstrate what technology could do. Now we are training future teachers who will encounter this same technology in the field, and [they will] know how to use it. They can now promote technology wherever they will go after graduation,” says Robert H. Lafond, vice president for information technology at Holy Family University, who oversees all technology from AV systems to network infrastructure, computers, and phone systems.
The five-story Perzel building measures in at 62,000 square feet and is located in the middle of campus. The high-tech education building includes a mix of classrooms and meeting spaces, including six general-use classrooms, four specialty classrooms, four art education rooms, four computer labs, a 200-seat auditorium, conference rooms, and a master control room. To design and install the building's AV systems, the staff worked with technology consulting firm RJC Designs of Glen Burnie, Md., and systems integrator Advanced AV of West Chester, Pa. “By standardizing on the AMX system, we were able to provide consistency from room to room so that presenters didn't have to worry about learning how to use the technology in each specific room,” says Don Pacitti, vice president of engineering at Advanced AV and the install's project engineer.
The “one-touch” on/off approach is beneficial for both faculty and visiting presenters — they only need to walk into a room and go, no time is wasted fumbling with controls. The university previously used mobile AV carts, which presented similar problems with usability as well as availability. “Our programs keep the rooms in Perzel filled six days a week, so reliability is a priority. The AMX system has been running non-stop since we opened the building, and it is nearly flawless. The goal was to provide clean operation with a low key control system that is effective and extremely easy to use,” notes Gary Coleman, user services manager for the university.
“Holy Family wanted to make it easy for users of all levels to operate the AV systems in all of the rooms. We created a standard control system interface that is easy to use for everybody. The benefit of this approach is that the systems get used, and users aren't intimidated to operate them,” says Dennis Krebs, marketing manager for Advanced AV.
Holy Family University's digital signage network reaches out to the lobby, where students, faculty, and visitors are kept up-to-date on school information and events displayed on Pioneer flat-panel displays.
According to Coleman, the Perzel building features a mix of AV technology from classroom to classroom. Approximately $1 million was spent just for the building's AV. General classrooms include a Mulnix multimedia lectern with a Go Video DV3130 DVD/VHS combo in a Middle Atlantic RC-3 rack shelf as well as a Contemporary Research 232-STS stereo TV tuner. Two KSI 8081CSD ceiling speakers provide sound reinforcement, while video projection is from a Sony VPL-PX40 3500 lumen projector on a Chief RPA-80 projector mount. Input for the assisted listening system is an Audio-Technica AT-ES945 ceiling microphone, with output handled by a Listen Technologies LT-800 transmitter.
Specialty classrooms are similar to general classrooms but have slightly different components due to their more frequent use. Instead of the Mulnix, specialty classrooms use the SMART Technologies ID250 Sympodium interactive lectern panel that also doubles as the TV monitor. A Crown LM-300 gooseneck microphone and a Shure ULXP14/84 wireless lavaliere microphone are used depending on the teacher's preference.
Another step forward for the university was the creation of distance learning classrooms. The mix of distance learning content, multimedia, and live presentations are integral to courses designed to teach students how to integrate AV technology into teaching.
Distance learning classrooms also use the SMART Sympodium lectern in addition to an AMX NXT-CV7 color touch panel. The more robust audio system includes two KSI 8081CSD ceiling speakers, four KSI 8081-CS ceiling speakers, and nine Sound Control SCM-4 ceiling microphones, all powered by a QSC RMX-850 amplifier. Conferencing is handled by a ClearOne XAP-800 8-channel audio matrix and a ClearOne XAP-400 4-channel audio matrix with a telco hybrid, while video is provided by two Sony BRC-300 PTZ robotic cameras.
Any classroom's AV system can be centrally managed from the building's master control room, the room's AMX touch panel, or a remote location via the Internet. “All codecs are also located in master control so the rooms can share resources,” Pacitti adds. “Master control is also tied to the campus TV head end so campus television can be accessed as an input on the AMX touch panel.”
Advanced AV installed five RF modulators, giving Holy Family five cable channels for university content and the ability to broadcast from any classroom or school event to virtually anywhere on its two campuses in Northeast Philadelphia and Newtown, Pa.
No matter the type of classroom, all rooms are scheduled with AMX's MeetingManager. The use of MeetingManager allowed Advanced AV to integrate the AMX control system with the digital signage system already installed at Holy Family. “At each doorway, an electronic sign displays what's scheduled next for that room. Because the original supplier of the signs was unable to make the dynamic display functional, we designed a custom workaround using AMX MeetingManager,” notes Krebs.
By using interim translation code to run the displays, Advanced AV was able to modify the pre-existing LCD displays outside each room to work with MeetingManager. (The displays were installed for a digital signage network that another provider did not finish programming.) As a result of the Advanced AV modifications, the school has a working digital signage network and any changes in room scheduling automatically show up on the LCD mounted by the doorway. Although the digital signage capability was not in the original scope of work, Coleman says it is one of several system features that makes his job easier. “When the building opened, it added 20 additional classrooms to my responsibility. Once we got the faculty and presenters trained on the AV system, we had no added service calls within 90 days,” he says. “We field 60 service calls a day so even a few extra calls can add up.”
“The building is the center of our videoconferencing technology. Now, not only can we connect with our other campuses, but [we can connect] with other schools and sites as well. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth are an international organization, so technology can also be used to tie them together across the globe,” says Lafond. “With support from our president, Sister Francesca Onley, we can move forward and put more emphasis on helping faculty integrate the technology into the classroom. As we continue to upgrade, it's a good time to go back and demonstrate how technology improves how faculty interacts with students.”
Linda Seid Frembes is a magazine journalist and public relations consultant for the professional AV industry. Visit her at www.frembes.com.