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EdTech Summit at InfoComm

May 18, 2010 1:51 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

Mark Valenti envisions the future.


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New for 2010, InfoComm debuts the EdTech Summit, Wednesday June 9, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. with a reception to follow. Designed for technology managers and their bosses, the thought-provoking program will jumpstart your ability to re-imagine what's next in education and AV systems. Speakers include Columbia University's Mark Taylor, Ph.D., who will discuss the role of technology in averting the impending crisis in higher education. High-level sessions with Donald Norris, William Natress, and Mark Valenti (below) continue the theme.

“The hot innovation in AV will be the blank wall,” asserts Mark Valenti, president and CEO of the Sextant Group, a national AV design and consultancy group. He’s only being half ironic; the example is meant to illustrate the challenge of keeping the higher education learning space relevant. He has to consider the implication of cell phones as mini-projectors and students who will clamor for wall space as they now do for big flatpanels.

As part of Infocomm’s EdTech Summit, Valenti will do an hour-long presentation about the changing nature of the learning space. In talking to him for this interview, I concluded it is a presentation I would not want to miss.

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Valenti works primarily in the demanding realms of higher education and entertainment. “Over the past 15 years or so, with the advent of the Internet, the transition to digital media, and the emergence of social networking, students expectations of what occurs in the classroom have change significantly,” Valenti says. “There is a pretty clear trend towards a more active learning environment and less of a passive lecture based environment. All of this fomenting has caused higher education institutions to reconsider what the nature of the classroom is and what the design parameters are, in some cases completely redesigning curriculum in this context. And as you might imagine all of those changes have pretty significant implication for all of us in the AV business because we play a significant role in the design on these modern classrooms.

“What I see is a trend away from basic presentation systems and towards collaboration systems. That’s the beautiful thing—it’s evidenced first in classrooms but it’s becoming the way we work in many many areas of the economy. It’s all about networks.

“It’s both the danger to AV and the beauty of this is that increasingly the network doesn’t have to be ‘special.’ As network performance continues to improve, the ability of IT networks to manage high-bandwidth applications such as digital media become easier and easier. Eighteen years ago, you could think about it—it was expensive and impossible—now it’s off-the-shelf, and in another three to five years, with Cisco’s deliberate and very public intentions in the AV market, that kind of thing will become out of the box.”

How to make that work for AV? “To quote a friend of mine: ‘Hire IT professionals and drag them into the digital media market,’” Valenti says. “All of my design consultants are network-savvy, and they’re working directly with guys who are more than network savvy, they’re network smart.”

Valenti cautions that the trend toward collaborative, interactive, software-driven environments means AV professionals must get away from the mindset of hanging things on the wall and understand both the technical and cultural networks that will drive what goes on the screen. “For example, we are deliberately designing buildings that have small group meeting spaces. What used to be a corridor will have nooks and crannies with flatpanels—study and play spaces that will allow students to hook up laptops and share the public display space for study and gaming, or socializing, whatever. On the surface of it that’s easy—hang some panels. However, the underlying infrastructure, the software tools that let students share digital information in the way they want to share it—the ways that are relevant to them—will drive the sales cycle.

“If you’re going to be successful in the sales cycle, you have to understand a particular application or market very deeply or you’re going to be marginalized,” Valenti says. “It’s become so simple to hang a flatpanel on the wall. Clients want collaborators who understand their software, their applications, and their business case. The old magic is out of it. What you need to do is discover where your magic lies. Magic equals margin.”

Valenti’s presentation will detail the two simultaneous trajectories that are driving modern AV—particularly in higher education, but by extension, in all aspects of the world students will graduate into and want to work in. “We’re asking two questions: How do we design to accommodate an increasingly sophisticated and ever-changing set of personal digital media tools that students and faculty bring with them into the building. And at the same time, how do we provide for the kind of sophisticated system tools that they can’t get anywhere else but in this particular building?

“Because the question is, why would I want to sit in class? Or go to the common areas? The answer is, students don’t. All of the statistics demonstrate that—the lecture is becoming less and less a part of delivery model. They want to be working together in the learning environment; the teacher is moving from content expert to facilitator. Technology is making that easier.” Further complicating the design charter, Valenti says “the building is designed to last 100 years (or forever if the architect gets his way), but the interior will change every 10 years, and the systems every three to five years. So the challenge is to create a design that is flexible and robust enough to accommodate those different rates of change. Students want access to the cutting edge, so how are we going to keep it fresh?

Valenti also points to the statistic that 18-22 year olds make up less than 16 percent of the higher education market. “Constant, lifelong, just-in-time education is going to be the norm—learning on demand. You’re going to download the knowledge that you need immediately in advance of need it,” he says.

And for those of you who want to run that paradigm to the outer limits, Valenti recommends following MIT artificial intelligence guru Ray Kurzweil. “It’s been a phenomenal decade for those studying how the brain works,” he says, and this time, without a trace of irony, says that AV will be driven by nothing less than the evolution of human experience and the human mind.



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