Audiovisual systems integrators have typically been the experts consulted to design and build these spaces as well as to support and maintain the systems and equipment. These solutions can be impressive, offering efficiency, discovery, collaboration, communication, simplicity and a memorable and exceptional experience. The point, however, is that the design and installation of these sensory stimulating creations require a number of skilled professionals.
AV Design, Installation and Maintenance–Credentials Required
Understanding the requirements to design effective AV environments is generally the first level of education for users or owners. Sometimes, audiovisual consultants are hired by architects, contractors or owners to develop a scheme for AV technology within buildings. Consultants design and specify the equipment for the AV system as well as work with other contractors/trades to ensure proper collaboration. The AV systems integrator then builds and installs the technology system according to the specifications. When a consultant is not used, AV systems integrators with proper credentials are used to both design and build the spaces.
As is the case with many owners who don't completely understand the complexity of AV, when the objective is to re-fit a single room or multiple rooms with new technology, the task may be handed off to inhouse IT or facilities departments. AV, like other industries, has learned proficiencies necessary to the industry. Additionally, it has its own set of certifications (CTS, CTS-I, CTS-D), standards and best practices developed by audiovisual experts and published by AV associations like InfoComm and NSCA. While AV can and does work hand-in-hand with other industries, the skill-set to design and build a properly functioning system is exclusive to trained audiovisual professionals.
Christopher Maione, CTS-D, owner of Christopher Maione Associates and adjunct faculty at InfoComm International, clarifies the importance of AV being recognized as a professional service, "I like to refer to AV design as a craft and not as a commodity. You want a flat screen on the wall? Go to Best Buy. If you want an AV system which is properly integrated with the classroom in an effort to provide technology which will enhance the teacher/instructor and which will overall enable a deeper level of comprehension for students, you need a professionally designed audiovisual space."
Technology in the classroom engages and immerses students in ways that profoundly affect learning and retention for all different learning styles. What is important to remember is that AV technology is not a kit solution. It must be created with the space and user requirements in mind. Universities are particularly more complex than PreK-12 spaces, with classrooms, broadcast studios, multi-purpose rooms, stadiums, labs and many other types of environments that have unique technological challenges and requirements. Therefore, audiovisual design, installation and support are pieces of a professional service performed by trained, skilled individuals.
Jahn Westbrook, Technical Manager of NYU Campus Media, concedes that there are "a couple of key challenges surrounding technology and installation. Access, functionality, and compatibility are what I consider KEY factors in integration." Westbrook defines access as the spot "where the equipment is located in the classroom in relation to the faculty for effective and non-interrupted teaching." Functionality, for Westbrook, is defined as "immediate and on-demand function of whatever is installed," and the final factor-compatibility-is defined as "the various peripheral media and devices connected to the installed AV equipment."
Many campuses have teams of experienced technology specialists trained in AV on staff to support faculty, maintain equipment, and provide oversight of the integrated systems. Westbrook reinforces the need for this type of campus-wide support and equipment supervision saying, "With a scaled daily and weekly maintenance schedule, AV equipment is kept in optimum working condition. This comprises checking cables, connections, and cleaning away dust and debris." Westbrook also explains that training users to understand the "functions of the installed equipment" as well as the ways "how their personal equipment will integrate with the installed equipment" is essential to a positive user experience that "provides seamless class instruction." It is important to note that this campus technology team generally does not take the place of AV systems integrators; they do not typically design and install complex audiovisual systems.
A Key Component of Learning in Today's Classroom-Why AV Needs to Work
While the cost may seem high, properly integrated technology in the classroom results in more active learning as well as an increase in student motivation. According to studies conducted for the US Department of Education, "The most common-and in fact, nearly universal-teacher-reported effect on students was an increase in motivation. Teachers and students are sometimes surprised at the level of technology-based accomplishment displayed by students who have shown much less initiative or facility with more conventional academic tasks." Today's students obtain answers to questions almost instantly. In an era of Google, Wikipedia and YouTube, individuals are able to obtain information faster and easier than ever before. Keeping students engaged is key to absorption and retention. Now that technology in the classroom is expected, welldesigned systems and consistently performing technology is essential.
Additionally, students are becoming conditioned to instant information download. The expectation is that answers to most any questions are available somewhere and that "somewhere" is easily accessible to them on smart phones, computers, and tablets- creating a new component in the life of an educator, which keeps students interested and information streaming immediately and in a variety of formats. Technology does this. As mentioned previously, beyond immediate data retrieval, AV creates an interactive and immersive environment for students, which supports traditional as well as alternative learning styles. In short, students will have a more relevant and relatable learning experience.
Jahn Westbrook lives campus technology daily. Westbook states, "Successfully engaging students of today is a magical blend of the technology supporting the faculty engaging with the technology. Students can actively pay attention to the lecture, with the knowledge that the material presented in class will be available for their review at a later time through various applications such as Blackboard, Sakai, or even as a lecture capture video." Additionally, Westbrook explains the importance of technology as it creates student and faculty access to information that may not have been readily available a few years ago by, "using Global Classroom technology, the distance of time zones and countries has been effectively bridged, uniting and immersing students to a level of interactivity on these, the nascent, days of the Global Classroom, a virtually wall-less University."
Audiovisual As a Campus Wide Standard-What Properly Functioning AV Can Do
Beyond the classroom, campuses have technology requirements that are as specialized as the spaces in which they are built. Digital signage, emergency notification, broadcast, distance learning, large venue displays, interactive exhibits are all commonly found on campuses nation-wide. Properly designed AV systems can unify a campus through technology that will also allow the school to conserve resources and save money. Michael Peveler, Vice President at AMX Education, supports using technology as a unifying factor across campuses, buildings, rooms and departments indicating that, "campus administrators are tasked with the need to provide a safe campus, utilize innovative technologies, create effective learning environments - all while reducing cost." While this seems a difficult puzzle to solve, Peveler proposes that "the answer is to take advantage of the convergence of AV and IT by looking for network based unified control solutions that tie multiple systems together and give control of those systems to any administrator from a single common interface. Using unified solutions allows the end user to distribute audio and video to any room, zone or the entire building (bells, PA, Video announcements, emergency alerts, etc.) while also managing energy management tools and safety systems. Because these solutions are on a single network they reduce cost by eliminating propriety cable and infrastructure while allowing both installed and mobile control interface options. With one common interface more individuals can easily use the solution without complex training." It is also possible that colleges and universities with multiple campuses can unite the facilities through technology, and can collaborate with other universities across the globe.
The Right Team is Crucial
AV is a fundamental component in creating an effective and memorable learning experience, a "wall-less" classroom and an efficient, unified campus. Understand that this type of integrated campus must be properly designed, installed and maintained by experienced AV technology specialists in order to provide the consistency, savings and management that are expected of the modern audiovisual systems. To help pull this AV puzzle together, AV Systems Integrators, AV Consultants and certified technology specialists should be considered a valued piece of the core technology team for all integrated campuses.
is Director of Educational Sales at FSR, Inc (www.fsrinc.com) in Woodland Park, NJ. FSR is a US manufacturer which offers connectivity, infrastructure, AV, and collaborative technology products worldwide. Gina is a member of InfoComm International and a team member of the Long Island Volunteer Enterprise. Reach Gina at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @GinaSans.