Making the most of scarce resources
With the fall semester in the record books, it's a good time to look forward at what we'd like to accomplish in 2009. In the interest of rigorous honesty, I should admit that one of the things
I'd like to accomplish in 2009 is to do a better job of using the existing facilities at the university to their full advantage.
I'd like to be able to tell you that I do this by default, but sadly this is not always the case. The fact that I consider myself a smart fellow who is technologically savvy makes these little failures - not to wring the most out of what resources I have - all the more galling.
For example, I spent this past semester dealing with a projector in a large lecture hall. This particular hall features a lectern with an AMX touchscreen that controls power to three projectors in the room. When a projector is turned on, the AMX system simultaneously lowers the associated projection screen from the ceiling. A matrix of buttons on the touchscreen further allows one to select the source that will feed each projector independently of the others.
LESS THAN MEETS THE EYE
However, particular projector presents itself with a resolution of 800x600 pixels, which is considered SVGA resolution, and is by no means high enough to display an entire screen of a web browser. If I put my laptop in "mirror mode" so I can work entirely on my laptop's screen and students see what I see, then my lovely 15-inch, 16x9 aspect ratio, 1,440x900-pixel laptop screen also assumes the SVGA resolution. Viewing web pages of any complexity requires scrolling in both directions to see it in its entirety.
To improve both my presentation and my ability to navigate windows, I instead put my laptop into "extend mode" so that the projected image becomes an extension of my laptop screen, albeit at a lower resolution. Every time I want to project a web page with this scheme, I must drag the browser window from my desktop to the right so it appears on the "extended" display of the projector. Furthermore, once the browser window appears on the projector, I have to twist my head around and view the projected image to click on buttons and links, rather than looking straight ahead at my laptop. Extend mode is just fine and wholly correct for PowerPoint or Keynote presentations that benefit from dual screens, but it is less than optimum for projecting browser pages.
Understand that there is no knob, button, or slider on the AMX touchscreen to adjust the projector's resolution. Since we still have some native 800x600 projectors in various classrooms on campus, I grumbled about my predicament throughout the semester, but put up with it anyway. But, of course, immediately after the last lecture of the semester, the AV technician for the department wandered into the hall. He was taking an inventory of things that needed repair over the winter break, and I grumbled to him about the projector.
"Why are you using this projector at 800x600?" he asked, and then added breezily, "Its XGA - its native resolution is 1024x768."
Before I could decide whether to thank him or berate him, he walked up to the lectern, pulled open a small drawer near the top, rummaged around in the back of the drawer, and produced a remote control for the center projector. Aiming it skyward, he clicked a couple of buttons and the projected image went blank, as did my laptop display. When the displays reappeared, my laptop screen looked the same, but the projected icons on my extended desktop were much smaller.
I switched my laptop to mirror mode. My desktop darkened, then appeared with a somewhat larger, but still quite acceptable, set of icons on the desktop. "Why don't I know about this?" I asked, feeling an odd combination of joy, embarrassment, and a bit of anger. "I dunno...they've always been this way. I thought you guys knew that," he replied as he turned his back and left. No, I didn't know they were XGA projectors, and I'm not sure how I could have known. I wasn't even aware that there was a remote for it in that drawer.
ASSUMING THE RESPONSIBILITY
Much as I might like to pin blame on the AV department, I cannot escape my portion of the responsibility for not using the equipment to its fullest. And I haven't even mentioned the university wiki that I didn't know existed when I established a wiki using a third-party company.
The truth is that I bear most of the responsibility for knowing what facilities are available, and how to best take advantage of them. I'll be doing an inventory of my own during the first week of classes, taking note of projector resolutions, network jack speeds and capabilities, audio facilities, and the like. If I cannot determine how many inputs are available to feed the projector, I resolve to ask until I get the answer.
This is part of my job, and I expect no handholding. Instead, because I have that information, I will be a more valuable team member in 2009 than I was in 2008. In the current economic environment, that's a very good thing indeed.
Steve Cunningham is a senior lecturer in technology in the Thornton School, Music Industry Department at USC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.