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Wireless Classroom

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In the September 2011 issue of SCN (“Paperless Classroom”), I talked about the revolution in education that’s impacting the way Higher Ed and K-12 classroom systems are being configured and how the resulting designs will radically reduce our environmental footprint in terms of manufacturing, installing, and ultimately disposing of obsolete hardware, racks, wire, and connectors. I also mentioned how the mass adoption of tablet PCs (mainly iPads), wireless ethernet and social networks were driving a new classroom dichotomy—old school “chalk and talk” vs. new school digital collaboration.

I’ve stumbled on more supporting evidence, as well as a few exceptions that help prove the rule. Back in March 2010, the Washington Post reported that American University, George Washington University, the College of William and Mary, the University of Virginia, and many others had banned laptops from the classroom, arguing that internet connectivity is nothing more than the digital equivalent of comic books and crossword puzzles—a multi-tasking distraction that produces minimal interaction, low subject retention, and poor grades. In contrast, the University of Washington, University of Michigan, MIT, North Carolina State University, and yes, American University, are embracing collaboration software like Tidebreak ClassSpot, Adobe Connect, and laptop-centric classroom designs such as SCALE-UP.

What’s going on here? Which approach will win out? I’m thinking neither… and both. That is to say, certain curricula in disciplines such as law and business really do benefit from the “screens off, eyes forward” methodology. Many instructors excel at live Socratic interaction and this compelling teaching technique shouldn’t get lost in a miasma of new hand-held computing devices or whiz-bang display technologies. On the other hand, computer clusters and interactive software continue to be popular in high failure-rate courses like physics and chemistry where students benefit from applying formulas immediately in order to understand and retain core concepts, and where group projects can more easily be assembled online. And of course for computer skills training, nothing beats screen time.

So what does this have to do with AV design or green AV design for that matter? It means that it’s not a sustainable business model to design and build systems that do everything, but are complex, clumsy, and expensive; we must help clients select tailor-made, high-performance tools, and not over-engineer or apply boiler plate designs to their projects. In other words, we must learn our clients’ business as well or better than they do, so we’re not installing all the right gear in all the wrong places, and of course trucking it all to the recycling center a few years later. I’ve said repeatedly “the greenest AV system is no AV system at all.” I need to add “the second greenest AV system is the perfect AV system for the job.”

For example, campus planners used to want power and data available at every seat in a lecture hall. Twenty years ago, no one foresaw that 802.11 would make wired ethernet jacks virtually obsolete. Nowadays, wired data jacks are really only needed in a few key locations, and with flash storage and the current rate of advancement in screen efficiency and battery technology, laptops will be able to run wire-free for days—if not weeks—in the next few years. We used to size conduit based on analog copper cable bundles the size of a fire hose. Now that entire pipe has a few strands of fiber and maybe some Cat-6 running through it. With 1TbE networks on the horizon, even copper UTP may become the buggy whip of the current generation of construction projects.

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You can’t blame us for not always predicting the obvious. Popular Mechanics once wrote “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” But this time around, the traffic signs are flashing neon billboards and all the technology pieces needed are readily available. Sharp’s new 80-inch 1080p LED TV is available right now for $4,000 street price, and it weighs only 122 pounds. LG just displayed an 84-inch, 3840 x 2160 3D OLED at CES. That’s eight million pixels, four times more than standard HD displays. This has got to make projector manufacturers take notice. There is another tipping point coming—just like there was for CRT projectors—where almost overnight video projectors will only be found in movie theaters, large lecture halls, and other big venues.

Brian E. Huff, LEED AP, DMC-E is an Associate Principal at Vantage Technology Consulting Group with offices in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Los Angeles. He is a member of the InfoComm Sustainable Technology Environments Program (STEP) committee, and served as the moderator of the ANSI / InfoComm Standard Guide for Audiovisual Systems Design and Coordination Processes committee.

Green AV Glossary

SCALE-UP is an acronym for the Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs project developed by North Carolina State University to establish a highly collaborative, hands-on, computer-rich, interactive learning environment for large-enrollment courses.

1TbE is an acronym for terabit ethernet over optical fiber (1 trillion bits per second), the network speed standard expected to be available by 2015. The effort is being spearheaded by the University of California’s Terabit Optical Ethernet Center (TOEC) in Santa Barbara, CA. 100 terabit ethernet is predicted to be available by 2020.

QD TV is a new display technology using a proprietary form of photoluminescent / electroluminescent nano-scale crystals, aka “Quantum Dots”. Unlike current OLED technology (Organic Light Emitting Diodes), Quantum dots can be applied to flexible surfaces using advanced printing technologies. QDs are extremely power efficient because they are “light on demand” displays. QD crystals can be applied with water-based solvents, are RoHS 2002/95/EC compliant, and have a longer life and better color purity than traditional OLED displays. In addition, QD displays have no real size limits and provide improved daylight readability over OLEDs. The technology is far along in development and may be available in flat-screen TVs by the end of 2012.

WiDi (pronounced “why die”) is a wireless full-motion 1080p display technology currently available on second-generation Intel Core processors.

—B.H.

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