Shifting Needs: Integrators and Consultants Weigh in on Adapting to Higher Ed Changes

With the way that higher ed changes so incredibly fast, how are the actual needs-analysis processes changing for integrators?

Integrators are being challenged to learn a new vocabulary about what teachers are planning to do differently in their facilities. There is a blurring of the concepts of classroom and laboratory, and of what students will actually be doing inside these rooms—and outside of them. The needs-analysis conversation cannot begin with an assumption that all teachers are changing their pedagogies, or that all institutions will embrace new teaching and learning styles in all rooms. There will also be many faculty members [that] are unfamiliar with the new possibilities, and it will not be sensible to explain or sell new technologies to them; they will have to experience it for themselves. There will be additional stakeholders within the decision-making committees that are both excited yet jaded about educational technology implementation.

Planning for the future involves incorporating new types of infrastructure throughout buildings to support systems ideas that have not been tried. Most importantly, integrators must be patient as consensus is built across faculties as they envision how to prepare students for the workplace of 2020 and beyond, and as they grapple with the new learning behaviors of Gen Z.
—Joseph Bocchiaro II, principal consultant, The Sextant Group

In the past, the customer drove the discussion, largely with requests for specific types of interactive whiteboards or video conferencing end points. Since collaboration technology is advancing rapidly, we encourage consultative conversations that steer clear of product discussions until the very end of the needs analysis. We take into consideration the challenge, the vision, and what success looks like from a student’s perspective, as well as from the business stakeholders’ and decision makers’ standpoint. It’s a customer-centric, solution selling approach.
—John Steinhauer, executive vice president, Whitlock

One of the key trends in the higher education market is the growth and distribution of lecture capture and streaming technology. These solutions now have to be carefully integrated into the college’s vision of both its network architecture and use models. This potentially can increase the complexity of both the hardware and software models. This requires a thorough needs-analysis process that incorporates a larger group. The IT function becomes much more important, and the integrator has to provide expertise in both the network and application requirements early in this process. This will require integrators to be hybrid market/technology experts, both in the sales and design functions. This team will need to become functional experts for the customer.
—Scott Birdsall, CEO, CompView

Audiovisual system design is at the forefront of instructional technology, with concepts like flipped classrooms, lecture capture, and active/collaborative learning environments all very popular right now. Not only are instructors the driving force behind these new teaching methods; administrators at brick and mortar higher education institutions see many of these ideas as selling points that will set them apart from the online institutions. This means that anyone involved with AV system design in higher ed institutions has to put a heavy emphasis on the needs-analysis phase of the project, assuring that they deliver the kind of classroom technology that instructors and administrators are seeking.

Involving the end users in pre-design focus groups is a must. Include instructors, students, as well as representatives from the provost’s office, facilities (interior designer), and your campus’ academic technology support group. Bringing end users on a benchmarking field trip to a peer institution that has implemented some of this newer AV technology in its classrooms goes a long way. Not only will the end users get some hands on experience trying this new technology, but you can learn from the successes/mistakes made by others.

Most importantly, a semester or two after instructors have been using these newer classroom styles, reassemble the focus groups for feedback on how the AV technology is helping or hindering teaching.
—Mike Tomei, owner, Tomei AV Consulting

Making Education Technology Last

How can schools optimize moderately used legacy equipment along with brand new products?

The key is to choose equipment that’s modular and flexible by nature to grow with the changing technology. In that regard, schools would benefit from solutions that can be updated once they’ve been moderately used. Some may not think of infrastructure products as future-proof, but many AV integrators have found that furniture products like Middle Atlantic’s L5 series lecterns are just that. The company’s frame-to-furniture approach to its lecterns includes a rack to reliably support the system within, and a wood kit that’s attached after the equipment has been installed. A design approach like this is integrator-friendly and future-proof by nature in that the outward appearance can be changed out for any reason. Further, a customizable presenter’s panel can be designed for the equipment first specified, and switched out if the technology is upgraded. What was once moderately used can become brand new within minutes.
—Dean Wheelan, application engineer, Middle Atlantic Products

By connecting your existing AV equipment to a unified communication solution, schools can present, educate, and collaborate easily and effectively from anywhere in the world. Informational technology is revolutionizing the products we see in the modern day classroom. What once was hardware is now moving to the cloud, creating the BYOD phenomenon. To accommodate BYOD preferences, manufacturers are bridging the gap between old and new with unified communications (UC) technology. Taking your existing AV equipment and controlling it through your device (laptop, tablet, smartphone), users can use whatever application they want (WebEx, Lync, Skype, YouTube etc.) to collaborate in a meeting room, lecture hall, or anywhere, and they can do so in an inexpensive fashion. Vaddio address this particular need in the marketplace with its AV Bridge family of products, which allows you to take existing cameras and audio sources and capture, record, stream, mix, and control them all through a single USB stream into your computer.
—Hailey Klein, marketing manager, Vaddio

From the projection screen perspective, there are some possibilities. If a school wants to hang onto projectors, we can fix them up with a slightly higher gain screen with wider viewing angles than the screens they probably have now, or a screen with better contrast, getting them a much better image. They can use our Projection Planner to spec out the viewing surface just right for the room and projector. They can also replace old, overly glossy whiteboards with newer low-gloss models like the Scribe, which works much better under projection. This is excellent for use with the ultrashort- throw projectors. In some cases they are going for more interactivity using touchpanels, but still have a need for some projection. In those cases, we are still seeing that manual pull-down screens and some lower-cost electric models can be used for the projection while elsewhere in the same classroom, the touchpanels are used.
—Amy Madden, sales support lifts product manager, Draper

The current trend toward AV and IT convergence is great news for anyone looking to leverage existing, or legacy AV investments while extending capabilities with new technology to support new or incremental use cases. New market entrants like Mersive know it’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure their products complement and augment what’s already in the room because “rip and replace” makes for a terrible ROI result. In the case of moderately used legacy technology, it’s important to consider what the original use-case rationale was, and why the solution may have fallen short. Is the issue usability, performance, or missing features or functions? Software-based solutions that leverage commodity hardware offer the greatest degree of flexibility when it comes to integrating with existing solutions, which in turn can allow them to refresh a stale investment.
—Robert Balgley, CEO, Mersive

The staff of Systems Contractor News serves the AV integration industry with thorough news analysis, trend reports, and the latest product and technology information—delivered to an audience of decision-makers.