Monday, December 7, 2015

Campus Technology: Decoding ADA Standards in Classroom AV

In November 2015 I wrote an article for Campus Technology focusing on ADA Standards in relation to classroom audio visual system design.  Click on this link to see the original article with some illustrations.

Decoding ADA Standards for Classroom AV
by Mike Tomei, Tomei AV Consulting
Classroom audiovisual systems can quickly turn into complex designs integrating a mix of technology, furniture and room design into one (hopefully) cohesive system. AV designers are not only tasked with determining the equipment needed in the system, but also the required infrastructure design specifications to make sure the system adheres to building, electrical, structural and life safety codes.
In the midst of all those specifications, one often overlooked — but critical — aspect of AV system design is compliance with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities. The most recent revision, including the ADA Standards for Accessible Design, was established in 2010. Many regulations defined in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design document apply directly to classroom audio visual system design. Disregarding these ADA Standards results in AV systems that are unusable by persons with disabilities, and may result in lawsuits.
As a quick disclaimer, this article is simply my interpretation of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design as they relate to AV system design, and should not be used as a substitute for seeking out the advice of an expert on accessible design. Every AV system design is different, so look to your campus ADA coordinator or a qualified design consultant for the final determination on the ADA compliance for your specific classroom AV system installations. This may not be a complete list of all the ADA Standards applying to your specific AV installation project. The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design document is very extensive, and should be read carefully by anyone involved with classroom audiovisual design.
This article will focus on the aspects of the 2010 ADA Standards that apply to an audiovisual system installation, but not the numerous room design elements that also need to adhere to ADA Standards. Aspects like number of wheelchair-accessible seating areas, aisle pitch in auditoriums, fire alarm systems, signage, student desk height, door sizes, etc. need to be determined by the project's architect, facilities project manager or interior designer, and aren't addressed in this article.
The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design apply to both new construction and alterations to existing buildings/facilities. There are many exceptions for unique facilities (historic buildings, limited access spaces, etc.), so make sure to check Chapter 2 of the regulations to determine how they apply to your facility.
Classrooms are defined in the ADA Standards as "assembly areas" and are subject to these regulations. The types of assembly areas that are specifically defined in the ADA Standards, and may apply to higher education campuses, are: classrooms, lecture halls, public meeting rooms, motion picture houses, auditoria, theaters, playhouses, concert halls, centers for the performing arts, amphitheaters, arenas, stadiums, grandstands or convention centers.
Operable Parts: Sections 205 and 309
Sections 205 and 309 of The 2010 ADA Standards address "operable parts" on accessible elements, which can include classroom AV system components like touchscreen/button user interfaces, projection screen switches, laptop input plates, etc. that are mounted on lecterns, teaching stations and walls. ADA Standards dictate acceptable floor space, height, reach ranges and difficulty of operation pertaining to these operable parts, of which are defined in subsequent sections.
Work Surfaces: Sections 226 and 902
These sections apply to the acceptable height of work surfaces such as lecterns, instructor tables, and teaching stations. ADA Standards dictate that the height of work surfaces shall be a minimum of 28 inches AFF (above finished floor) and a maximum of 34 inches AFF. Lectern height is frequently overlooked by AV system designers, resulting in AV equipment mounted on lecterns with work surfaces that violate these standards. Lecterns that are 34 inches tall (to comply with the ADA Standards) are usually too low for standing users. Adjustable height lecterns solve this issue and create a comfortable teaching experience for all users. The AV equipment mounted on these work surfaces is subject to ADA reach range standards, which are addressed below.
Reach Ranges: Section 308
The 2010 ADA Standards clearly define forward and side reach ranges for users in wheelchairs. A forward or side reach by a user in a wheelchair can be defined as "unobstructed" or an "obstructed high reach."
An example of an "unobstructed forward or side reach" is when a person in a wheelchair approaches a wall-mounted AV control system touchscreen or a laptop input wall plate. These AV system elements can have a maximum height of 48 inches AFF and a minimum of 15 inches AFF. Take caution when specifying the height above the finished floor for wall boxes to be installed by electrical contractors. Typically, if you specify your 2-gang box for the wall-mounted touchpanel to be installed 48 inches AFF, the electrical contractor will measure 48 inches from the floor to the center of the box. All AV system user interface controls above the center line of that 2-gang box will be above 48 inches AFF, creating a violation of the ADA Standards. A common laptop input plate wall mounting height is 18 inches AFF, which matches typical power outlet heights. Make sure that the bottom of your AV input plate doesn't drop below 15 inches AFF.
These minimum and maximum height ranges for unobstructed reach also apply to user-accessible rack-mounted AV equipment, projection screen switches, sliding white/chalkboard systems and manual projection screen pull strings. One exception described in the ADA Standards is that "floor electrical receptacles" (which I interpret to include AV input plates inside floor boxes) are not required to adhere to these reach ranges.
The "obstructed high reach" minimum and maximum ranges for forward and side reaches depend on the size of the obstruction the person in a wheelchair has to reach over, and are clearly defined by illustrations in Section 308. These obstructed high forward reach ranges apply to the acceptable depth of ADA compliant teaching stations/tables that wheelchair users can roll up to, with their knees under the desk. Knee and toe clearance is addressed in a different section of the Standards. Obstructed high side reach ranges define the maximum acceptable depth and height of obstructions wheelchair users can reach over to access AV equipment. Even though you may have a height adjustable lectern in the classroom, if wheelchair users are expected to perform a side reach over the lectern to access AV equipment that doesn't meet this section's requirements, you're in violation of the ADA Standards.
Knee and Toe Clearance: Section 306
Teaching stations or instructor tables that allow users in wheelchairs to roll under the desk/table are subject to ADA Standards for knee and toe clearance, which are defined in Section 306. Minimum and maximum height and depth ranges are defined for the space under these desks/tables; AV-related items like keyboard trays/drawers, cable trays, under-table-mounted AV equipment, and the underside of elements like table boxes can decrease the available knee and toe space, causing a violation of ADA Standards.
Turning Space and Clear Floor/Ground Space: Sections 304 and 305
These sections of the ADA Standards address the required space needed for wheelchair access to AV system components. Users in wheelchairs need proper access to approach lecterns, instructor tables, teaching stations, AV equipment racks, walls with mounted AV equipment, etc. — and enough room to turn their wheelchair. As a minimum, there needs to be 30 inches by 48 inches of clear floor/ground space in front of the accessible element, with a turning space minimum of 60 inches in diameter, or a T-shaped turning space that is defined in section 304.3.2. Clear floor/ground space is defined for "either forward or parallel approach to an element."
Protruding Objects: Sections 204 and 307
Sections 204 and 307 address the distance that wall- and post-mounted items can protrude and the vertical clearance required for overhead items. These standards often come into play when designing wall- and ceiling-mounted digital signage displays in hallways as well as ceiling-mounted projectors in classrooms. For example, the ADA Standards dictate that a wall-mounted digital signage display between 27 inches and 80 inches above the floor may not protrude more than 4 inches from the wall. This is a common ADA Standards violation. Recess your display, mount, media player and power/network outlets in the wall to adhere to this standard. Another example that this section addresses is a digital signage display ceiling-mounted in a hallway or a ceiling-mounted classroom projector. The bottom of that display/projector must have at least 80 inches vertical clearance above the floor.
This section specifically addresses protrusion minimums and maximums for items in "circulation paths." The ADA Standards define a circulation path as: "An exterior or interior way of passage provided for pedestrian travel, including but not limited to, walks, hallways, courtyards, elevators, platform lifts, ramps, stairways, and landings." I've heard differing opinions on applying the circulation path definition to objects mounted on a classroom wall or ceiling. I err on the side of caution in this respect, and make sure any wall- or ceiling-mounted AV equipment in my designs meets these protrusion standards. I frequently see wall-mounted ultra-short-throw projectors and ceiling-mounted projectors installed in classrooms that don't meet these ADA standards.
Assistive Listening Systems: Sections 219 and 706
When audiovisual system designers think of ADA Standards, assistive listening systems are the first thing that come to mind. It's required that assistive listening systems be provided "in each assembly area where audible communication is integral to the use of the space." Classrooms certainly fall into this category, as do meeting and event spaces on campus. The ADA Standards dictate the specific number of required receivers in relation to the audience size, as well as some technical requirements for the different types of assistive listening systems (induction loop, infrared and FM radio transmission). Section 703.7.2.4 addresses the necessary signage required when there's an assistive listening system present. The assistive listening system requirements are commonly neglected ADA Standards in schools, but AV support departments can look to the assistive listening system manufacturers for some guidance on becoming compliant.
Wheelchair Spaces in Assembly Areas: Sections 221 and 802
Sections 221 and 802 address requirements for wheelchair spaces in assembly areas like classrooms and meeting/event spaces. Many of these requirements (number and location of wheelchair spaces, the size of those spaces, companion seats, etc.) fall under the architect or interior designer's responsibilities, but these sections do address sight lines from wheelchair spaces, which affect the AV designer. The sight lines to a "screen, performance area, or playing field" from the wheelchair spaces are specifically addressed. AV designers need to work with the project's architect or interior designer to make sure that sight lines from all wheelchair spaces meet these ADA Standards.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

System Contractor News: Who's Who of Consulting Guide 2015

SCN published their annual Consulting Guide, and not only is my business profile listed in the Guide, but I also wrote a small piece that was published inside the Guide.  Since it's a bit hard to link to the article, I'll reprint it below in this newsletter.

How To Create Advanced Learning Environments that Students and Teachers Alike Can and Will Take Full Advantage Of
by Mike Tomei, Tomei AV Consulting
With the increasing popularity of concepts like active (collaborative) learning, flipped classrooms, and lecture capture, higher education AV system designs have evolved past the typical “hang-and-bangs.” AV design consultants and integrators see lots of opportunity in the higher ed market to provide more complex AV system designs to support these new teaching trends, but they aren’t necessarily paying attention to clients’ needs. Having worked in higher ed AV support roles, and many of my current clients being colleges and universities, I’ve experienced a large divide between how college administrators and faculty view these enhanced AV systems in classrooms.
Administrators at the helm of these classroom-upgrade projects love the idea of a flashy active-learning classroom with multiple displays, a complex control system, and elaborate matrix switching. As I dig deeper and meet with faculty members, I sometimes hear a lack of interest in these types of rooms, or outright opposition to being forced to teach in these environments. Some faculty believe that too much installed AV equipment will create more of a distraction for students, rather than aid in the learning process. More often than not, less is more when it comes to designing higher ed collaborative learning environments. Many times a handful of basic single-display huddle spaces in a library are of more interest than installing one very complex active-learning classroom. Administrators may still want to create a showcase active-learning classroom on their campus, but a thorough needs-analysis effort during the AV design process assures that all parties will have their voices heard, and the end product will be a classroom that meets the varying demands of all users.

AVNation EdTech podcast: Episode 38 (October 2015)

In the October 2015 episode of the AV Nation Ed Tech podcast we discuss consumer electronics in the classroom, web interfaces on AV equipment, the AV-iQ site, Middle Atlantic furniture, HDMI cable licensing, and the latest from CCUMC.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

AVNation EdTech podcast: Episode 37 (September 2015)

In the September 2015 episode of the AV Nation EdTech podcast, we discuss my feature in the Commercial Integrator 2015 "40 Influencers Under Forty" list, Extron making a move deeper into the lecture capture market, lecture capture workflow, and network security concerns relating to AV equipment.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

AVNation AV Week podcast: Episode 209 (8/21/15)

Since August is a very busy month for higher ed tech managers, we didn't record an episode of the EdTech podcast.  Instead, since I made Commercial Integrator's "40 Influencers Under 40" list, Tim Albright invited me and some others from the list to record an episode of the AV Week podcast.  I joined Hope Roth, Victoria Ferrari and Commercial Integrator's Editor-In-Chief, Tom LeBlanc.  We discuss USB-C connectors in pro-AV, and how millennials like to be managed.

Friday, August 7, 2015

AVNation EdTech podcast: Episode 36 (July 2015)

In the July 2015 episode of the AV Nation EdTech podcast, we discuss in-house vs. integrator installation for higher ed AV support departments, the various education technology trade shows out there, and we give our views on InfoComm 2015.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

InfoComm 2015 recap

InfoComm 2015 has come and gone, so I figured I would write up a quick recap of some items that made my "oh, that's cool" list as I wandered the aisles of the show floor.  I'm in agreement that the show was really worthwhile to attend, but there just wasn't anything groundbreaking that blew me away.

Here's my quick list, since I'm sure you've all read plenty of lengthy InfoComm Show recap articles already:

  • AMX (Harman) purchased SVSi:  This was by far the biggest news from the show, in my opinion.  If you're not familiar with SVSi, spend some time on their website and learn about their video over IP technology.  It's all routed through typical layer 3 network switches.  Combining their video over IP technology with AMX's products will really be interesting to watch in the future.  
  • WePresent WiPG-2000:  Every wireless presentation device out there has its pros and cons, but now that WePresent has licensed AirPlay, this device is pretty handy for standard classroom wireless display of tablets and laptops.  You don't have to spend money on collaboration features that you won't need in a classroom anyway.  This is the company that Crestron purchased the AirMedia from, by WePresent has done a nice job of updating their features.
  • Middle Atlantic furniture:  They've been making lecterns and credenzas for a while, but this show was my first chance to get my hands on them for a demo.  The lecterns are very solidly built, with great technical features geared toward the integrators.  I stressed the need for an adjustable ADA compliant lectern, and their rep said he's heard the same request "50 times" during the show.
  • Extron DTP CrossPoint 108 4K:  They obviously weren't at the InfoComm Show, but I did also attend the UB Tech Show and saw this new switcher in Extron's booth.  
  • FSR & Middle Atlantic ceiling tile boxes:  One of my missions this year was to hunt down products that allow me to hide a Crestron DM scaler (the 4K version is a big boy) and a power outlet in the ceiling above a projector.
  • Crestron Fusion Cloud Edition:  They're (finally) offering a could-based service for Fusion, so clients don't have to stand-up and maintain their own server.
  • Crestron and Dante:  In the beginning of 2014 Crestron announced that they were licensing Dante, and now they're finally starting to incorporate it into some of their DM switcher cards.  With both Extron and Crestron on-board, I think that's a big win for Dante.
  • Crestron .AV Framework:  During the Crestron colsultant's lunch, they announced that they'll soon be re-releasing their pre-programmed touch screen user interface with improved graphics.  A quick screen shot from them showed a much cleaner looking interface, compared to what they're already including with the DMPS3-4K-150-C.
  • Crestron Studio:  A big surprise for me was that Crestron Studio is still alive and they hired someone new to revive it and start pumping out updates.  I thought they had just let it die a slow and quiet death, but I guess not!
  • Audio-Technica System 10 Pro:  A relatively inexpensive wireless mic receiver that allows for remote antenna mounting up to 300 feet away using Cat5 cable.
  • Middle Atlantic Lever Lock System:  This has been around for a couple of years, but they have some real nice solutions to help you properly install all those small boxes (scalers, Cat6 extenders, media players, power supplies, etc.) inside equipment racks.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Campus Technology: How to Create an AV Standards Document

I wrote an article for Campus Technology magazine in June that describes the importance of higher ed AV support departments taking the time to write a document defining all of their AV design and technical standards.  Taking the time to assemble such a document now will save you countless hours and headaches later, when you're in the middle of the busy season for AV installations on campus.

June 10, 2015:
written by: Mike Tomei
Audiovisual technology is becoming increasingly complex and important in today's classrooms. And with higher education IT departments being tasked with the design, installation and support of instructional AV systems — areas in which IT staff may or may not have expertise — it's extremely important to develop, define and enforce AV system design/technical standards on campus.
The easiest way to do so is to create a comprehensive audiovisual design and technical standards document that can be referenced by all the parties involved with classroom AV installations. The goal of this document is to standardize AV installations across the institution, as well as streamline the design and construction process for these systems. A standards document will also help your IT department make progress toward the institution's audiovisual strategic goals.
Why Write This Document?
Some higher education institutions have a centralized department that's responsible for standardizing AV technology across campus, but many don't. Many institutions leave AV design and support up to the individual departments and/or schools across campus, resulting in a hodgepodge of different AV systems being installed with varying degrees of usability and installation quality. Others might exclusively outsource all of their audiovisual design and installation duties to consultants and systems integrators. In both cases, it's all the more important to develop an audiovisual design/technical standards document that all parties can rely on.
Every higher education AV support professional has experienced a situation where he or she is brought into a classroom construction or renovation project long after many AV-related system-design and infrastructure decisions have been made. Rather than issue costly change orders to fix what the general contractor and electricians have already incorrectly done, the school's AV department is expected to make compromises to systems to work around infrastructure issues. This almost always results in more work and AV support headaches in the future. If your campus's construction project manager had provided the project's architect with an AV standards document on day one, many of these problems could have been prevented. Architects are most likely provided with a similar document defining campus construction and interior design standards, and the AV standards document needs to be included.
Many readers from state schools will recognize this scenario: A different audiovisual design consultant and systems integration firm are chosen for each project, based on the lowest bid. You end up with a revolving door of AV professionals installing equipment on your campus. They have very limited knowledge of your existing classroom systems, and what direction you're trying to go in with new installations. This is a great reason to have an AV standards document written and ready to hand to these individuals at the beginning of a project.
A common thought is that if you hire an AV design consultant, that individual will perform a comprehensive needs analysis, review your existing systems and benchmark comparable systems before starting the system design process. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, and some unmotivated consultants will just slap their boilerplate technical specifications on your design, not taking into account any of your standards. Even an excellent consultant still needs guidance to meet your standards. Your AV standards document will be necessary to get the unmotivated consultants on the right path, and the great consultants will appreciate the information as a starting point for their design.
Remember, an AV standards document defines the design rationale that dictates the technical specifications of an audiovisual system — it's not the same as the technical specifications document an AV consultant writes when a project is put out to bid. Rather, it's one of the building blocks for the consultant's technical specifications document.
Who Should Write It?
As important as it is to write a standards document, it's more important to write it properly. Incorrect, nonexistent or vague information provided in the document can cause just as many problems as not having the document in the first place. It's imperative that you look to an individual who really understands audiovisual system design to write this. Better yet, pull together a group consisting of campus AV and IT professionals, your academic technology support staff, your school's construction project managers, the campus's interior designer, facilities staff, etc., to help cover all angles of AV system design and installation. Ultimately, you want an InfoComm CTS-D certified individual to write most of this document, with someone who has a CTS-I certification contributing to the technical specifications. If those qualifications don't exist within your staff, hire an AV consultant to assist with the writing. Relying on someone with these certifications will make sure you're starting with a baseline of industry standards, then building on them to customize for your campus's needs. This will be a constantly evolving document that adapts to past AV installation lessons and mistakes, as well as changes in technology and teaching trends, so pull your group of contributors together every year to revisit these documented standards.
What Content Should Go Into It?
Your AV standards document content will be all-encompassing, defining every technical, infrastructure, aesthetic and environmental variable that will affect your AV installation. Specifics are needed to clearly define your standards. For example, "Projection screen shall be properly sized for the room" leaves way too much room for interpretation. Replace that statement with "The projected image height should be no less than one-sixth the distance from the screen to the farthest viewer," and you're starting to get into the kind of measurable specifics that will ensure you get the AV system you need. Include pictures of properly installed equipment and infrastructure-related items to reinforce what you've written.
These standards documents can run long, but properly organizing them will go a long way. Making the document easy to read will result in more parties using it and referring back to it as they work on the AV system designs that you'll ultimately have to support. A quick online search of other schools' standards documents shows a mix of properly organized documents as well as others that simply threw their ideas on paper in an unorganized fashion.
Your standards document should also include codes and regulations that affect AV installation. Even though you assume that architects, engineers, general contractors and electricians have a good understanding of building to code, you still need to clearly define these standards. Include standards that make sure your AV installations are adhering to ADA Standards, National Electrical Code, etc.
Who Should Receive It?
Now that you've spent the time to write your comprehensive AV standards document, it's time to get it out to the public. This is one of those situations where the more publicly accessible this document is, the more apt people are to reference it. Send it to your campus's construction project managers, each department/school's technical support representatives, interior designers, electricians, facilities managers, AV integrators, architects and engineering firms. Post your standards document publicly on your department's Web site for download. Ask your facilities department if your AV standards document can be included with their construction and interior design standards that they have most likely already created for the campus.
It may seem like a daunting task assembling a standards document like this, but a little bit of work on the front end will result in a noticeable improvement in your campus's future audiovisual installations.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Middle Atlantic: A Room With a View - What factors weight most heavily in the choice between displays vs. projectors?

Leading up to InfoComm 2015, I contributed to a couple articles written by Middle Atlantic employees.  This article discusses the projector vs. flat panel debate in classrooms.  Full disclosure:  I wasn't paid by Middle Atlantic for this work, and I have no affiliation with Middle Atlantic.

June 2015
written by:  Megan Knedler, Director of Marketing Communications
When it comes to video in classrooms, it’s still a price and size game, and projectors continue to have the lead in terms of value. Flat panel video displays may be coming down in price and going up in size, but they still don’t offer the big-screen experience necessary for educational use. 
“Flat panel displays have made their way into many conference rooms, but still haven't pushed projectors out of classrooms,” observes Mike Tomei of Tomei AV Consulting, a firm specializing in education projects. “Projectors still provide a larger image at a cheaper cost for a typical classroom AV system design.” 
Furthermore, some of the arguments formerly made against projectors are becoming less valid, he adds: “Lampless projector technology is now eliminating some of the service issues that previously made projectors more undesirable.” 
Whether flat panels are still in contention or projectors are the absolute choice, the factors that determine video configuration settings remain constant: 
Size of the classroom
Ambient light in the classroom
Wall space 
In terms of size, Brock McGinnis, sales manager for Westbury National Show Systems Audio and Visual Solutions Division, provides a good rule of thumb for deciding whether to go with a flat panel or projection setup: “Viewing distance should always determine screen size. After that it’s cost. Single displays are only financially advantageous to 80 inches or 90 inches diagonal. Tiled narrow-bezel displays (or video walls) can extend that to 110 inches (2x2 55-inch) but the cost, at that point, is significantly higher than projection. 
Ambient lighting factors in to the classroom size versus display size question: Can a display and content be acceptably viewed clearly by the entire class? 
And as far as wall space goes, Tomei mentions some pretty inarguable features in favor of projection: “Faculty members can never have enough whiteboard or chalkboard space in a classroom, and installing a large flat panel display in the middle of the front wall eliminates a board. A projection screen can be raised to expose a board, or an image can be projected on a writable surface.” 
Other considerations pertaining to the ever-present quotient of budget include, according to Brad Thomas, general manager of products and higher education for AVI Systems: 
Installation costs
Downtime (i.e., Does the panel manufacturer have a three-year, 48-hour exchange program? Is the institution capable of de-installation and re-installation upon potential failure?)
Purchased consumables sitting on the shelf
Total cost of ownership (TCO)
The presence of a plan to move from analog to digital 
Then Thomas mentions the biggie: Price. “As size goes up and price comes down, campuses will further debate projectors versus displays!” 
So there you have it. When choosing between projectors and displays in classrooms, all of the above must be considered, but ultimately, the answer is price. 

Middle Atlantic: Education Essentials - What are three hardware elements that are a must for today’s classroom?

Leading up to InfoComm 2015, I contributed to a couple articles written by Middle Atlantic employees.  This article discusses AV hardware that should be considered during system design.  Full disclosure:  I wasn't paid by Middle Atlantic for this work, and I have no affiliation with Middle Atlantic.

June 2015
written by:  Tim Troast, Middle Atlantic Director of Product Management 
Get ready to take plenty of notes on new classroom AV solutions at InfoComm 2015. There will doubtlessly be a multitude of new hardware and software offerings aimed at engaging today’s generation of “digital natives,” but given a realistic budget, what are the absolute essentials that every classroom needs today?
While the number of technology offerings can be overwhelming, classroom technologies can really be filtered down to four essential categories:

Source selection and display control remain top priorities in today’s classrooms, necessitating a user interface of some kind in every place where classes are taught. Faculty members place heavy emphasis on reliability in this category, and a user-friendly push-button controller or touchscreen are still the front-runners in achieving this goal.
“Using a classroom audio visual system should be as easy as flipping on a light switch,” observes Mike Tomei of Tomei AV Consulting. “User interfaces and well developed control system programming behind the scenes allows for standardization across multiple classrooms, giving faculty the same user experience regardless of what classroom they're teaching in.”

Projectors are still king in classroom AV systems, Tomei says. “Flat panel displays are taking over conference rooms, but classroom systems still rely on projectors. Projectors can deliver a large enough image to meet system design best practices, and meet the budgets of schools looking to deploy them in multiple classrooms.”
But the type of projector varies from K-12 to higher education. Interactive projectors/displays are a must in K-12 classrooms, whether taking the form of ultra-short-throw interactive projectors mounted above whiteboards, or flat panel displays with touch capability. “Students respond well to the interactive elements of the curriculum that's supported by these types of projectors/displays,” he notes, but draws a distinction when it comes to higher-ed. “Interactive whiteboards typically aren't necessary in the higher-ed world, except for select departments like elementary education.”
But in the midst of all this talk about video, don’t forget the audio, adds Dave Ruddy, an account executive from CompView’s St. Paul, Minnesota office: classrooms need sound for video and also voice enhancement in many cases.

Wireless Network
As is the case just about everywhere today, true wireless connectivity is essential to enabling classroom technology and devices that students and instructors bring to the classroom to work seamlessly. To this end, Ruddy recommends, “Wireless connectivity that provides for 30 frames per second video at a reasonable cost.”
The BYOD factor Ruddy mentioned, and a hardware/software solution to accommodate it, is a critical element of classroom specification, adds his colleague, Brad Thomas, general manager of products and higher education at CompView: “Students expect to organically use their devices to communicate and collaborate in the classroom. Educational institutions are rapidly working to supply a robust wireless network able to support at least two devices per student.”

All of the Above: Collaboration
It may be a hot buzzword now, but collaboration has always been central to classroom learning. What’s new is how it’s being done. Look for a simple interactive tablet solution, Thomas notes. “Instructors want to annotate from within the classroom, and students are simply accustomed to using a tablet solution to create and complete lesson activities.”
The wireless network, video display, audio, BYOD and tablets come together in the sum total trend for classrooms right now: active learning environments. Often, collaborative AV systems and mobile device projection/display can be handled by one piece of hardware, notes Tomei, “but there's no magic bullet solution out there that's a clear winner in this area yet. AV support staff want to find hardware that can be integrated with the classroom's control system, work well on enterprise level wired and wireless networks, offer security features, cover all tablet/laptop/mobile device operating systems, and offer full screen mirroring. That's a lot of features to ask for, and manufacturers are scrambling to meet these needs.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Campus Technology: 3 Key Trends in Campus AV Technology

Campus Technology Magazine interviewed me for an article about 3 Key Trends in Campus AV Technology.  I also discuss "4 Tips for Campus AV Buyers" at the end of the article.

June 3, 2015:
written by:  Dennis Pierce 
In colleges and universities from coast to coast, classroom learning environments are becoming more active and collaborative. Students are contributing to discussions and presentations, and the days of the "sage on the stage" are waning. This development is having a profound effect on the deployment of audiovisual technology in education.
"Classroom AV technology plays a big part in facilitating active learning environments," said Mike Tomei, an independent audiovisual consultant who designs and installs AV systems for classrooms.
Makers of AV equipment have responded in kind, developing new products that support more active and collaborative learning. Here are three key trends that illustrate this concept.

1)  Projectors and displays are becoming increasingly interactive, with more touch points to support multiple users at once.
Interactive projectors have shown steady growth since they first hit the market in 2009, said Linda Norton, vice president of PMA Research, a high-tech market research firm that specializes in the projector market.
According to Norton, U.S. sales of interactive projectors jumped 36 percent last year, from 63,042 units sold in 2013 to 85,813 units sold in 2014. Although Norton's firm does not track sales by vertical market, it's safe to assume that many of those sales were to colleges and universities — and she said there is no reason to believe this growth won't continue in 2015.
New options for interactive projectors continue to emerge, with more devices supporting touch interactivity with a finger instead of a pen. In April, for instance, Mimio upgraded its projector line by adding a touch-enabled device. The MimioProjector 280 series now includes a conventional, non-interactive model (the 280); a pen-based interactive model (the 280I); and a touch-enabled model (the 280T).
The 280I allows for the simultaneous use of up to 10 interactive pens, which is a significant increase in functionality over the dual-pen operations of other models, Mimio said. The touch-based 280T supports up to 10 simultaneous touch points.
How might this be useful in the classroom? On MimioConnect, the company's online community of educators, one educator suggested projecting four incomplete equations on the board. Have four teams of two to three students each come to the front of the class, and assign each team an equation to solve. Then, compare and contrast the different strategies that students used to solve each problem, and ask the class to discuss the pros and cons of each method.
"This makes learning fun and game-like," the educator wrote. "It encourages the students to work together to solve the problem, just how problem solving is [done] in the real world. And it also brings the entire class into the learning process, so it isn't [just] one student up at the board."
Many schools look to interactive projectors as an alternative to interactive whiteboards in classrooms, said Tom Piche, a marketing executive at Epson America, which makes the BrightLink series of interactive projectors for education. With an interactive touch area ranging from 60 inches to 100 inches diagonally, these projectors give educators some flexibility in terms of classroom installation, he said.
Touch capability is increasingly important, and many customers now expect this instead of pen-based interactivity, Piche noted. "With iPads, iPhones and tablets, people have gotten so used to swiping with their finger," he explained. "That has become the expectation at the board as well." 
Interactive flat-panel displays also are catching on in education. During the Texas Computer Education Association conference earlier this year, BenQ demonstrated its new 70-inch RP702 high-definition interactive display, which features 10-point multitouch technology and a built-in whiteboard app called QuickNote for annotating on the screen. And the Australian company Electroboard Solutions made its U.S. debut by demonstrating Prowise interactive flat panels for education, ranging in size from 55 inches to 84 inches diagonally.
From a cost perspective, interactive projectors or whiteboards will be cheaper than large flat-panel displays, Tomei pointed out. However, there are some benefits that might make interactive flat panels worth the money.
For instance, even when using an ultra-short-throw projector, there will still be shadows on the projected image when users are writing on the board or interacting with projected content, Tomei said. Also, projectors can be bumped out of alignment, requiring a technician to realign and calibrate the image — and they require lamp changes when the lamp burns out.
"You don't run into either of those issues with flat-panel displays," he noted.

Lamp-Free Projectors: A Bright Idea?
Solid-state illumination can save on the total cost of projector ownership.
Projector lamps can be expensive, and it can be a hassle to replace them when they burn out. Properly disposing of mercury lamps isn't easy, either. For these reasons, a small but growing number of organizations are opting for lamp-free models when buying projectors.
Lamp-free projectors, which use solid-state illumination (SSI) instead of traditional mercury lamps for their light source, include LED projectors, laser projectors and hybrid projectors that use a combination LED/laser light engine. Since Casio launched the first hybrid projectors in 2010, a number of other manufacturers have introduced SSI models as well.
When lamp-free projectors first came out, they were more expensive than similar models with traditional light sources, and the colors were slightly off, said Mike Tomei, an independent AV consultant for education.
"Now, we're either at or really close to the point where these are comparable," he said. "I think, in the next few years, most schools will be buying these."
Sales of projectors with solid-state light sources instead of lamps are on the rise. PMA Research expects an 8 percent growth in sales of projectors with laser/LED hybrid light engines in the United States this year, said Vice President Linda Norton. She attributed this growth, in part, to falling prices.
"In 2014, the average selling price of laser/LED hybrid projectors was $1,322, and we expect the average price to be $1,280 by the end of this year," Norton said.
Earlier this year, Casio introduced a new hybrid projector that sells for about $700. The EcoLite XJ-V1 is powered by Casio's fifth-generation LED/laser light source, with an estimated lifespan of 20,000 hours. It produces 2,700 lumens of brightness and boasts XGA resolution (1,024 pixels by 768 pixels).
While PMA doesn't have figures that are specific to education, its 2013 end-user survey showed that 54 percent of projector buyers in the corporate market found solid-state illumination to be "very important," and 38 percent said SSI was an "absolute must" for their next projector purchase.
Norton cited the convenience and lower total cost of ownership of lamp-free projectors, as well as their "green factor," as reasons for this support.

2)  New apps and devices allow multiple users to collaborate and share content wirelessly at the same time.
A number of new AV systems allow for wireless collaboration between instructors and students, enabling an ever-larger number of users to work together on projects and share presentations.
The ShareLink 200 Wireless Collaboration Gateway from Extron allows multiple people to present content from a laptop, smartphone or tablet on a shared display. The device enables up to four people to display their slides, documents, graphs, photos and other content at the same time, without needing a cable. It is compatible with Windows and OS X computers, as well as Apple and Android smartphones and tablets. It also includes a moderator mode so the instructor can control whose content is displayed.
Sharp's Aquos Board line of interactive displays, available in sizes ranging from 60 inches to 80 inches diagonally, includes software called Touch Display Link that can communicate with iOS, Android or Windows 8 devices running the accompanying TD Link app, according to the company.
Up to 50 mobile devices can connect to an Aquos Board at once, and when the teacher writes on the display, this content appears simultaneously on students' screens. What's more, by choosing an option called Host Control, students can add to the presentation from their own device — and anything they write will show up on the Aquos Board.
A growing number of AV manufacturers are integrating Miracast technology into their devices, enabling users of Windows or Android tablets to mirror their screen on a display. For instance, many Panasonic projectors and interactive flat panels include Miracast, allowing users to show content from their own device wirelessly — provided they are using a device that supports the Miracast screencasting standard, such as a laptop or tablet running Windows 8.1 or Android 4.2 or later.
Epson recently introduced free software called Moderator, which enables instructors to control multiple presentations at once. Up to 50 students can connect to an Epson projector simultaneously from a laptop, iOS or Android device, using Epson's free iProjection app — and with Moderator, which runs on Windows or OS X, the instructor can display up to four student screens at the same time.
Instructors can see who is connected from a list on the left side of their own computer screen. To show a student's screen, the instructor simply drags that student's user ID to the center of his or her screen. In controlling what the entire class sees, instructors can choose from among single, split-screen or four-screen views.
Systems such as ShareLink, Moderator and Touch Display Link are designed to take advantage of the "bring your own device" phenomenon in education. But Tomei recommended that campus AV buyers involve their network services team when planning for and evaluating systems that enable wireless collaboration, to ensure their networks can handle the anticipated demand without any signal interference.

3)  Web conferencing offers a more versatile option for making video connections.
Nearly everyone is familiar with Skype or Google Hangouts, but there are other Web-based conferencing systems that enable educators to connect with remote speakers without the need for expensive videoconferencing equipment.
These services, which allow users to participate in a video chat or conferencing session using any device with a Web browser, are more scalable and reliable than ad-hoc calls using a free system such as Google Hangouts — but colleges and universities don't need high-end equipment to use them.
For instance, Pexip offers a scalable, cloud-based platform for videoconferences and meetings, called Pexip Infinity. The service allows schools to create "virtual meeting rooms" in which students and instructors can join using any smartphone, tablet or other device with a camera and a Web browser.
Pexip Infinity takes advantage of the new WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) two-way videoconferencing capabilities built into the Google Chrome and Firefox browsers. It also uses a distributed architecture to optimize bandwidth: Only the person who is talking uses the full amount of bandwidth, while the others who are connected use just a small fraction. What's more, there is no limit to the number of users who can join a call or meeting, according to the company.
Users can choose from among different formats. These include a "virtual auditorium" mode, in which the current speaker is shown along with smaller images of up to 21 other participants, and a "lecture mode" showing just the speaker.
Pexip Infinity is licensed based on the number of ports used per month, and a yearly enterprise option includes an unlimited number of ports.
Another Web conferencing service, Vidyo, offers its own cross-platform systems for hosting videoconferences, lectures or meetings on any device.
The VidyoDesktop app brings videoconferencing to Windows, Mac and Linux computers, letting users connect from wherever they are. The VidyoWeb browser extension lets participants join conferences from within a Web browser on desktop or laptop computers. The VidyoMobile app brings videoconferencing to Apple and Android tablets and smartphones through a wireless broadband or WiFi connection.
Tomei said traditional videoconferencing codecs work well, but you have to know what technology is used on the other end of the call.
"If you know that and you need a reliable connection, this would be my recommendation," he said. But if you connect to many different sources and don't know what technology they will be using, "then Web conferencing would be the better choice."

4 Tips for Campus AV Buyers
Independent audiovisual consultant Mike Tomei designed AV systems for Harvard University (MA) and Ithaca College (NY) before striking out on his own. He now works with schools and colleges nationwide to help them develop standards and a strategic plan for their AV installations.
Here are Tomei's four key recommendations for planning successful AV projects:
1)  Think ahead. Make sure the systems you design will support your future needs. For instance, while 4K video displays might be too cost-prohibitive for some schools to install today, "I do specify video switching that can handle 4K," Tomei said, "so when you're ready to upgrade, you can."
2)  Focus on design. Spend most of your time on doing a needs analysis, and talk with instructors about how they want to teach. "AV shouldn't hinder teaching and learning; it should facilitate these," he advised.
3)  Include enterprise management. Your tech staff should be able to remotely monitor and troubleshoot AV equipment. "AV staffing doesn't increase proportionally with the amount of classroom technology," Tomei noted, "so remote access and support is critical."
4)  Don't overlook staff support. Schools need to offer academic tech support as well. "You have to teach instructors how to use these systems, because they will require new pedagogies," he said.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sound & Communications: Getting Ahead in Higher Ed

I wrote an article that was published in the May 2015 issue of Sound & Communications magazine sharing some tips on how integrators and consultants can keep higher ed AV support staff happy.  Based on my experience working on the end-user side of higher ed AV support, there are too many classroom AV systems designed and installed without any thought for the group of AV technicians that will need to repair and maintain these systems.

May 18, 2015: 
Working in the higher education market can be lucrative for integrators and consultants, but there's often one overlooked component that can be the key to getting recurring business.  In addition to the obvious end-users (professors) that you need to satisfy, there's often one overlooked group:  the institution's audio visual support staff.  Before I started my business as a design and management consultant, I worked for ten years in various AV design and support roles at Harvard University and Ithaca College.  Every school's staffing structure is different, so you will run into any combination of in-house repair/maintenance technicians, system designers, programmers, project managers, bench techs, daily support field technicians and student employees.  There are widely varying levels of experience, education and certifications within these positions from school to school.  Paying attention to the needs of these individuals may just be the key to becoming that campus' preferred integrator or consultant.  
As important as it is to design and install AV systems that fit the end-user's needs, it's equally important to remember that there's a staff of individuals that will have to support these systems long after the consultants and integrators have left campus.  Include this support staff early in the project, during the needs analysis phase, and you'll be sure to make them happy.  Acknowledging the fact that an in-house AV repair technician told you they won't be able to easily access the projector to replace a lamp during the 7-minutes between classes is just as important as listening to the professor that tells you how they want the touch panel to look.  Many times the AV support staff isn't brought into a project until well after many system design and infrastructure decisions have been made, and then it's too late.  This may be the fault of the construction project manager, but that doesn't mean the AV consultant and integrator can't ask to have the in-house AV support staff brought into the discussion early.  There are a handful of needs that you need to address to make the institution's AV support staff happy.  Many of these needs may seem very obvious, but I've been on the losing end of all of this, and I've seen it happen with many different consultants and integrators.

You can present the most innovative, forward thinking AV design to a higher education client, and the in-house support staff will just be thinking of the future when they have to troubleshoot the system in front of 50 students and an annoyed professor.  Taking the time to focus on serviceability during the needs analysis and system design phase is very important.  Find out what lamps, spare parts, etc. they keep in stock, so the systems you install can be serviced using the same methods as the 200 other systems on campus.  Ask about their staffing structure and how they handle trouble calls and tickets when they come in.  Get to know the technical ability of the staff that will be supporting these systems.
If you're an integrator and you're working with a system design that was created by an in-house AV designer working for the school, realize that many of the design decisions were probably made with serviceability in mind.  Most AV designers in higher ed also get involved with the repair and maintenance of AV systems.  They're making design decisions based on the fact that at some point, they'll be up on a ladder working on the projector that you installed.  
Remote access is also a very important consideration on campus.  Connecting control systems and other networkable devices to the campus network and monitoring them through centralized remote management software is very key to AV support staff.  I don't think I've ever met someone working in an AV support role in higher ed that feels their department is over-staffed and flush with plenty of technicians sitting around just looking for something to do.   A properly designed remote management solution for the campus' AV systems will be music to their overworked ears.
Many higher ed support departments have a control system programmer on staff.  They may look to integrators to complete the initial programming, then use their in-house programmer for small changes, like switching to a new projector model or minor touch panel layout changes.  Integrators revisiting clients to make programming changes can be a source of income, but it's just not something that many higher ed clients need.  Integrators that write organized and well documented code, and don't give the client trouble about ownership of that code, is what the AV support staff is looking for.
Appearance can go a long way, and this really applies to rack wiring.  Nothing is worse than trying to troubleshoot a rack that's a rat's nest of disorganized, unlabeled cables.  It's important to stress to installation technicians that they should install everything with the thought that someone else will be trying to service it.  Cable service loops, proper connector labeling and flush-cut zip ties are small touches that will make the in-house support techs happy later.

One of the most important goals for higher ed AV departments is standardization.  They want their professors walking into any classroom on campus and seeing the same touch panel they've used in ten other rooms.  This is easier said than done when dealing with 200 classrooms on a rolling lifecycle replacement program, but nevertheless, it's still very important to AV support staff.  Many schools have taken the time to create audio visual system design and technical standards documentation, in an effort to get everyone involved with AV installations on the same page.  Outside consultants and integrators need to get on-board with these established standards at the beginning of the project. 
Presenting a system design that deviates from the established standard can cause anxiety for the AV support staff.  Many hours of effort have gone into campus technology surveys, end-user focus groups, testing demo equipment and writing of these standards documents.  Disregarding all of these efforts and taking a "this is what you really need" approach does not sit well with the in-house staff.  You may be excited about the latest and greatest projector, but the support staff sees that projector change as a deviation from their standard projector that they stock replacement bulbs for, have a couple spares on the shelf ready to go, have a proven track record of reliability, and are very familiar to their student support staff that handle preventative maintenance.  Introducing higher ed clients to new technology is fine, but just don't do it on that system everyone is rushing to get installed during the next break.  Let the AV departments evaluate new equipment through their usual testing process, and let them get buy-in from the campus community.  Most higher ed clients don't see being on the bleeding edge of new AV technology as important as properly researching, establishing and sticking to their standards.

Project timeline:
Like most job sites, audio visual integrators are usually the last crew on higher ed construction projects.  This means that all of the delays caused by other contractors have compounded and pushed the classroom AV installation project timeline to sometimes unrealistic milestone goals.  Nobody understands this more than the college's AV support staff.  Time after time, I experienced down-to-the-wire classroom AV installations.  Regardless of where the blame lies, a "first day of classes" deadline is a very important milestone.  These classroom installations aren't like a corporate conference room, where a meeting can just be moved to another room if the AV installers need more time to finish.  Finding a new classroom at the last minute because the AV integrator missed their deadline can be a big headache for multiple departments across campus.  Classroom scheduling is like a giant chess game for the registrar.
Cutting the end of the project timeline too close to the start of classes inevitably results in little to no system commissioning before classes start.  Nothing is worse than having the professors commissioning the systems "on the fly" in front of students.  Once the semester starts, there's never a time when you can reserve the room for a day or two for system commissioning.  Good luck even getting a two hour chunk of time in many rooms.  I've even had integrators suggest that we have a staff person sit in the classroom for a few days and operate the equipment for the professors, since the control system programming isn't done.  That takes up the time of one employee during the first week of the semester, which is a very busy time, so that's not a viable option.  Moral of the story:  either properly manage your project timeline so you hit the final milestones on time, or be honest with the AV support staff so they have time to make other arrangements for incomplete classrooms.

You would think this goes without saying, but experience shows that it needs to be said.  Professionalism is of utmost importance to higher education institutions.  Their image is everything, and countless hours have been spent by many people to develop it.  Sexual harassment on college campuses is a pressing issue these days.  Colleges are constantly walking prospective students around campus for tours and some schools have a revolving door of VIPs on campus from the business, political and entertainment communities.  AV installation technicians need to be well trained on acceptable job site behavior and appearance.  One disrespectful comment made toward a student, or a dirty/unsafe job site, can quickly get an integrator thrown off campus.  Image and student safety is extremely important to schools, and the in-house AV department will enforce that above and beyond anything else with contractors on campus.

Client interaction:
With so many different parties involved in AV installation projects, it's easy for lines to get crossed and information to get muddied.  Looking to the institution's AV support department as a central point of communication can prevent many issues.  Always involving them in end-user communication is very important.  A thorough needs analysis with the professor that will be using the system the majority of the time is great, but make sure that the AV support staff is involved, to keep everything in-line with their established standards and budget.  Make sure your field technicians know that they should never agree to anything when end-users approach them, without going through in-house AV staff.  This seems obvious and applicable to any job, but some college professors can be intimidating, pushy and demanding.  Your install techs may be agreeing to a change that goes against a decision made by the in-house support staff.  Majority usually rules during the needs analysis stage of a classroom installation, but the squeaky wheel sometimes gets the oil, and they tend to show up during the construction phase as a pushy professor talking to your install technicians.  Courteous but non-committal is the best road.

Closeout documentation:
If an integrator has an exclusive service contract with a client, then the client may never really need or read the as-built drawings, system verification results, equipment inventory info, IP address tables and control system programming code.  This isn't the case with higher ed institutions that have their own AV support staff.  Comprehensive closeout documentation is key to making their life easy when it comes to maintaining and repairing the systems you're designing and installing.  Nothing will make a college's AV staff say "we should hire these guys again" than when they're reading some stellar closeout documentation left by you after a project.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

K-12 Tech Decisions: 7 Tips for Using Interactive Displays In the Classroom

I was interviewed for this article about the pros and cons of installing interactive displays in K-12 classrooms.  They aren't widely used in the higher ed world, but they're all over K-12 classrooms.  Administrators need to focus on some key issues during the system design phase so that they get the most bang for their buck with interactive display installations.

May 13, 2015
written by:  Aine Cryts 
“Kids today are coming out of the womb with a cell phone and an iPad in hand,” says Lindsey Baker, a training specialist at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based CCS Presentation Systems. While that may be more hyperbolic than true, students today are indeed surrounded by touch technologies. And if kids have iPads at home, it’s a lot more difficult to engage them with a paper and pencil in the classroom.
“You see a lot of kids zoning out really fast in the typical classroom,” says Baker, who used to be an educator. “They’re losing interest and don’t take away as much as they could. When you throw in iPads and interactive displays, you see the excitement in their faces.”
Michael Tomei, owner of Ithaca, N.Y.-based Tomei AV Consulting, LLC, is also a proponent of using interactive displays in the classroom. Still, he recommends taking a mindful approach to installing this new technology and training teachers to use it. “If you have teachers who aren’t comfortable using interactive displays or with changing their teaching style, you’re going to spend a lot of money using this technology as a whiteboard,” he says.
Tony Inglese, chief information officer for the Batavia School District in Batavia, Ill., says there are subject areas that are a more natural fit for display technology. He’s particularly excited about the ability of students to use interactive displays to diagram sentences in English classes and to illustrate how organs interact within the human body in Health Science classes. In his experience, what works best is combining the interactive display at the front of the classroom with tablets in the hands of students at their desks. “There’s greater effectiveness when students can have full ownership over a screen,” Inglese says.

The Technology
Tomei highlights the interactive whiteboard as the technology that first comes to mind when thinking about classroom displays. Teachers and students can write on the interactive whiteboard with a finger or a pen that’s detected through a pressure-sensitive membrane or sensors embedded within the board. Capable of detecting the pen or finger’s location, the interactive whiteboard is connected to a computer that runs software. Users can choose their preferred projector solution that works best in their particular classroom setting.
Another technology is the flat-panel display that provides touch capability/overlay. This can be a good fit for school administrators who are willing to make a higher initial investment in return for savings on maintenance and projector lamps, according to Tomei, who notes that flat-panel display prices are dropping. Because of the lower prices, more schools should be able to afford a large display in the classroom. Tomei also points to interactive projectors, which require no whiteboard with built-in electronics; a good option for schools that want to convert any flat surface into a projection screen, interactive projectors can detect the location of the user’s pen or finger on the projected image.
Interactive display technology holds a great deal of promise in the classroom, but a successful implementation is no easy task. Two key things to keep in mind: your installation and training strategies.

The Install
Interactive displays aren’t inexpensive, especially when you compare them to conventional whiteboards,Tomei says. “You’re spending a lot more money, especially when you consider the cost of getting interactive displays installed. You could outfit three rooms with whiteboards for the same price of one room with interactive displays,” he says. What you’re getting with interactive displays, though, is “quality over quantity.”
Tomei has several pieces of advice for administrators interested in purchasing interactive displays in the classroom.
First, get a lot of teacher feedback on the technology. A successful implementation really depends on how instructors want to use interactive displays. Are they more interested in a conventional pressure-sensitive board or a flat-panel display? Do they want to use a pen or their finger to write on the interactive display? If you don’t choose a solution that is comfortable for your teachers, they aren’t likely to use them.
Pay attention to the expertise you’ll need for maintenance and repair. “People in the audiovisual department have long been regarded as ‘slide projector people,’” says Tomei, who notes that administrators need to focus on sourcing highly talented professionals who can help with more advanced presentation technologies.
Work with someone who’s qualified in audiovisual design. Administrators who want to create a genuinely user-friendly system won’t just put interactive displays on the wall, connect the computer, and walk away. “This leaves teachers fumbling with remotes and cables everywhere. You need to look at the audiovisual system as a whole,” says Tomei. A good solution can be a simple touch screen to turn on the projector, adjust volume, and switch the display between computers in the room.
Give teachers, students and parents a sneak peek. If you want to get buy-in for the technology, considering hosting a time for key stakeholders to come in and see the displays in action. One idea is to create a sample lesson and show them how it will work. “When they can visualize how this all comes together, teachers, students, and parents can really see the value,” Tomei says.

It’s a mistake to just throw an interactive display into a classroom. In order to get the most out of your investment, teachers have to have a solid understanding of how to effectively integrate the technology into their lessons.
“The most expensive piece of technology is the one collecting dust. You don’t want that,” says Dee Turner, also a former educator and today a training specialist at CCS Presentation Systems.The user interface for an interactive display feels a lot more like our smartphones and our tablets, which means that training isn’t as scary as it once was. “It used to be that teachers were afraid to get in front of their peers with this technology; they were afraid they’d break it,” she says. “Today, everything is a lot more intuitive, and that’s largely due to the fact that many teachers have smartphones and tablets themselves.”
Advice from Turner and Baker on training teachers to fully utilize interactive displays in the classroom follows:
Each classroom has its own “personality.” It’s critical to realize that each classroom has different technology tools and different skillsets, on top of teaching different subjects. The whole thought of having technology in the classroom is it’s supposed to be in the background – technology shouldn’t be driving the learning.
Keep it brief and keep it about teaching. Training can consist of just spending time with the classroom teacher and giving them maybe three helpful hints. If it takes teachers longer than two minutes to figure out the technology, they won’t use it in the classroom.
Consider a “train the trainer” approach. In this scenario, administrators can cherry pick a few tech-savvy teachers who are eager to incorporate interactive displays into classroom instruction. Baker points to a few pilot projects in Arizona where she’s been involved as a trainer. In these projects, teachers applied to be a part of the pilot, and then she works one-on-one with them on including interactive displays as instructional tools. These “technology champions” can then train their teacher colleagues.
“These teachers are awesome,” says Baker. “They’ve dedicated so much of their time – on top of what they do teaching. These teacher-trainers are going from classroom to classroom, and helping teachers on a one-on-one basis, rather than one big training session,” she says.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Higher Ed Tech Decisions: AV Experts Predict 4 Hot Higher Education Trends to Hit the Market by December 2015

I was interviewed for this Higher Ed Tech Decisions article about popular higher ed AV technology trends.  It was hard to pick only a couple, so I talked about lampless projectors and the importance of designing 4K compatible infrastructure and systems even if you aren't installing 4K projectors/displays yet.

May 04, 2015 
written by:  Jessica Kennedy 
AV experts predict the higher education market will see a rise in lampless projectors, 4K compatible systems, recording studios and wireless collaboration by the end of the year.  AV experts and integrators forecast four major trends will surface in higher education by the end of 2015.
Mike Tomei, former AV specialist at Ithaca College and owner of Tomei AV Consulting says lampless projectors will gain popularity by the end of the year.  He says that lampless projectors used to have a track record of high prices and poor color quality.
However, he says more manufacturers are getting into lampless projectors, and that the prices are coming down.
“They will be more reliable, and higher ed support staff won’t have as many service request tickets [to fulfill],” Tomei says. “The support staff will also like the idea of not having to stock extra lamps on campus.”
Tomei also says that 4K compatible systems will make more frequent appearances in higher education classrooms this year.  He says 4K compatible systems have always been hot in medical settings, but have not been specified in higher education until recently.
He also says these systems will become more compatible with higher education infrastructures, switchers and cabling, and will be a popular item to see at InfoComm 2015.
“4K compatible systems will also help [higher ed] support staff,” he says. “They won’t have to pull out all the equipment when 4K gets big in higher education.”
Bill McIntosh, CEO of the integration company Synergy Media Group says that more recording studios will be built into college campuses this year.  He says recording studios will become a necessity for colleges to create high-impact online learning programs; the traditional route of a professor speaking into a webcam with a PowerPoint is stale and uninteresting to students.
“Online learning courses need to be dynamic, fluid, and entertaining,” McIntosh says. “Since online learning has no geographical constraints when recruiting students, the way the content is packaged and delivered is a major differentiator for students choosing between similar online programs.”
McIntosh also says that wireless collaboration will be a high-demand trend in higher education by the end of 2015.  He says students will utilize wireless collaboration to share content from numerous devices onto a single display during group work. This will enable students to “reach in” and have an equal hand in a project they are working on together.
“Being able to simultaneously display a Word document of the assignment, an Excel file with financial data, a PDF of research, and a website with additional information allow everyone in the group to see the same digital information on a single display and create more efficient decision making,” McIntosh says.
Fostering these trends to support online learning will be crucial towards determining a college’s overall success or failure, McIntosh says.  “Online learning is the way of the future,” he says. “In 2020, I feel that at least 25 percent of students will be attending university though partial online learning programs and that number will only continue to rise. Schools that don’t implement online learning as part of their short-term strategy will have no need to create a long term plan.”

AVNation EdTech podcast: Episode 35 (April 2015)

In the latest episode of the AV Nation EdTech podcast, Tim, Ernie, Greg and I discuss the InfoComm classes Ernie will be teaching, InfoComm's ability to market to higher ed tech folks, life safety standards for schools, audio reinforcement in classrooms (yes, we talk about ceiling mics), higher-ed classroom tech trends, and campus network speeds.  We'll be recording an episode of the podcast live from the InfoComm Show floor in June, so make sure to stop by the AV Nation booth on 6/18 at 10am if you want to say hello.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Commercial Integrator: Buzz-Worthy CIs - Launched: Tomei AV Consulting LLC

The launch of Tomei AV Consulting was mentioned in Commercial Integrator's March 2015 print issue, in the Buzz-Worthy CIs section:

Buzz-Worthy CIs
Launched - Tomei AV Consulting LLC recently launched as an independent audio visual consultant based in Central New York.  Owned by Mike Tomei, it aims to provide AV management consulting, system design and project management to the higher education, K-12, corporate and commercial markets.  Tomei has worked in audio visual design/support departments at Harvard University, Ithaca College, Walt Disney World and as a freelance technician. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Systems Contractor News: Shifting Needs - Integrators and Consultants Weigh in on Adapting to Higher Ed Changes

The editor of Systems Contractor News (SCN) asked me for some comments about the needs analysis process for working with higher ed clients.  It's on page 57 of the SCN April 2015 issue:

"Audio visual 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 their 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"