Tuesday, June 9, 2015

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.”

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