in May 2007
Intelligent Classrooms Teach Tech
By Jim Colquhoun, CTS-I, ISF
Atlantic Technical Center's instructors rise above the noise.
|Atlantic Technical Center's 30-acre campus accommodates the technical magnet high school and
post-secondary technical programs.
Broward County Public Schools unveiled the Atlantic Technical Center in 1973. In the beginning, the technical magnet high school and postsecondary vocational school offered 11 programs of study to approximately 450 students. More than 33 years later, the school has undergone four major construction phases to keep pace with community growth.
Today, the college-style campus sprawls 30 acres in Coconut Creek FL, and is used by more than 5000 students for day and evening classes. Atlantic Tech offers certificates and applied technology diplomas in eight major occupational concentrations, including automotive technology, building trades, business/computer technology, cosmetology, culinary arts, health sciences, metal fabrication technology and industrial technical education.
Similarly, real-world simulated classrooms enable students to become immersed in their field of study and to complete hands-on accredited programs. “Our program offerings stay current with business and industry demand,” said Cathy Bente, technology coordinator for Atlantic Technical Center. “We educate and train the high wage, high skill workforce of today and tomorrow.” Most recently, the Center was designated a “National Model School” by the International Center for Leadership in Education.
Prior to the AV upgrade in the post-secondary facility, Atlantic Technical Center was introduced to systems integrator Audio Visual Innovations (AVI) through a bid project to design and integrate the AV system for the Center’s new magnet high school classrooms. Later, as the Center considered a retrofit to the preexisting postsecondary facility, the Center knew it wanted to work with AVI. “We returned to AVI because of the business relationship we established,” recalled Bente. The new contract was to design and install the new audiovisual systems for 38 “intelligent” classrooms and one conference room in approximately 30 days.
All in all, this meant the Atlantic Technical Center would house 80 such classrooms “that allow the teacher to operate all of the technology in the room from the podium,” added Bente. The IT staff and members of the administration and faculty met with AVI to complete a needs analysis that would identify the user needs for the AV system in the Atlantic Tech Center. Through this analysis, Audio Visual Innovations determined that “the AV technology had to be durable, cost effective and, especially, easy-to-use for the teachers,” noted Brian Leeser, AVI account manager.
Unique Classrooms, Unique Challenges
|Ceiling mounted 3000 lumen LCD projectors allow students to view bright images despite natural and fluorescent room lighting.
AVI’s staff was challenged with 39 unique room installations, while incorporating the specific objectives of the client. We began by assessing the lighting, audio and human factors of each room and determined how to accommodate the students while allowing the installation to be completed. “Atlantic Tech blocked off two or three rooms at a time, allowing us to install and test the system without interrupting the class schedule,” Leeser said.
Unlike traditional high school classrooms designed strictly for lecture-driven teaching styles, the “shop” (for mechanics, contractors, cosmetologists, metal fabricators) classrooms are divided into two rooms: one side for instructor lecture and one side for the laboratory class. Other Atlantic Tech classrooms are larger and designed to accommodate laboratory and lecture classes simultaneously.
Due to the spatial requirements of vocational courses, the windows in the classrooms were designed to allow for maximum natural lighting, further complicating the use of classroom technology for teachers. “We wanted any teacher to be able to walk into a classroom and feel comfortable using the podium/media box and be confident of the technology while in front of the class,” said Bente.
As revealed in the analysis, teachers wanted to focus more time on students and less on working and maintaining classroom technology. “We wanted to give teachers state of the art technology tools to deliver curriculum that would enable them to utilize web links, audio and video tools from one delivery system,” said Bente. “It is important to have every student on the same page, even in the front of the room, as well as enable students to participate through Bluetooth wireless connected slates.”
Additionally, the “shop” classrooms posed an audio challenge for the teachers. Equipped with neither microphone nor megaphone, teachers yelled over the machines and other shop equipment to attract students’ attention. Often, school announcements and news could barely be heard over the one speaker intercom.
Push of the Button
Creating a classroom equipped with intuitive, durable and cost effective technology was essential to the Atlantic Technical Center. To address the compatibility issue of classroom lighting and visual clarity, projectors had to provide a higher quality image with increased brightness. Leeser said, “Classroom projectors typically are 2000 lumens, but to meet the requirements for the large vocational classrooms within Atlantic Tech, ceiling mounted 1024x768 Epson LCD projectors offering 3000 lumens were installed.”
Additionally, AVI integrated an Epson wireless 3000 lumen LCD projector into the conference room. “We wanted a great picture from the projector without having to dim the lights,” said Bente.
Each projector was networked into the AV control system, which allows it to be administered from a remote location. Furthermore, the projectors were selected because the school required the AV systems to be compatible with the Broward Education Communications Network (BECON), the district’s educational television system. To deter potential theft of the new equipment, all projectors are mounted with a secure, key-locking mounting bracket.
Previously, most schools used televisions to present the news, shows or other electronic curriculum. The new Atlantic Tech AV systems project images onto wall-mounted Da-Lite 100-inch-diagonal manual projection screens. “Atlantic Tech opted for the manual screens to allocate money for the higher quality 3000 lumen projectors and networking system,” Leeser noted. The 100-inch screens are big enough to avoid the visual challenges associated with smaller displays, and those in large rooms with people constantly moving.
For the viewing of media, a Zenith DVD/VCR combo player with a tuner is installed in every classroom. Each player is housed in the wall mounted, hinged-door Extron Media Cabinet. The DVD/VCR players are networked into the display systems, which allow the play/stop function to be controlled from the classroom control system or by the remote administrator. The integrated tuner adds the ease of use for the teachers switching from the County programs to classroom videos.
Because it is essential for students to see educational materials, such as human anatomy models in the massage therapy classes, in distinct detail, AVI included a Samsung Digital Document Camera in each classroom to project precise images onto the 100-inch screens. “The teacher can go into detail in any aspect, turn it and manipulate it,” said Bente. The incorporation of digital document cameras into the school system is intended to phase out overhead projectors in time.
The integration of the sound system for each room includes speakers flush-mounted to the ceiling; the dispersed speakers provide high quality distributed sound. The ceiling-mounted speakers were mounted at a downward angle, to provide the accurate acoustical perception of sound. One of the original challenges was meeting the needs of all the individual rooms, because each room was designed differently. To accommodate this challenge, two of the classrooms are integrated with wall mounted speakers.
Given the noisy environment and the constant sound generated, Atlantic Tech teachers felt that voice lifting technology was a necessity. “We wanted the enhancement of voice in the case of the large classrooms, so the teachers would be heard immediately,” said Bente. The sound system design allowed all sound sources to be controlled, including audio, video and computer inputs.
The Phonic Ear Voice Lifting System was included to amplify all sound throughout the rooms via IR wireless beltpack microphones. Teachers can use their regular voices and be heard evenly through the distributed mounted speakers.
All in One Control Center
|Using synchronized software, teachers can display the work from
any of the students' workstations.
To manage all of the equipment, the Center originally wanted a touchpanel control system for each teacher. However, after assessing the other needs, it was determined that a main control center would be the best approach. The technology in each classroom is controlled by integrating a control system and the equipment into the Extron Media Cabinet. “We wanted all of the classroom technology to come out of one box,” said Bente. “We mounted the media box on the wall so the technology doesn’t tether the teacher to the podium.” An Extron Media Link IP system was installed to control the projectors, to provide reliable hard wired control of the projector on/off, source switching and play/stop functions of the DVD/VCR.
The system also has Ethernet connection to allow for remote management of the projector. AVI included Extron’s Global View software, which allows the remote administrator to power on/off the system, as well as view the lamp hours and basic maintenance functions, such as disconnection of power, and lamp temperature. Should a problem occur with the system functions, an email is sent automatically to the administrator to alert him of the problem.
The networking control system also allows the remote administrator to oversee the asset management of each room. If a piece of equipment is removed from the network, the administrator is notified and can address the situation, thus preventing theft or vandalism. Additionally, the user-friendly centralized control center allows teachers to transition easily from one classroom to another, and still have operational knowledge of each room’s AV technology.
To ensure student and teacher safety, and prevent equipment damage, all equipment and cables are stored off the floor. AVI designed the system to be fully housed in a lockable Extron Media Cabinet mounted on the wall. The cabinet includes a rack to store the Extron control system and all AV equipment, except for the document camera, which is located in the classroom.
Atlantic Tech Center received onsite training for the teachers and the school’s technical team during the Summer. Training classes consisted of instruction and hands-on experience learning the functions, in addition to documentation consisting of as-built diagrams and manufacturer equipment manuals.
Because this system is new to the school district and the first of its kind to be used on this scale, the training and documentation supplied to the teachers and staff was created by AVI specifically for this integration.
(38 classrooms, 1 conference room)
39 Business Machine Security Loc II security projector brackets
39 Chief CMA-440 ceiling tile mounting kits
38 Da-Lite 40194 60"x80" manual wall mount screens
38 Draper 227212 6" wall mount brackets
37 Epson EMP830P 3000 lumen XGA LCD projectors
2 Epson EMP835P 3000 lumen XGA LCD wireless projectors
38 Extron wall mount media cabinets
78 Extron VGA cables w/audio
1 Extron 5-gang wall-mount box
38 Extron AV control panels w/IP Link
1 Extron AV control panel w/IP Link (standalone)
39 Extron DVD/VCR controllers
Liberty plenum cables, wall plates w/video, audio
39 Phonic Ear FRPRO voice lifting systems w/1 collar mic, 4 speakers
38 Samsung 700973 SDP850ST digital document cameras
36 Zenith ZDX-313 DVD/VCR combo players w/TV tuner
3 Zenith ZRY-316 DVD/VCR players w/DVD recorder, TV tuner
List is edited from information supplied by Audio Visual Innovations.
Jim Colquhoun, CTS-I, ISF, vice president of technical services at Audio Visual Innovations, has more than 32 years of management and AV design expertise.