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School of Law: Technology Rocks

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Order in SLU LAW’s court requires extensive AV infusion.

Saint Louis University School of Law (SLU LAW, www.slu.edu) is a case study in the use of new AV technology to augment education. Specifically, our focus will be on the building’s top floor multi-purpose courtroom, although we’ll also highlight AV in other instruction areas. The school’s overall challenge was to train law students on the technology they’ll need to master as 21st century attorneys.

Heavy AV Users
It’s no surprise that the courts have become heavy users of audio and video systems. Surveys conducted more than 10 years ago revealed that the vast majority of judges felt that evidence presentations using video technology helped them reach better decisions, and more than 90% of jurors agreed. However, using technology effectively remains a challenge for many attorneys, one that SLU LAW is determined to overcome—at least for those they train.

Founded in 1843, SLU LAW is the oldest law school west of the Mississippi. Located in the center of the riverfront city, it offers students a rare opportunity to access leading law firms, corporations, government agencies and non-profit organizations, seeing the law in action as they learn about its practice. The new home of the law school is Joe and Loretta Scott Hall, an office high-rise donated by building owners Joe and Loretta Scott. The new academic building is a showplace for digital AV systems. A massive, $30 million renovation included the addition of a glass-enclosed 12th floor with a new courtroom, a rooftop deck, new elevators, a street-level restaurant, a two-story library, plus 24 classrooms, lecture halls, conference and consulting rooms.

The John K. Pruellage Courtroom is the largest and most technically advanced space in the building. Intended for multiple purposes, the 300-tiered seating room is used most days from 7:30 in the morning to 7:00 at night for lectures, classes, panel discussions, presentations, mock trials and, three to four times each year, actual trials by the United States District Court of Eastern Missouri.

Courtroom AV Overview
At the heart of the new systems in all the rooms is Crestron DigitalMedia and Crestron control. Like many courtrooms, this one at SLU LAW includes flatscreen displays for the judge, jury, witness, clerk and attorneys for the defense and prosecution (or, in civil trials, for the plaintiff). There are microphones throughout the room, plus a document camera, Blu-ray player and plug-ins for laptops and additional video devices. There’s an annotation device, quite useful for calling attention to specific aspects of evidence enlarged on various monitors.

Crestron touchscreens at each counsel’s table make it easy to control the AV systems, although the judge’s touchscreen can override them. The room also serves those attorneys who wish to use PowerPoint slides and embedded video during presentations, especially during opening and closing arguments. Reaching out beyond the courtroom, there’s a videoconferencing system with multiple pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) cameras accessed.

We’ll highlight the courtroom AV as we progress here. First, let’s introduce our two interviewees from SLU LAW’s multimedia department: Craig Williams, Manager, Multimedia Services, and Nathan Burge, Multimedia Architect.

“Before we designed the room, we looked carefully at courtrooms in the Thomas Eagleton Federal Courthouse in St. Louis,” said Williams. He explained that the design team also visited a number of leading law schools to learn how they use technology, including Northwestern University and Loyola University in Chicago. “A big part of our mission is to help our students transition into the real world,” he offered. “We need to be sure they are ready for whatever kind of technology they’ll encounter as attorneys.”

“The federal courthouse had a Boeckler Pointmaker annotation device installed,” said Burge. “The folks on the law school committee made it apparent we could use that particular unit for our courtroom where anyone can annotate at a spot in the room over the piece of evidence presented.”

Annotation
Annotation can be done from five different locations in the room, which are equipped with NEC/Touchsystems 22-inch monitors. Those locations include the counsel desks, the appellate stand, one of the judge’s monitors and the witness stand. Furthermore, an individual color can be assigned to each presenter, so they can track whose drawing is on the screen any time.

Unlike the majority of courtrooms, there’s a Polycom videoconferencing system with four Vaddio PTZ cameras. The videoconferencing system serves a growing trend of bringing witnesses (especially expert witnesses) into trials via video, rather than spending the money and time to fly them in from other cities. It can be used to record video depositions, as well. The room’s Shure microphones are fed into the conferencing system, as well as the room speakers.

“There’s also a big push from the law school to set up consultations with people outside of St. Louis,” said Williams. “For example, they are helping a large group of women in Afghanistan with pressing legal issues.” These consultations sometimes take place in the courtroom, although professors are more likely to use videoconferencing systems installed in two smaller rooms in the new building.

SLU LAW also uses the Vaddio cameras to record mock trials and lectures and upload them to a lecture capture system, which is fully integrated with Crestron control and the school’s Blackboard online learning platform. There’s a lectern with its own monitor and touchscreen, a gallery with seating for 250 to 300 students and two NEC LCD projectors paired with 13-foot-diagonal Da-Lite screens.

“The 12th floor space has about 15-foot-high windows that surround the entire exterior of the building,” said Burge. “So, we had to spec up projectors as reasonably as we could to fire through a lot of ambient light in the courtroom. There’s also a 65-inch NEC monitor on a cart that we use for the jury box to show them evidence in a large format. When not in use, it can be unplugged and rolled away in order to give the jury a clear view of the witness stand.”

Integrator, Design Partners
Before we continue with the install discussion, let’s get design aspects from two senior system engineers at integrator TSI Technology Solutions (www.tsi-global.com), St. Charles MO. Tim Heidemann, TSI Senior Systems Engineer, Designer and Project Manager, said that the majority of the design decisions for the courtroom and the classroom technology were made long in advance of this project. Partnering with TSI, SLU LAW standardized on Crestron technology more than seven years ago, and now has three Crestron DigitalMedia Certified Engineers on staff. All of the Scott Hall classrooms and conference rooms include DM 8G networks; the control systems are tied together using Crestron Fusion RV for remote diagnostics, usage statistics, asset management and helpdesk functionality.

Although the courtroom project went out to bid, SLU LAW asked for RFPs (request for proposals) rather than using a consultant to specify the equipment to be used in the new building. Multimedia Services made a number of specific requests for the components to be used, including the particular Crestron touchscreens and DigitalMedia switchers that they preferred.

“I’m very fortunate in the team I have working for me,” said Williams. “We’re able to look at what we want and assist in the design of the space.” One of the things that Williams and his team requested was the ability to show multiple windows on the two projectors, which TSI satisfied with a Crestron DVPHD multi-window video processor.

Used For Lectures
“They use it mostly for lectures, rather than trials,” TSI Senior Systems Engineer and Crestron programmer Jeff Pride explained. The processor, using Crestron Smart Graphics “widgets” to simplify source selection, allows them to show one large and up to four smaller images simultaneously to a class: for example a PowerPoint slide, an image of the instructor, a contract or medical chart on the document camera and far-end views during a videoconference.

Pride said that the programming of the system followed strict guidelines that TSI has helped the university work out over the past several years. “You can walk into any room in any part of campus and find the same look and feel to the user interface. Even though this space is more involved than most of their classrooms, any SLU LAW instructor would be able to begin using it immediately.” The touchscreens include several courtroom modes, including one for a jury trial and another for appellate court discussions, plus a number of lecture modes (depending on the number of windows shown on the projectors) and a videoconferencing mode.

For the trial modes, Heidemann said, “We decided to route the output of the DVPHD through the annotation device to allow the users to add markups on top of multiple evidence or presentation windows simultaneously. From the touchscreen, they can easily toggle the annotation as an overlay.”
Every Seven Years

“One reason we have selected DigitalMedia for every installation we’ve done for the last three or four years is that we only have the budget to touch a space once every seven,” Williams explained. “As technology changes, we expect to switch out projectors, monitors and other components, but we won’t have to replace our DM switchers or cable infrastructure, which keeps our budget number down.

“We’re also very impressed with the reliability of the product, its cost and how easy it is to integrate. Because we do some of our own programming, we know the Crestron system is one of the easiest to handle,” Williams added. With the new law school building, Williams said the entire staff and student body is impressed. “Everyone loves it. We’ve definitely met all our goals for the new spaces.”

Courtroom AV Challenges
With those design aspects in mind, let’s continue to highlight the courtroom AV. We’ll look at challenges next. “Our contract was with Saint Louis University, the owner,” said Heidemann. “But it was a general construction project. So, we had to work not only with the owner but also underneath the GC (general contractor) Clayco Construction (St. Louis). It worked really well. There were a lot of time crunches on it, sequencing. We did the Listen assistive listening loops system under the carpeting. So we had to sequence that with the carpet installation.”

He also noted that one of the big challenges while working with architect Lawrence Group, St. Louis, and the GC was in laying out the Bose courtroom ceiling speakers. The original plan called for 32, but there were aesthetic considerations that expanded the number to 48 so the alignment of the speakers adhered with the lighting flow. “It was a curved, tiered ceiling that followed the tiers of the seating below,” said Heidemann, “So, it was for both aesthetic and optimum sound coverage. We balanced that with the Biamp Tesira DSP in sort of a mix minus with front to back dispersion in row zones. Most of the microphones are at the front of the room.” The speakers are driven by power amplifiers from Electro-Voice and QSC.

Wired, Wireless Variety
A glance at the accompanying equipment list shows a wide variety of wired and wireless microphones. “One of the requirements during the design process was that we wanted push-to-talk microphones so we could control who spoke at what time, with the caveat that the witness stand and appellate mics always remain open,” explained Burge. “But we also have individual control of gain and level over all courtroom mics.”

There are nine Shure MX400DP push-to-talk desktops equipped with MX415 gooseneck cardioid mics. They include three on the main judge’s bench, two on the clerk’s bench, one at each counsel table and one at the appellate station. In addition, the judge has a kill button that cuts all video and audio feeds throughout the room.

Shure MX391/O omni boundary mics located in the jury bench can conveniently pick up counselors and lawyers because they’re not always in a courtroom fixed location behind the appellate stand talking into a microphone. With this flexibility of mic pickup in mind, there are six channels of Sony handheld wireless in the room, as well, which can be passed around the audience and also free users from a fixed podium location.

This brings us to the appellate stand, which is a lectern in the center of the courtroom. It houses a local PC, Extron Cable Cubbys with inputs for HDMI and VGA, a Sony Blu-ray player and a Samsung document camera. The Listen assistive listening loop system is also fed out from the lectern because it’s centrally located in the courtroom. There’s a small Middle Atlantic rack to house the lectern equipment.

Regarding the Samsung document camera, Williams said, “We looked at some other units that were price prohibitive for our budget for this space. This unit had a nice premium monitor on it, as well, which was one of our requirements. Thus, counselors can see exactly what they’re presenting and zooming correctly.”

The main APC equipment rack is located in a closet outside the courtroom. “The main rack room has a Furman Panamax network power strip installed, which is a standard across campus,” said Burge. “It’s an IP controllable power conditioner so, we can reboot or turn off remotely whatever is plugged into that strip, as part of our troubleshooting. Our office is located about 1½ miles from the building. We try to get things up and running without actually having to be onsite working with the IT folks, who are actually stationed in the building.”

Classroom Technology
Now that we’ve toured the 12th floor courtroom, let’s take a quick look at other Crestron-controlled classroom technology in Scott Hall. In addition to the courtroom, there are conference rooms and 40-, 80- and 112-seat classrooms. It’s beyond the scope of this article to delve into the wide variety of uses in every room (search for “Classroom Technology” at www.slu.edu). However, we can list some examples of equipment found in various classrooms. Those items include sliding dry erase boards, PCs, NEC PA-500U WUXGA 5500 lumen projectors firing on Da-Lite screens, Wacom interactive annotation pen displays and Middle Atlantic C5 Credenza racks. Specifically, the 80- to 112-seat classrooms have Tegrity Lecture Capture, Shure MX202 ceiling microphones and Sony UWF wireless.

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