For more than 15 years, Marshall Furniture has provided the University of South Carolina with its highly customized technology-enabled furniture, and that relationship has included several large projects that the Antioch, Ill.-based manufacturer has been able to accommodate every step of the way.
That has included a standardized design from Marshall Furniture’s custom product line in 2010, which included native PC touchscreen capabilities, a built-in tech rack and university branding. That product line was the standard at the Columbia, S.C. university of about 27,000 undergraduate students for about 12 years.
In addition to the standardized teaching stations utilized across campus, several specialized designs have been developed for spaces with varying equipment requirements over the years. These include rollouts of teaching lecterns for the university’s Darla Moore School of Business in 2014 and one for the Law School in 2016, both consisted of about 20 rooms.
The college has come back to Marshall Furniture several times, since then, asking for other solutions that are more cost-effective but still implemented the same components as the more technology-heavy custom design it has been building for the university.
A long, nimble relationship was made stronger during the COVID-19 pandemic
Marshall Furniture has a long and consistent history of supplying the university with furniture to meet project and technology requirements, but it was the COVID-19 pandemic and new hybrid learning strategies that really exemplified the relationship and Marshall Furniture’s ability to improvise and meet a wide variety of requirements.
The university and Marshall Furniture in 2017 began discussions for a lower-cost solution that featured similar accommodations to the 33-inch Prairie Style teaching station that had been the campus standard for the duration of the partnership between the two entities.
“The school trusted us first to develop an answer for this need,” says Ariel Blaha, sales manager at Marshall Furniture.
The new design, a variation of the company’s quick-ship line, met the school’s functionality, equipment and price point requirements.
According to Gregory Weathers, one of three audiovisual system designers at the University of South Carolina’s audiovisual project manager, the university had been trying to adhere to a self-imposed five-year technology refresh. Convincing an academic staff of more than 1,600 to do so is easier said than done, but the pandemic helped accelerate those changes.
“Because of COVID, now everything needs a camera, everything needs a microphone and all of that stuff is necessary in every learning space on campus,” Weathers says.
Weathers and the university rolled a much larger technology refresh into one and upgraded cameras and microphones in every learning space as well as refreshing audio systems in every room.
To accommodate those changes, the university came up with the LITE Initiative, an acronym that stands for Learn, Innovate, Teach and Enhance. The school defines it as a comprehensive initiative for the advancement of university teaching and learning environments designed to improve technology found in classrooms across campus.
A new product to meet hybrid learning demands
Weathers and the university’s AV staff realized that to get the same experience in each learning space, cost effectiveness would become critical. However, the teaching lecterns developed in partnership with Marshall over the course of their relationship didn’t quite serve the university’s new unique COVID-era needs.
To accommodate the university’s new demands, Marshall Furniture in November 2020 developed a new lectern that includes cameras, microphones, speakers, video switching, projection control, display and more at a price that is about half of the cost of a previous lectern being used. This new product, the ELCO Flex style lectern, was essentially born out of the previous iteration designed to meet all requirements while remaining cost effective.
“It holds all of the equipment that we need for our standard normal classroom we’re going to roll out all over campus,” Weathers says.
The lectern includes 14 rack units and an additional side shelf that can be quickly installed on either side based on specific classroom needs.
According to Michelle Wille, managing partner of Marshall Furniture, furniture deployments at other universities follow a similar model where one SKU is shipped with customizable features that can be installed on site based on room configuration and needs.
“It makes it very simple from a procurement standpoint,” Wille says. “You don’t have to do that advanced thinking. You order it, it comes and then worry about that implementation once it’s on campus and in a classroom.”
Uniformity on a 700-classroom campus
For Weathers, the real benefit of the Marshall Furniture lecterns is not only their customizability, but also their uniformity. Professors need to have the same experience whether they’re walking into a classroom in the science building or across campus in the math building.
“They’ll know how to use it without being trained multiple times on multiple pieces of equipment,” Weathers says.
In addition, it helps Weathers and the rest of the university’s tech staff troubleshoot issues around campus. If they’re all dealing with the same style of lectern, they should all be wired the same and racked the same.
It also allows for the very quick and efficient provisioning of new rooms. As new buildings and classrooms are being built, Weathers can have lecterns assembled, racked, wired and ready to go as soon as the building is open.
“All of those things we’re doing right before a building opens should be pretty run of the mill for us,” Weathers says. “It’s sort of seamless how we can just go from room to room, and nobody has to search for anything or figure out what they’re doing.”
There is nothing Marshall cannot do
Through the 17-year relationship, Marshall Furniture has been able to quickly and efficiently provide the University of South Carolina with exactly the kind of lectern it needs at every step of the way. Even the company’s quick-ship line of products, designed to quickly accommodate customers at a cost-effective price, can easily feature the university’s branding.
This working relationship has become a longstanding partnership between Marshall Furniture and the University of South Carolina, and it gives Weathers the ability to trust that the company will always deliver exactly what the university needs.
The company’s ability to adapt and build onto its existing solutions, create innovative lecterns and teaching stations, and a never-say-no business model gives Weathers the peace of mind needed when rolling out large technology refresh projects.
Not to mention, Marshall Furniture simply builds quality, long-lasting furniture that is designed to accommodate any technology need.
“We know that they can do that,” Weathers says. “They’ve done that for us for years.”