The “classroom of the future” takes many forms. The trouble is the future keeps arriving earlier and earlier, with the inevitability of Moore’s Law driving change at an ever-faster clip. What schools have been trying to do is both make their classrooms of the future as future-proof as possible and look for ways to garner as much ROI as early in the process as possible. This allows them to have the funds to pay for — what else? — the next classroom of the future.
The experience is telling at Sheridan College, in Mississauga, Ontario, a polytechnic institute training a student body of almost 17,000 for careers in visual and performing arts, business, community services and technical fields. The school, known as the “Harvard of animation” for its numerous graduates who have gone on to careers at studios like Disney and Pixar, had already had some advanced technology classrooms in its Mississauga campus but wanted the next round of them at its Brampton campus to be far more flexible. To that end, they partnered with A/V integrator Advanced to outfit 20 classrooms with new computers, wireless microphones, document cameras, movable podiums and up to six commercial-grade projectors in each room.
“What we were looking for was total flexibility,” says Trevor Hanekamp, infrastructure solutions architect at Sheridan College. “Everything, including the furniture, had to be on wheels and be able to move to any part of the room. We wanted every inch of floor space to be available for teaching and learning, so that each teacher could make the room adapt to their own style.”
Simple to Use
At the same time, the rooms’ A/V systems needed to be absolutely identical and simple to use, so that any teacher could walk into any room at any time and be able to put the A/V systems to work and not have to figure out any of its operation. Key to achieving this was putting all of the A/V, including projectors and sources such as PCs, onto the school’s 150-MB IP network, via an HD-over-IP solution for distributing HDMI over IP networks, supplied by Just Add Power.
All of the A/V on the movable teaching podiums can be connected to the network via a single cable connected to a Cisco network switch, and that can be plugged into any of a number of input boxes placed strategically around the room. If a teacher desired to set up in an awkward corner, cable trays were built into the room allowing the wire to stay off the floor and out of the way. Multiple projectors in each of the classrooms assure that regardless of where the teacher chooses to position the podium, students will be able to clearly see the projected images.
A total of twenty spaces — 19 flex classrooms and one room designated the college “Co-Lab” — were equipped with up to six NEC commercial-grade projectors, Dell computers and AverVision SPB350+ document cameras. Audio components include Extron DMP 44 LC digital matrix processors, Extron power amplifiers and Shure wireless gooseneck microphones. The Co-Lab is a six-projector room that consists of the same video and audio components as the flex classrooms and features a podium that allows educators to control four video sources simultaneously. The Co-Lab is equipped with two modes — classroom and team — that allow for different methods of presentation. Classroom mode lets educators present their lessons on the main projector screen, while team mode allows for projected content to be distributed to six separate areas of the classroom, perfect for group work.
To keep the floor clear, Advanced designed and built an equipment racking system mounted to the ceiling with a hydraulically activated door. Taking up no more space than one ceiling tile, the in-ceiling rack houses the wireless microphone receivers and digital sound processor for each classroom, eliminating stray wiring while ensuring that the equipment is secured at all times. (Future iterations of the flex classrooms will have their racks mounted outside the room, allowing maintenance personnel to access them without disrupting teaching time.)
Effective and Cost Effective
The technology is also cost effective. Hanekamp says the single-wire/network-switched connection concept reduced overall cabling costs. Using the classrooms’ existing whiteboards as the primary projection surfaces instead of buying dedicated projection screens for each room, plus several other budget conscious decisions resulted in an investment cost close to half of what it could have been.
The use of the existing network also reduced the latency times between switching between systems such as projectors and input sources by as much as two-thirds. That’s a matter of seconds, but Hanekamp points out that over the course of a school year across 20 classrooms it adds up to hundreds of hours that teachers spend teaching instead of waiting. And design features such as the multiple connections points around classrooms and the inlaid floor cable troughs mean that future renovations will be less costly and disruptive.
“We don’t want to have to spend money every time we need to update the technology in a classroom,” he says. “We’ve tried to foresee some of the ways rooms will need to be configured in the future and anticipate those needs.”
But the most important aspect of this extensive project was that the technology team spent time with the teachers, asking them what they wanted and how they wanted to do it. “We asked for and received a lot of input from our faculty before we started these upgrade phases,” states Sumon Acharjee, Sheridan’s CIO, adding that this will continue to be the case for a possible move into extending the teaching systems to wireless devices in the next phase. “We can already connect iPads through the HDMI port on the podiums,” says Trevor Hanekamp. “It’s the logical next step to go to wireless connectivity. The whole thing is to do it with the future in mind.”
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