Michael Peveler has been vice president of education sales for AMX for five years. An education major in college at Texas Tech University, he taught for eight years. He has been exposed to the industry and the transition toward a networking type technology over the course of the 13 years that he has worked for AMX. At the same time, he is receiving an Executive MBA in International Business at the University of Texas at Dallas. Because of both his educational focus and his role at AMX, Peveler has been able to visit various countries around the world and work directly with those people who are putting technology into schools.
Q: Why would overall AV standards be important to K12 school districts?
Peveler: Right now, there are no standards across AV. So unlike IT where they have established communication standards, AV doesn’t have a lot of standards.
And when you look at building standards for AV, the challenge is that there’s an integration piece to it. So if you are going to do a sophisticated AV like a Fortune 500 boardroom or 200-person Higher Education lecture hall, there’s most likely going to have to be some level of customized programming. This creates a second problem—that you have a financial difference in K12 schools.
You have some schools that are dependent on the federal government to provide AV funding for them. As a result, it’s the old rule of the cheapest bid wins. Quite often, the cheap equipment isn’t equipment than can truly be integrated. You end up with a product that may not have a high performance level. We see a lot of equipment out in the field that is made very cheaply to keep the costs down because of the “low bid wins” mentality that has existed in education for so long.
The other side of that paradigm is when you have schools that do have money—whether it’s through bonds, or funds, or funding—and they end up being able to go for more sophisticated systems. Those systems tend to require customized programming to really separate themselves, and typically the coding can cost as much as the hardware and software.
Technology alone cannot impact student achievement. How can an integrated AV system really make a difference?
Peveler: I talk to people a lot about how long they can talk to their kids before the kids quit paying attention to them. I’ve got an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old, and it doesn’t take very long before they drift off into their own social world.
The same thing is true in the classroom. When a teacher is struggling to use the technology like it needs to be used, the kids drift off. If the teacher is having to find a remote control because it wandered off, or the batteries don’t work, or the projector doesn’t work because nobody knew that the bulb was about to burn out, or whatever the case is, then that downtime costs student retention.
That’s the real value of having controlled technology that’s truly automated in a classroom environment.Ultimately, the faster the teacher can move from one technology to another while keeping the students engaged, the more effective the learning environment.
With the need for school districts to economize as much as possible, energy efficiency has become key. How compatible are energy efficiency and an integrated AV system?
Peveler: Most school districts have energy policies designed to minimize the use of devices. I’ve heard everything from pulling cappuccino and coffee machines out of teachers’ classrooms to rainwater collection.
Four of the areas that cost a lot of money in schools are lighting, HVAC, projectors and computers. With an integrated system, if you go in and combine multiple systems, there isn’t one that will do all of these by itself without significant investment. But having a system like ours does allow a centralized management of all of those because we are able to communicate over the network using a centralized controller with present code and interfaces.
For instance, if I have three people in the district responsible for all of the AV in 36 schools—which seems like an unrealistic ratio, but it’s not unheard of—it can be very hard.
Having a system that’s truly taking advantage of the network infrastructure not only gets information to teachers but allows us to manage and monitor the activity so we can see if teachers are using the technology that’s in place, if they know how to use it effectively and if it’s being turned on and off like it’s supposed to be.
Digital signage is another example. If you can just go online and see the statuses of all the devices and remotely turn on the ones that need to be turned on, that’s a much more cost-effective and also time-effective method when most school districts are struggling to find ways to communicate to their students and parents.
What about school safety? I’ve read a lot about how an integrated system can change emergency procedures.
Peveler: One of the gentlemen I work with was the chief of police for the New York City schools on 9/11. One of the key things he discusses is that he doesn’t want the principal to become the fireman. He doesn’t want the principal to become the police officer. But he does need the principal to gather enough information to be able to communicate to the authorities, who can bring the right people on site.
Most principals nowadays don’t really sit in their office very much. They’re out and about on the campus. Imagine a principal sitting in Spanish 2 evaluating the teacher, and suddenly something horrific happens in another part of the building.
In most systems today, what has to happen first is that they have to find that principal. His phone may be on silent, so they have to physically find the principal. The principal then has to check out the situation to see what’s going on, and then call the local authorities. Somewhere within this process, he has to initiate some form of communication for the rest of the building.
This is a very time-intensive process, especially if you go out to some of the campuses that are huge. With our integrated solution, instructors have a panic button on their audio microphone system and/or at their desk. When they execute the panic button, it notifies the front office staff. But it would also go off on the mobile applications—email, etc. So if the principal is doing a teacher observation on an iPad, for example, up is going to pop the application, and there’s going to be a notification that there’s been a panic button pushed in room 246.
The camera comes up when the panic button is fired. On that same iPad, the principal or any of the other appropriate staff can see what’s going on. They’re still sitting in the same seat, and at that point they can make a decision. It could be that a child had a seizure and they need to call the ambulance. It could be that they see a student with a weapon, and then they can lock down the entire building and send out a notification to every display in the entire school. At the same time, the principal is on the cell phone calling the police.
In this economy, how are school administrators able to justify the costs of a sophisticated AV system?
Peveler: Let’s go back to the basics. Whether you’re a CTO, a CIO, a superintendent, or an assistant superintendent, your first responsibility is to provide a safe and effective learning environment. Your second responsibility is to do that within a budget.
We believe the value of our solution is that it uses one network infrastructure. In most cases, it’s the infrastructure that the school already has in place.
When a district CIO looks to put in a system for distributed video because he is interested in the distribution of information and management of systems, he is often looking at putting proprietary systems in that have their own infrastructure and their own user interface. This means a separate warranty, service agreement and training process.
But that’s the main cost that’s killing schools today. When you put all the things in, in many cases, you’re putting in the infrastructure in 10 systems, or five systems, or 12 or 15, or whatever the case is, which means 10 installation crews, 10 sets of wires and cables, multiple drops. All of that drives up the cost that ultimately makes it not cost-effective to do the things they want to do. Schools end up having to sacrifice, and they don’t get to provide as much as they want to because they can’t afford to.
Budgets in education tend to be cyclical. For most districts that means even if they don’t have money to grow their systems today, they will at some future date. The fact that our system is digital and is built on the network, which I think we can all say we believe is safely going to be the standard method of communication to most devices for the foreseeable future, means that even if they start at a simple Bell and PA solution, they are going to be able to grow, when they have money again, without putting in a new infrastructure.
I have struggled to find anything out there you can just add on to without there being massive costs and no real consideration for what you’ve already purchased. Having been a teacher, I’ve seen administrators struggle with knowing that they need something but not being able to afford it.
You’re obviously very passionate about this subject.
Peveler: I honestly believe that this type of product has the potential to change the way schools are built. We have a growing population. I look at Texas and the population growth that we’re seeing down here, and I know that this is true in many areas across the United States. But in many cases, the buildings were built just after World War II; they don’t have good infrastructure, and they’re not going to be able to last for long without some repairs and upgrades.
Ultimately, something has to change. I think it will be the single infrastructure, single-user interface. To be blunt, we’re seeing this across every vertical. We just had in the team from the Sochi Olympics, the next Winter Olympics in Russia, and they’re looking for centralized management—multiple solutions over a single network. It’s the exact same thing we’re doing for schools.
I want to be a part of something that creates a better learning and teaching environment. Administrators can get what they need for their students and teachers at an affordable price. That’s a cool thing to be a part of. —Judy Faust Hartnett