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Massachusetts School Gets State-of-the-Art AV Systems

The keys: user-friendly operation and controls

Crreating a state-of-the-art AV system at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School (Whitman, MA) was a ground-up affair, according to Craig Finley, principal of AV design and consulting firm CC Technology Designs in Waltham, MA. The modern, 249,000- square-foot building that opened this fall was a cooperative effort that included the architects, contractor, AV design consultant, and AV installer HB Communications.

“Normally AV is left to the end of the process, where you have to figure out how to make a system work with existing — and unplanned — wiring and fixtures,” says Finley. “In this case, we started planning [the system] from the get-go, with all the stakeholders involved. If it’s included in the original plans, the contractor is more likely to help bring the system in as desired, rather than as an afterthought.”

"Without the teachers it's just a lot of
pretty lights and neat stuff hanging on
the walls. Each instructor has to embrace
the technology for it to be effective."

The school’s AV-equipped 67 classrooms are far from a second thought. Each classroom’s AV system features an interactive whiteboard with a USB adapter, a DLP projector, a presentation camera, a DVD/VCR combo unit, and four recessed ceiling loudspeakers. An Extron MLS-506MA MediaLink switcher and Extron MLC-226IP controller handle input/output flow and control. The equipment is encased in a custom millwork enclosure at the front of the classroom.

Each MLC 226 IP controller features Extron's exclusive IP Link? technology, a high performance intelligent network solution which enables centralized monitoring and control of A/V systems over the school’s existing IP network. Using Extron’s free GlobalViewer? software, technicians can schedule automated tasks and configure e-mail alerts for increased security. For instance, if a projector is disconnected from the system, an e-mail is sent immediately to security personnel.

GlobalViewer also powers the school’s dedicated AV help desk for teachers. The centralized system control and monitoring that GlobalViewer provides makes it easier and faster to help teachers with the technology. Many problems can be solved remotely, without a trip to the classroom. Help desk staff can check the activity and status of a single projector's power, connections, lamp life, or temperature, or even turn off every projector on campus at once — all from the convenience of a single monitoring station.

The technology isn’t there for its own sake, Finley stresses. “We did a lot of prep work trying to decide what the best configuration would be within the budget,” he says. “We even created a model classroom in the old [high school] building while it was still being used. We made the classroom look exactly the way we thought the classroom in the new building would look.

Teachers would come in, experiment with the AV system and make helpful suggestions. It was a science teacher, for example, that suggested we tie-in the AV system with electronic microscopes, which was a great idea. We wanted to make the system comfortable and useful for its users.

In fact, the heart of the system is its ease-of-use, says Finley. “Sometimes, one of the issues in K-12 AV systems is simply getting teachers comfortable with using the equipment, so we focused on the user interface and worked with the teachers to get feedback on what they needed. From there, we worked backward to equipment needs and the management of the equipment. We wanted [teachers] to see AV as a solution, not a problem.

Extron’s MLC-226IP controller provides a simple interface that includes features like auto shutoff and backlit buttons, which make it easy to operate.

“Remember,” he adds, “without the teachers it’s just a lot of pretty lights and neat stuff hanging on the walls. Each instructor has to embrace the technology for it to be effective. The way we’ve set it up is a teacher just has to push two buttons — an on/off button and another one to select the material he or she wants to show. It’s not the technology, it’s the integrator.”

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