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The AV Learning Curve
March 9, 2011 - 9:00pm

A career in educational technology means days spent working with people who (hopefully) know more than you do about almost everything. I started this life teaching college (sociology); everything I know about technology (and learning design for that matter) is attributable to the generosity of my colleagues.

Turns out that another huge gap in my knowledge base is becoming apparent: my underdeveloped classroom AV (audio-visual) brain. Just as classroom-based lecture capture is becoming part of our standard ed tech toolkit, knowledge of how classroom audio-visual systems work (or don't work) has emerged as critically important.

In my case, I'm spending lots of time in one classroom recording 10- to 15-minute presentations for our new Master of Health Care Delivery Science program using ECHO 360. We book the classroom for an hour or two at a time, and start and stop the lecture capture using the ad hoc controls. In the room is our faculty member (presenter), learning designer (working on slide design and presentation tips), our senior curriculum specialist (to collaborate on curriculum) and me. We provide a "mini-audience" -- which helps the presentation sound, look and feel more conversational.

The challenge comes in when we need to make adjustments or fixes to the classroom AV equipment. Classroom AV systems have lots of moving parts. From the Crestron screen to the camera to the microphones to the ECHO appliance to the projectors (classroom has 3) to the screens to the video displays to the interface with the tablet computer, lots of things need to go right.

Usually everything works as it was set up, but when things go a little wrong I usually feel like I don't know enough about how these systems work, and work together, to troubleshoot.

Sometimes I call the AV specialists (the classroom has a hotline phone), and they come down and troubleshoot. But I think if I knew more about how AV equipment, connections, signals, and sound worked, I'd be more confidant in the sessions, less reliant on calling the AV crash team, and better able to improve the lecture capture experience.

Knowing more about AV systems would also help in my work for spec'ing out new classrooms that will have lecture capture equipment, as I'd be able to better judge vendor claims and assess various options.

Over the years I've had to go up learning curves around server infrastructure, authentication, storage, security, media delivery, client and web applications. I've become reasonably fluent in these domains. Audio-visual still remains mostly a mystery. I'd like to know more about analog VGA ports, and the transition to digital DVI and HDMI. I'd like to learn about signal types.

Where are we going with digital whiteboards, active displays, and systems that integrate mobile devices into the classroom technology.

Any ideas for going up the AV learning curve?

Much respect to all you professionals who work in Classroom Technology Services. You have some of the coolest jobs in higher ed.


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