|Core Competencies/Skill Sets
General Administration and Management
Instruction and Training
Identifying Desired Outcomes
Technology Application and Administration
Sam Houston State University’s Lowman Student Center was in need of a technology upgrade. Only the theater, ballroom, and three conference rooms had projectors with screens, microphones, audio inputs, and speakers. Televisions or portable projectors were carted into the other 13 meeting spaces when needed. The conference rooms that did have projectors had two speakers each that were too loud for those sitting in the front of the room and too quiet for those sitting in the back. An audio-visual closet had sundry cables and connectors that student crewmembers could dig through for last-minute requests. And while top-of-the-line when it was purchased, the theater projection was too faint and too small to be useful for some events. The control system for the theater projector had issues and, though wireless, would not work unless plugged into the base behind one of the wings. The ballroom had two projectors, one for each side of the stage, but could only show one media source at a time; and there were no easy access inputs for media players and laptops. All control for this system was located backstage, so those assisting with technology could not see the projection or hear the audio well enough to make adjustments. Additionally, staff wanted an easier way to handle the outdoor public address system. The director and associate director had a vision to upgrade current capabilities as well as implement new ones—a vision that could not have been carried out without the help of students.
Planning the upgrade
The plan for the upgrade began with discussions between the associate director and student crewmembers. These talks proved vital as the students were in tune with the building usage and the desires of clientele. Building walkthroughs were conducted to provide an outline for audio-visual needs. The overall plan included four main installations: general building upgrades, the ballroom, the theater, and conference rooms.
The associate director expressed that the bare minimum for each conference room should be a television with composite, VGA, and HDMI inputs. This would allow for basic cable; connections for audio from phones, iPods, CD players; and audio-video from Blu-ray players, DVD, VCR, laptop, document cameras, and other devices. The larger conference rooms would be upgraded to in-ceiling audio speakers for better sound. Projector management software would be incorporated into the rooms with network connectivity. As technology was being upgraded, plans included rewiring wall plates to house the most updated cable connections. Additionally, two portable media podiums were created that could be plugged into any room.
The general building upgrade sought to place additional power outlets in key locations along walls and in lobby areas to provide more power services for students while maintaining a safe environment from cords. Additional wiring would also be installed in the ballroom and theater to allow for camera video feeds and presentation/event recording. This included a pan-tilt-zoom video camera mounted on the ballroom ceiling for recording and backstage monitoring of events and projection. The theater upgrade would include multichannel audio, electronic screen activation, a new projector, and lighting and control system updates. Investment in these upgrades would allow students, faculty, and off-campus visitors to fully integrate technology into events.
Once a finalized plan was approved, it was time to implement the new technologies. Students were charged with installing equipment in the conference rooms; this saved around $20,000 when compared to quotes from professional installers. While waiting on ordered products to arrive, student crewmembers and staff worked together to determine the best way to have the auxiliary input cables both accessible and hidden. The cables were also wrapped together to ensure necessary connections were always available; this was referred to as the “umbilical cabling.” One of the students designed a cabinet that would be installed under each television. The cabling would come down to the box from the television through the wall; the umbilical could be pulled out from the box when needed and stored inside when not in use. This provided a clean look and easy clean-up for each conference room.
In preparation for installation, the university physical plant installed power outlets behind the television locations. These outlets may only be turned on via a key; therefore, it is required for those requesting the space to indicate technology needs. The university cable provider also installed the appropriate cable outlets. Once the televisions arrived, the installation began. The student crew mounted plywood directly to the wall studs, cut appropriate holes for the cabling, attached the television mount to the plywood, ran the cable wrapping through the wall, and hung the television on the wall. The cable wrapping was then pulled through the box, and the box was attached to the wall. The students tested each room install by plugging in various media players, such as laptops and Blu-ray players. The cables were then wrapped and locked into the box, and the conference rooms were ready to use. The students only took about two days to complete the installation.
The upgrades to the ballroom, theater, and larger conference rooms were organized through an outside vendor. However, the university had some issues with the job being completed. The company had not ordered equipment and hardware that the installers needed in time. They were overbooked and had different teams working on the installations. This became problematic as one team would often undo or redo what the previous team had done due to the lack of internal documentation. Also, some of the installed components did not work properly. The planned two-week installation period turned into six. The new academic year commenced, and spaces that needed upgrades were now in use. After many conversations and visits, the installers finished the job.
The theater is now equipped with a 18-foot by 11-foot electric screen along with a new touch-panel system controller that runs all of the inputs, media devices, microphone, projector, and audio amps from one location. The ballroom has updated controllers, an additional projector in the rear section, updated audio, and a pan-tilt-zoom camera for backstage monitoring and Blu-ray recording. Additionally, separate images or the same image may be projected on each screen. The house audio, microphone levels, and some video may be controlled from the ballroom floor. The three larger conference rooms have projectors and in-ceiling speakers for better audio coverage; one of the rooms even has control panel for microphones, audio, and video switching.
The solution for an outside public address system was to use an amplifier and two speakers from the original set-up. The speakers outside were installed under the second floor overhang. Jacks next to the speakers allow for the use of phones, mp3 players, CD players, and other such devices. Microphones may also be hooked up to the speakers. The Student Center staff controls the speakers, and students may request the use of the system.
Using new technology
The student crewmembers are the primary day-to-day operators of the technology. Training was a necessity. Senior crewmembers, with professional staff oversight, conducted much of the training with the newer members. The training was completely hands-on. Run-throughs with the crew included explaining what the knobs and buttons did as well as how the larger pieces were connected. They were also supplied with laminated cheat sheets.
Now, as time permits, crewmembers play with the equipment. This is important because it allows the students to discover new features of the technology. A good example is the pan-tilt-zoom camera, which is mainly used as a monitor. The staff wanted to learn how the Blu-ray recording system worked. With the organizers’ permission, a crewmember recorded an event. This was not only a great learning opportunity, but it also was an example for professional staff members on what could be done with that component.
Student Center clients enjoy the upgrades, especially the students. Positive comments have been made about the size of the theater screen and the ease of using the projection systems in the conference rooms. Many student groups request use of technology at weekly meetings, asking to connect their phones, laptops, and iPads. Videoconferencing is also common as departments and individuals use this as an alternative to telephone interviews. A fraternity group even used the technology for a speaker who was unable to travel. The university president enjoys how great her presentations look on the new screens. And other campus departments have held mini-conferences, using all technology offerings within a given space. For those interested in using features with which they are unfamiliar, the crewmembers offer quick trainings.
While it may be some time before another upgrade is needed, the audio-visual wiring, power, and cable television infrastructure is in place throughout the building. Different pieces of equipment can easily be updated as newer/better technology becomes available, as current equipment needs replaced, or as functionality is rethought.
More than room set-ups
The technology upgrade was a learning opportunity for student crewmembers. By being involved from the beginning, crewmembers are well-versed in this project. The students offered suggestions regarding the upgrade, installed equipment in the conference rooms, and trained fellow crewmembers. Additional opportunities for innovation were provided along the way as one crewmember developed a box to provide easy access and storage for cables in the conference rooms, while another discovered the benefits of the Blu-ray recording capabilities. Crewmembers not only provided a needed perspective to the upgrade project, but also acquired new and honed existing skills, proving to be a vital contributor in the process.
James Van Roekel is associate director of the Lowman Student Center at Sam Houston State University. His publications focus on the utilization of free and off-the-shelf technologies toward the development of digital applications in student learning. He has been awarded more than $700,000 in grants to engage students in current and emerging technologies. Van Roekel’s graduate degrees are in history and library science.