Technology overhaul at Kingston University
Kingston University in London prioritised collaboration and room standards when reinventing its learning experience. Charlotte Ashley finds out how it applied AV to attract the next generation of digitally aware scholars.
With UK university fees at an all-time high and competition to attract the best students fiercer than ever, Kingston University recently decided to overhaul its AV to match its growing status in the education sphere. Its new system had to adapt to a growing student demand for modern learning technology that seamlessly integrates with life outside the lecture theatre.
UK-based integrator GV Multimedia won a tender process to become the university’s strategic partner for AV. Its brief was to manage the leap from analogue to digital and create easy-to-use, collaborative workspaces across its four campuses. As an education specialist, the company was well equipped to upgrade 121 of the university’s centrally timetabled rooms for phase one of the project. This required upgrading technology in lecture theatres, teaching rooms and flexible learning spaces, across four campuses, situated 20 minutes apart.
“GV put forward a very rigid, detailed tender,” says Yasir Rafi, Kingston University’s AV architect and end user campus support manager. “The project came about from the strategic decision to heavily invest in teaching and learning technologies. Three years ago we secured £27 million investment for IT infrastructure, with AV and end-point devices within that.” The development was sponsored and driven forward by the then new CIO Simon Harrison.
A large-scale upgrade of both AV and IT technology meant GV Multimedia had to be flexible during a busy time for the university. On request of the university, the integrator had to adapt to an original two–year project lifespan being brought forward to suit a December 2015 finish date. Despite these changes, the project was delivered on time and slightly under budget according to Rafi.
“Because the students were involved, their contributions have helped create a better solution to the benefit of all parties.”
The integration team had to coordinate a 9-month installation around a “heavily booked” schedule, with spaces used for conferences, summer schools and MBA sessions in the summer. Sales director at GV Multimedia, Kristian Cutting recalls: “We worked with bookings to come up with a plan of how we could get in to the rooms; some of it was weekends, some of it was late or during the week, but we used every single inch of availability. On a weekly basis we were doing six or seven rooms.”
Rafi notes that accommodating the shift from analogue to digital was a huge challenge, with the establishment moving from having one data point to five in small rooms and ten network points in lecture theatres. “The infrastructure at the back end had to be ready alongside the university’s schedule,” recalls Rafi.
Students, academics and senior management joined the technical team to collectively decide between products including the lectern and projectors. Rafi notes that the students had specific requests in the decision making process: “Students said we want all the projectors to be environmentally friendly.”
“Because the students were involved, their contributions have helped create a better solution to the benefit of all parties,” Rafi continues. Cutting adds that GV Multimedia felt the benefit in nurturing a partnership: “We penetrated deeper into Kingston and met people that were perhaps just part of the sign-off process before.”
Rooms are popular amongst the students, and often used for small groups, even when not booked for lectures or seminars. The conversation about technology is still ongoing between the university and its student population, with students keen to provide feedback to staff on using the equipment. “The technology has been good for the students,” comments one Chemistry undergraduate.
At the heart of the project are room standards, with four created in total for the project. “We ended up with a lecture theatre standard, a small/medium and large teaching room standard and a meeting room standard,” says Cutting.
Projection was first on the agenda for phase one of the installation. GV Multimedia deployed 160 Panasonic laser projectors over two to three weeks for full HD presentation of lecturer’s teaching materials at 3,500 lumens which had previously appeared “washed out.” Cutting adds that it was the biggest European order for Panasonic laser projection at the time, rolled out in one of the shortest time-frames.
Up to four feature in each facility so every student can always have a good viewing angle of the projection on newly installed Sharp screens, even in L-shaped rooms. Projection presented the challenge of “finding a solution to provide the same user experience regardless of what a room looks like,” says Rafi.
Voice reinforcement facilitates audio, with Ecler speakers installed in all rooms, complemented by Harman JBL 7.2 surround sound in lecture theatres. The integration team had to provide a system suited to the university’s firm preference for mono-sound systems over stereo, unless it significantly bettered the space. Sennheiser Speechline microphones are installed as part of the establishment’s transition to digital.
The installation’s showpiece is its most recently completed Clattern lecture theatre at its Penrhyn Road campus. Its low-ceilinged 1960s structure was rebuilt to create a collaborative space for scholars. It took around three weeks to cable, fit the furniture and install the projectors and create what became “one of the best spaces we have,” according to Rafi . Here GV Multimedia has deployed Epson EB-Z1000U cinema-scope projector at 10,000 lumens and Harman surround sound to benefit fi lm students. The room is lined with Squiggle Glass boards, allowing students to group off and write on them, capture their work on their phone or tablet, and later be able to flip the projection from their devices to the projector and present it to the class.
It was also important for the furniture to complement the AV, with one seat able to swivel around so students can turn around and share ideas at a desk. Speaking on the design, he adds: “What we’re doing now is going into more collaborative learning. We’re moving away from two-seater or four-seater and our layout is now focused on eight to 12 people sitting together, conducive to learning while collaborating and contributing to the teaching sessions.”
Vital to the success of the installation is a bespoke Simon Kohn-designed lectern in every room. Every detail of the lectern, from its height (900 millimetres) to its branding, was carefully planned by the university and GV Multimedia. “The new way of thinking is that we don’t want any barriers between the lecturer and the student,” states Rafi. The team were under instruction not to go above a certain height and still accommodate Epson ELP-PC20 or Wolfvision VZ8 plus visualisers, a Sharp LL2015sa interactive monitor on double articulated ergo arms, a Beyerdynamic Revoluto microphone, an AMX Modero S Series touch panel and various other technology within the lectern. Speaking on its design, Cutting says: “We thought about patching and security. We wanted them to be able to see the technology, but maybe not touch certain things.”
Lecterns are standardised across the university, allowing lecturers to be met with the same setup wherever they may be teaching and use the new HD computer or plug in a laptop. The projectors start automatically when a lecturer prepares to start the lecture at the lectern to immediately capture students’ attention.
“The most important part of the lectern is the touchscreen, where lecturers control the whole lectern from,” says Rafi. Centrally located 7-in Modero S Series touch panels aim to simplify control for staff. Alongside video tutorials, a “help” button is in development to provide additional support.
“We are also bringing in VoIP phones so lecturers can contact us straight away at the lectern,” states Rafi. He adds: “We are finalising a Room Management System with a spotter camera at the back which is connected to the Service Desk so within seconds we can remotely control the lectern to resolve issues.”
Devices are connected via AMX’s Enova technology, chosen for its scalability and to ease the transition to digital. Central to the system are Enova DVX presentation switchers, all-in- one controllers, AV switchers, scalers, analogue to digital signal converters, twisted pair transmitters, amplifiers and audio processors handling room control and automation, with Massio systems deployed in smaller rooms. DX-links are used to connect projectors straight into the presentation switchers. DGX and SVSI systems will soon follow, the latter in laboratory environments. The university is also finalising a licence to implement SmartNote software in conjunction with the Sharp monitors.
One of the most difficult decisions for the university was choosing between AMX and Crestron as the university’s core technology. “Solution wise there was nothing pulling them apart,” says Rafi . They opted for an AMX system in the end; with Cutting stating that the client’s familiarisation with Procon meant that the migration to AMX was a softer step.
In hallways and corridors 65 Panasonic displays – ranging from 55-in to 75-in – featuring Onelan digital signage can be found throughout the university promoting internal campaigns, including real-time social media feeds, or room availability updates.
With a seven-year replacement cycle in place, the university will continue to test and trial new products to continually improve the user experience. Later this year GV Multimedia will fit another 75 rooms, including 200 more screens. “We’ve since gone back to the university and will continue the refurbishment for the remainder of the learning technology,” states Cutting.
Next on the agenda are plans to bring BYOD collaboration into the lecture theatre for the first time, with the university trialling Mersive’s Solstice hardware. Kingston University’s multi- purpose library is also a major four-year project in the pipeline, a new building that will reap the benefit of AV being planned alongside the building’s architecture.
Showing prospective students and parents that the university is updating its technology for an improved learning experience, and to ensure they “leave ready for the working world” will continue to drive this project forward states Rafi.
CIO Harrison commented: “This initiative has succeeded through a truly collaborative approach of vendors, students, academics and the project team, and has made an enormous difference to teaching and learning. As we embark on refitting the remaining 250 rooms, I am looking forward to continuing the success of phase 1 and delivering even greater benefits to the university and our community.
Beyerdyanmic Revoluto microphones
Ecler in-ceiling speakers
JBL subwoofers and line array speakers
Sennheiser radio microphones
AMX presentation switchers and Modero touch panels
Panasonic laser projectors
Sony HDMI PTZ cameras
Top-Tec mounting systems
Wolfvision VZ8 plus4 visualisers
Sony HDMI PTZ camera