Old school gets new school

AUTHOR: Inavate
The teaching position contains a Samsung document camera, Extron input box and AMX 8.4” touch screen

The winner of this year’s most innovative installation project in the education sector at the 2009 InAVation Awards was a radical project carried out at the, University of Hradec Kralové by Czech installation specialists, AV Media. The company’s projects have graced the pages of InAVate on several occasions in the past, but this one was a bit different.

Hradec Kralové is one of the Czech Republic’s oldest cities. Its university is a state-funded institution with a long tradition of academic education scholarship. The Faculty of Informatics and Management educates university-qualified professionals for a broad range of opportunities in the private and state employment sectors.

Five years ago, work began on the construction of a completely new campus building for the faculty, to include innovatively designed new classrooms, a management suite for the faculty’s dean and administrators and multi-functional a auditorium to cater for 150 students.

The man charged with overseeing the technology portion of the enterprise was IT and Project manager Jan Sedláček – the spiritual father of the project according to AV Media consultant Milan Nygryn.

Following his initial concept, Jan had to wait a further 3 years, until the faculty received the go ahead and agreed funding from the Czech government. However a lot changes in three years in the AV business, so when Jan and Milan sat down to discuss plans for the project the first item on the agenda was to bring the previous ideas up to date to include the latest technology.

“We discussed the best way to combine Mr Sedláček’s vision for technology in the facility, with our experience in working with teachers and educational facilities. We decided that it was important to focus on two key elements – automating the AV systems as much as possible, and providing a near identical user interface across the whole site,” remarked Milan

The building itself contains 28 teaching rooms in three main types, a 150-seater auditorium, and also a boardroom for senior staff.

One of the key features of the design that Jan and Milan came up with was the ID-card system for teaching staff. Instead of having to switch on equipment, a teacher simply inserts his or her ID card into a reader in the teacher’s desk and the AV equipment is powered up. A secondary benefit of this is that it locks out anyone who wants to tamper with the system. Without the appropriate ID card nothing works.

Also central to fulfilling the client’s need for ease of operation is the use of AMX’s Resource Management Suite. Each of the school’s NetLinx controllers and touch panels is connected to the internal LAN, as well as the 30 or so projectors installed by AV Media. All of the connected equipment can be remotely controlled by the faculty’s IT department allowing for ease of trouble shooting and administration of the system.

An interesting feature is the radical design of the classrooms themselves. Much of the day to day teaching work is computer-based, and so for this reason, desks are arranged in what the university terms a Wasps-nest arrangement. The intention was to provide each student with an enclosed workspace for individual tasks, whilst still maintaining good sight lines to the teacher.

The classrooms themselves are divided into two groups, with standardised equipment in each.

“The more numerous type is equipped with an Middle Atlantic AV rack,” explained Milan Nygryn. “This contains a Marantz PM7001P audio amplifier, the Extron MMX 32 VGA A switcher, an AMX NL2100 control unit and a rack-mounted PC.”

The sound reinforcement in each room comes from Bose 251 loudspeakers, which are wall mounted and provide simple reproduction of any connected AV sources. They were selected for their wide dispersion angle, giving good coverage of the entire room. The acoustics of the classrooms were further improved by additional acoustic treatments on the wall.

The focus of the AV solution is the teacher’s desk. This bespoke piece of furniture was designed by AV Media, and built by a cabinetry specialist to be as ergonomic as possible for the teacher.

Into each is integrated an Extron breakout box, with connections for notebooks, laptops, other VGA signals and USB. The Extron switcher also enables the teacher to display his or her own PC on the projection screen. The desks themselves are also motorised with Linak DL4 lifts and attached controllers, ensuring they are as ergonomic as possible.

Control of the room’s AV sources, lighting and blinds are all provided to the teacher via an 5.4” AMX NXC-CV5 touch panel, built into the desktop.

Five classrooms, slightly larger than their peers, are outfitted more elaborately. Each caters for around 50 students, and is equipped with a Samsung UF-80ST document camera and Smart Sympodium ID-370 interactive display. The Sympodium panels act as a preview system for the lecturer as well as providing annotation options. The rooms resemble more traditional lecture theatres without the computer learning stations or wasp nest seating arrangements. An alternate arrangement of similar sized rooms sees them being equipped with Samsung 941MP LCD monitors instead of the Smart panels. Sound reinforcement in these intermediately sized spaces is the same as the smaller ones.

The centrepiece of the installation is the large auditorium, known as room J1. Holding around 150 students the focal point of this room is a matched pair of Christie Roadrunner LX 650 projectors. This presentation system is linked to a pair of white boards, mounted below them behind the main lecture position. Attached to each whiteboard is a Mimio interactive device.

This clever bit of kit allows the lecturer to write on a whiteboard, and have his diagrams, sketches or notes be duplicated above his head on the projector, making things much more accessible to students. Whilst this sounds similar to what can be achieved on something like a Smart Sympodium tablet, the use of Mimio gives the lecturer a far larger area to work on, or annotate. AV Media has found through previous experience that this method of teaching in large lecture halls is actually more effective. When used in conjunction with a second projection system, as in this particular case, Mimio means that the lecturer can draw diagrams on one screen alongside pre-prepared materials on a second.

Video and audio sources are routed through an Extron Crosspoint 300 124 HVA (now superseded by the Crosspoint Ultra 124) matrix switcher. Video sources include a Samsung document camera, the desk mounted PC, and auxiliary inputs from Extron desktop input boxes.

Accompanying this more advanced presentation system is also a considerably beefier sound reinforcement solution. AV Media opted for a L-R arrangement of JBL’s successful VRX 900 line array range. Twin hangs of three VRX 928LA elements provide stereo sound, and are driven by Crown XTi series amplifiers.

Inputs for the audio system include a range of AKG microphones, both wired and wireless, which are mixed through a Beyerdynamic MIX 10 NG microphone mixer. Feedback elimination for the system is provided by a trio of Bosch’s Plena LBB 1968/00 feedback suppression processors.

Additional audio processing, and EQ functionality is supplied by a ClearOne PSR1212 unit.

The teacher’s desk itself is similarly equipped to those in the smaller classrooms. It is however equipped with a more powerful AMX NL3100 central controller, and a large 8.4” AMX MVP8400 touch panel.

The University has also long made use of Mediasite to provide lecture recording and streaming services for its students. To this end the lecture theatre was equipped with Sony SNC RX550P/W. At the moment this provides an equivalent facility to videoconferencing, but the infrastructure and cameras installed by AV Media will allow a codec to be installed in the future fairly simply.

Milan Nygryn is already in discussion with the university on this matter: “The customer wants to try the Tandberg, Polycom and Lifesize solutions so we will hold a shoot out for them soon to find the right answer.”

The final room installation is the staff boardroom. This is a fairly simple installation, designed longer and narrower than the classrooms. For this reason, the NEC projector is fitted with a long throw lens. The boardroom table is fitted with numerous input boxes, allowing multiple laptops to be connected, in addition AV Media installed Extron’s CableCuddy solution to assist with cable management issues.

The company also supplied and installed a number of 46” NEC displays around the new building. These are located in the reception areas, and outside the auditorium and are linked into the university’s existing digital network. This provides details of scheduling for students, news on student life and information on university activities. Also, if the auditorium is used to host conferences or other events, the displays also serve as a navigation system for visitors.

Whilst the project was almost five years in the planning, the installation itself took place over the course of only one month and was completed to schedule, despite the occasional (and predictable) civil engineering clash. The customer, says Milan Nygryn, is so pleased with the final result, that they an AV Media are already in a process of debriefing from this project with the intention of sharing their experiences with a view to starting work on a further new building later in 2009. “We will begin the new project with the same discussion as this project – we will see what we have learned, and how we can update the template with our new knowledge and the latest technology options.”