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TECHNOLOGY-ENABLED STUDENT ENGAGEMENT AND THE COVID-ERA TEACHING EXPERIENCE

As the trite saying goes, the only constant is change.  The trials and tribulations of COVID-19 underscore this idea by testing our ability to navigate uncertainties, a continually evolving “new normal,” and pivoting business models.  Our schools are among the hardest hit in all three of these areas.  Safety, new teaching and learning methods, unfamiliar technology, and daily go/no-go uncertainty of in-class instruction dominate many teachers’ and students’ thoughts.  Simultaneously, many speculate on the potential long-term emotional impact on children of the COVID generation.

I am mostly optimistic.  One life-skill contributing to long-term success is adaptability to change, and now is the perfect time to master this skill.  I am not a child psychologist and expect to get some comments on how feeling safe and other factors shape the young mind.  While I agree, I also believe we have an opportunity to favorably influence the long-term implications while building resiliency in our children through the example we set in our responses to our circumstances.  A vital part of the modeling includes the attitude teachers demonstrate for students in the face of challenges.  But teachers need help too.  The AV community can minimize instructor stress and maximize adaptability by suggesting distance learning solutions requiring limited teacher intervention or training.  Having taught for many years at the college level, I know firsthand that instructors and professors have enough on their minds that mastering a new classroom tool can increase anxiety and reduce education delivery quality.  In the process, this stress response potentially adversely impacts their ability to adapt to the new COVID-induced realities and negatively influences students’ attitudes and long-term adaptability.  Conversely, if we maximize teacher comfort in their new HyFlex and distance learning environments, they are more likely to model the adaptability needed for long-term student wellbeing.

When we first moved to remote models, leveraging Zoom got remote classes up and running quickly.  Many schools rapidly adapted, and teachers learned the new technology.  But as time progressed, they discovered they needed something more.  The wish list and questions raised included several of the following items:

  • Zero teacher interaction – Start class and the technology works.  When teachers need to remember to start recording, then the recordings often do not happen.
  • Minimal training requirements for the teacher – The more training needed, the lower the retention, adoption, and proper utilization, and the higher the stress
  • Reduced resource impact on teaching computer – Who thinks their computer is fast enough?  Presenter PCs sometimes bog down.  Running capture, streaming, or soft codec software on top of presentations further stresses the machines.
  • If the instruction PC seizes or needs a restart, what happens to the stream and recording?  Does the instructor need to remember to restart the application?
  • After class, how does content get to remote students?  Does the teacher need to upload the lecture content to an LMS or provide a link to students?
  • Could the network experience bandwidth issues while uploading content to the LMS during peak times?  Does this potentially interfere with live classes running concurrently with the uploads?
  • Does the recording contain tags to simplify playback and searches?  If so, what are the post-production requirements to embed the information?
  • How can we create student experiences similar to the classroom, where the students can individually control what they view and when?  For example, sometimes they want to see the teacher, sometimes the content from the presentation computer, and at other times the whiteboard.  Globally switching the content may cause some students to miss content when they need to see a source longer than presented.
  • What if the teacher moves around the classroom?  How do you maintain their image on camera while ensuring they have good audio pickup?  Speaking of audio, how do you pick up questions from students in the classroom well enough for far-end participants to hear?

Each of the items above represents a potential stress-inducing pain-point, reducing instructional quality and the student experience.  Finding an ideal solution that addresses all of these issues could take a rack of equipment, control systems, and programming.  Additionally, while there are technical solutions to address all of the above questions, how do you do it all without breaking the bank?

Frankly, in some cases, you can’t do it all without the end-user spending money.  But, there are methods to make it more palatable.  First, identify the priorities.  Sometimes schools want everything but are willing to accept some trade-offs.  Understanding your customers’ priorities can save you time hunting for the unicorn solution that fits their budget too.  Second, familiarize yourself with some of the potentially lesser-known options on the market with user- and integrator-friendly feature-sets designed to address schools’ preferences.  Some of the items to familiarize yourself with include:

  • Cattura CaptureCast – A recording, streaming, and publishing appliance that automatically captures classes, tags the content, and posts to an LMS with zero teacher intervention or burden on the presenter’s PC.  The choice of HDMI or SDI inputs makes them source agnostic, and student controlled multiview playback emulates the classroom experience from the far-end.  Remarkably affordable for the value.
  • Stem Audio ecosystem – Broad coverage or a controlled, narrow pickup area, Stem provides ceiling, wall, and table, mics with speakers and integrated DSP, in a simple to design and implement format.  A couple of units cover most classrooms, while PoE convenience, USB connection to a soft-codec, and system self-tuning help the budget while ensuring intelligibility for all participants.
  • VDO360 AutoPilot and CompassX – An auto-tracking camera that does not require a lanyard or third-party control, along with a decent conventional PTZ camera.  With the Autopilot covering the teacher, the CompassX on the content and connected, to a CaptureCast (with Stem Audio), provides the “killer app” in lecture capture.

It seems like I have the same conversation with integrators daily.  They have a school system that tried the lowest cost mic and camera connected to the presenter PC, but now they need something better.  They need something easy to integrate and low stress for the teacher that provides a positive learning experience – and all three of the items above, along with new other options, frequently receive favorable responses from all parties.  Most importantly, however, is the impact on students.  As a father of three remote high school students experiencing varying Covid-19 outlooks, and teacher influences, I appreciate students’ need to see role-models successfully navigating today’s challenges.  Technology in the new-classroom can enhance or impair the teachers’ experience, and by extension, the students’.  So, the next time you are working on classroom projects, remember your design may impact the teacher experience, and by extension, the long-term resilience of the students in their charge.

I welcome your insights.  Please share your thoughts on balancing quality distance learning solutions with teacher comfort and budget constraints.  What are your views on how the teaching experience can impact student adaptability and the long-term resilience of the COVID generation?  Feel free to comment below or reach out to me at [email protected].

“Hiding the unseen: Spreading the word, while remaining silent”

The cat is finally out of the bag.  After an extended period under NDA, we can now start saying the word “UniSee” without using hushed tones, closing doors, or looking over our shoulders.  For those of you that missed the launch, Barco’s UniSee leverages multiple innovations that change how we install, service, maintain, and even see LCD video walls.

I first saw a sneak peak of the UniSee concept during a closed-door meeting at InfoComm 2017.  In this meeting, I witnessed:

 

Plus, UniSee includes Barco’s Sense X automatic calibration providing visual consistency throughout the wall – even as displays age at different rates – ensuring the installation looks as good in year five as it did on day one.

Yes, we’ve all heard similar stories before (yawn) – but this was different (yeah!)
By far, this was my #1 highlight from InfoComm. 🙂  But I had to remain silent. 🙁

We had a more significant challenge in that we had to generate attendees for the October product launch without letting anyone know about the product itself.  Barco and our marketing department, talented as they are, came up with some great ideas.  Part of this included mailing a “teaser tool” to a limited group of qualified video wall integrators – garnering some industry attention in itself.

 

[Did you get yours?  We have a very limited number left.  Shoot me an email if you are interested in one of these future collectors’ items, and we’ll see what we can dig up.]

However, even with the teaser, we still needed to get people to attend the launch of a product that we were not able to discuss.  While trying to figure this out, I asked our sales team for the names of their top videowall customers without an explanation.  This caused some curiosity.  When they get curious, they ask questions.  When you tell them that you can’t answer the question, they become more curious…. and this curiosity starts to build momentum.  They were thrilled when they eventually learned this was for Barco.  They know that we are the world’s largest distributor for Barco and that anything Barco is about to launch under NDA has got to be mega cool…. so they lit the fires of enthusiasm and integrators started registering in large numbers for the event.

To paraphrase Gerben Van den Berg of Barco on the day of the launch; before 1492, many people thought the world was flat.  Then someone decided to set sail, challenge our reality and changed our understanding of the world forever.  Barco set out on a new course for videowalls with UniSee that changes our industry going forward.

It’s liberating to finally talk about UniSee openly and to share my excitement.  If you have not done so already, take a look at UniSee and Discover the Unseen.

Direct vs. AV Distribution: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

The Benefits of AV Distribution

“Oh, so you’re the middle man.” With implications of inflated costs and unnecessary complexity, this was the disparaging response from an old acquaintance while catching up after a time apart. Putting aside Almo’s “value add” let’s look at the real financial implications of sourcing equipment; considering both the hard- and soft-dollar costs of a purchase order. Hard-dollars are the unit cost of the equipment and freight. Soft-dollar expenses associated with purchase orders include:

  • The time spent getting quotes.
  • Receiving shipments (and associated work interruptions).
  • Reconciling packing lists.
  • Cutting checks.
  • Balancing the checking account.
  • The process of managing cash-flow.
  • Coordinating returns with vendors.
  • Warehousing and staging equipment until all items have arrived for a project.

Each of these soft dollar items has a direct cost in wages along with an opportunity cost from lost employee productivity. There are numerous studies available on the Internet discussing the costs of issuing a purchase order. Some studies show a range of $35.88 for automated purchase orders to $741 for some manual POs. To find your cost per PO, add up the time spent each week on all of the above activities and divide by the total number of purchase orders.

The following tables compare streamlined purchasing of equipment for a modest project through buying direct from manufacturers versus the same purchase from a distributor. These scenarios reflect actual prices of commonly used equipment. The soft-dollar average of $75 reflects the low-end of actual cost per PO as communicated by our commercial integrator clients. The manufacturer names and model numbers are masked to protect integrators and resellers from this information reaching the end user.

 

Scenario 1) Single Source from an AV Distributor

Qty Manufacturer Description Unit $ Ext $
1 Manufacture A Controller / switcher / amp $3,710.00 $3,710.00
1 Manufacture A 7” touch panel $2,340.00 $2,340.00
1 Manufacturer C Ceiling Mounting Plate for Projector $31.33 $31.33
1 Manufacturer D Projection screen $1,286.76 $1,286.76
4 Manufacturer F Remote Sequenced Power Conditioner $124.97 $499.88
1 Manufacturer F Rackmount Power Conditioner / Sequencer $343.72 $343.72
1 Manufacturer P Projector $2,474.73 $2,474.73
2 Manufacturer P Wall Mount for Displays $200.00 $400.00
1 Manufacturer P Ceiling mount bracket for high ceilings $823.08 $823.08
1 Manufacturer P Bracket assembly $274.73 $274.73
2 Manufacturer P 50” Display $839.78 $1,679.56
3 Manufacturer Q Ceiling Speakers (Pair) $214.76 $644.28
Sub Total: $14,508.07
Freight: $500
“Hard Dollar” Total: $15,008.07
1 Purchase Order (Soft Dollar Average) $75.00 $75.00
Total: $15,083.07

In order to provide a conservative estimate of savings: shipping is calculated to Lebanon, KS – the geographic center of the Continental US. Assumed origination point is a warehouse in Pennsylvania, even though closer options are available. This maximizes the distributor shipping cost in this example.

Scenario 2) Multi-source from Individual Manufacturers

Qty Manufacturer Description Unit $ Ext $
1 Manufacture A Controller / switcher / amp $3,710.00 $3,710.00
1 Manufacture A 7” touch panel $2,340.00 $2,340.00
Manufacturer A Freight: $75.00
1 Manufacturer C Ceiling Mounting Plate for Projector $31.33 $31.33
Manufacturer C Freight: $12.00
1 Manufacturer D Projection screen $1,286.76 $1,286.76
Manufacturer D Freight: $200.00
4 Manufacturer F Remote Sequenced Power Conditioner $124.97 $499.88
1 Manufacturer F Rackmount Power Conditioner / Sequencer $343.72 $343.72
Manufacturer F Freight: $28.00
1 Manufacturer P Projector $2,474.73 $2,474.73
2 Manufacturer P Wall Mount for Displays $200.00 $400.00
1 Manufacturer P Ceiling mount bracket for high ceilings $823.08 $823.08
1 Manufacturer P Bracket assembly $274.73 $274.73
2 Manufacturer P 50” Display $839.78 $1,679.56
Manufacturer P Freight: $280.00
3 Manufacturer Q Ceiling Speakers (Pair) $214.76 $644.28
Manufacturer Q Freight: $85.00
Equipment Total $14,508.07
Freight: $680.00
“Hard Dollar” Total: $15,188.07
7 Purchase Orders (Soft Dollar Average) $75.00 $525.00
Total: $15,713.07

Improving the Margins of Error on Your AV:

What would an additional margin of 1 to 4% do for your business? The above comparison favors using a distributor due to a 4.1% lower cost. This assumes per-unit costs are the same for purchasing direct and from a distributor. In some situations, not all, the per-unit cost for an item may be as much as 3% lower by purchasing direct. Running the above comparison with a 3% discount across all products for direct purchases brings the equipment total down $14,072.83 with a new total of $15,277.83. This is still a 1.3% savings by using a distributor. For the sake of brevity, these scenarios do not include every item necessary for a complete system. If we add in racks, cables, and all the other necessary elements for a complete system, the comparable savings would only increase. Additionally, in order to provide an “apples-to-apples”, the mount manufacturer specified above is constrained to the same manufacturer as the display and projector. However, over 80% of display and projector mounts are not supplied by display or projector manufacturers. As such, real world savings will be greater as more manufacturers are added to the mix.

But Wait, There’s More:

The reduced opportunity cost of streamlined purchasing can also result in productivity gains. This has the greatest implications for smaller firms where most people juggle multiple responsibilities. How long does it take a design engineer or sales person to regain full focus on a project after multiple interruptions by UPS, FedEx, and other freight deliveries for a single project? How much time is spent gathering quotes from multiple vendors only to find any potential savings diluted through increased shipping costs? How many “to-do” items are aging on your list and how would your business grow if more of them were completed? Regaining otherwise lost productivity through streamlined purchasing may allow for faster project completion, additional bid responses, selling more jobs, and greater efficiencies in general.

There may be circumstances where purchasing directly from a manufacturer may save a few dollars – perhaps with a single-item box sale. When considering some distributors also provide equipment staging, simplified communication with manufacturers, more flexible credit terms, technical expertise, and education; the benefits extend beyond streamlined purchasing. If you have not looked into utilizing the services of a distributor lately, you may be leaving money on the table.

Choosing the right ClickShare for your Business

One of the questions that comes up frequently is what are the differences between the three current models of ClickShare and which one should I choose.

Below is a chart that lines up the features…

ClickShare Product Detail

The most common difference that jumps out when looking at the chart is the number of supported buttons and simultaneously supported images.  Extra buttons and trays are available for all units, so don’t let the number of included buttons limit the decision process.  However, if we  look a little deeper, there are some less obvious and potentially more important elements to consider:

If users will have a 4K display, then consider the CSC-1.  Even if they will not share 4K content, the CSC-1 allows users to show up to fou
r 1080p sources simultaneously at their native resolution on a single 4K display.  (If end users share spreadsheets or other visually detailed content, then this alone may be enough reason to move to a 4K display.)  No external scaler required.

On the other end of the spectrum is the budget conscious CS-100 which is great for small businesses and huddle spaces.  Many companies choose to move up to the CSE-200 for Airplay compatibility and to allow two users on screen at the same time.  For consistency in the end user experience, companies also tend to go with CSE-200 in huddle spaces when a CSC-1 is also used in larger spaces.  Both the CSE-200 and CSC-1 allow for network integration, while the CS-100 does not.  This combination of price and features has made the CSE-200 the most popular unit, followed closely by the CSC-1.

In addition to our demo loaner program, there is also a dealer demo purchase program that allows integrators to by one of each unit at a discount.  Both options are a great way to help you and your customer evaluate options.  As always, feel free to contact me or your Almo rep if you have questions.

Much more to Barco than ClickShare and Projectors

barcocsc-4My impressions 60 days after adding Barco to my Business Development Manager responsibilities: there is much more to Barco than ClickShare and projectors. This includes video walls, image processors, video switchers, and beyond. Similar to ClickShare, design elegance and sophistication is consistent. Yet, recent price moves and promotions in some categories keep the products within reach of their target markets.

ClickShare is still the most popular Barco solution at Almo. If you have not seen ClickShare yet, check out this video (1:15). Customer’s love the simplicity of wireless screen sharing, knowing meetings will run smoothly, and that ClickShare does not require connection to a corporate network (although it is an option). As a bonus, the savings compared to a matrix switch, scaler, and table connectivity are significant.

Since ClickShare creates its own wireless connection in the Wi-Fi band, the integration questions that come up the most relate to managing multiple units in a crowded Wi-Fi space. There a numerous successful installations with literally hundreds of ClickShare units in the same facility and that work glitch free. Much has been written on the subject including white papers and user guides, but some of the high points include:

  • ClickShare allows you to manually set the Wi-Fi band, channel, and power of each unit. This allows you to alternate channels between adjacent spaces, dial back power if necessary, and minimize potential interference in a crowded wireless space.
  • Change the default SSID and name of each unit to something logical (i.e. the room name).
  • Room-specific connection instructions (with SSID) appear on the welcome screen – reducing questions on how to connect.

There are flexible security options making it easy to share content while keeping malicious outside content from hijacking a meeting.

If you have not experienced ClickShare first hand, or would like to dive deeper into configuration options, contact your Almo representative for a 21-day demo loaner unit. Nothing compares to first-hand experience.

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