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Report from EduComm 2007

Session and product highlights from the fourth annual EduComm conference in Anaheim.
University Business, Aug 2007

THE MOOD WAS BUOYANT IN ANAHEIM AT the fourth annual EduComm conference in June. During a three-day program, attendees were eager to pick up the latest tips and techniques to take back to their campuses, as well as get a peek at the newest products from A/V and IT vendors.

EduComm attendees also enjoyed keynote presentations from Alan Kay and David Pogue. Kay, a pioneering figure in many of the ways we interact with technology, warned that the current state of teaching and learning was sorely lacking, and that there was so much more that could be done. He called ours an "air guitar nation," one in which there is a lot of activity in the name of education, but that activity is merely going through the motions and not resulting in real learning. But complacency doesn't have to be the order of the day, and Kay inspired the audience with enlightening classroom exercises throughout his presentation to demonstrate that real teaching-for real results-is hard but rewarding work.


Pogue, who is well known for his New York Times technology columns and television appearances, discussed new technologies that he believes will play a role in education in coming years. An accomplished musician and composer, Pogue also entertained the audience with popular song parodies based on technology themes. Videos of both keynotes can be viewed online at

As in years past EduComm featured a broad mix of sessions covering A/V and IT topics, as well as the addition this year of sessions dealing with the emerging field of Web 2.0 applications.


One of those sessions was "Strategic Alliances: Technology's Role in the New American University," presented by Adrian Sannier, University Technology Officer at Arizona State University.

College enrollment is booming, Sannier said, yet higher ed technology is not keeping pace. "This higher education system we have now is not oriented for a country of 300 million, especially if those 300 million people have uneven academic preparation when they come in," he said. "It's just a question of how many people are we going to leave on the cutting room floor."

If we're going to maintain our current standard of living, he said, there needs to be some dramatic changes in higher education.

The flip side of that coin is that as enrollments grow, colleges and universities must scale what they offer to accommodate the influx of students. But how do we make this scale happen without completely destroying the academic experience? Technology is the obvious answer, but Sannier said the technology currently found in most institutions might not fit the bill.

ASU chose outside vendors to provide many of its tech services.

Universities were once pioneers in technology, blazing the trail for the development of IT and networks. Yet something happened in the 90s, and that something was the dot-com boom. "Consumer technology has advanced far faster than enterprise technology, the opposite of what it used to be," he said. The consumer market has a flexibility to experiment with new technologies, a flexibility that doesn't exist in academia.

"Companies like Google and Amazon have moved beyond what is available in schools," he said, "and that gap is getting wider everyday."

Most institutions have focused their efforts and resources on things like data centers, networks, storage systems, e-mail, networks, and so on-"things that don't matter" to the core mission of education, he said. As a result, "we're chained to the decisions we made."

ASU's strategy was to go outside the university, to let other people provide those services not essential to the mission. "We had to find partners," he said. "Moreover the partners had to have these services as part of their core."


ASU has partnered with companies such as Qwest, Apple, Oracle, Canon, Cisco Systems, Verizon, Google, and Dell to provide web services, telecommunications, application hosting, new media, and more.

The key to the strategy is being confident enough in the plan to turn over these operations to vendors for a long time. Why? So they'll invest, he said. And as they invest, the school benefits.

"Getting technology from Google is like getting technology from an advanced alien culture," he said. "We get that magical infrastructure and it continues to evolve everyday."


Another well-received session was "Classroom Control, Preventative Maintenance, and Equipment Security." Ken Santucci and Todd Russell from the technology department at Duquesne University (Pa.) shared the steps they took to standardize an inherited, hodgepodge of room control systems.

Faculty and the IT staff both had trouble using and trouble shooting the systems because of the lack of consistency. Security was also an issue with over 17 projectors stolen and traditional methods, such as lock boxes, proving ineffective. The presenters selected a solution from Extron because they could install it themselves, the systems were easy for faculty to use and easy for the IT staff to program.

Because projectors and other equipment can be monitored over the IP network, if one is disconnected an alert is sent to both the IT staff and campus security, eliminating theft. Russell said the goal is to install a robust podium based system in 40 percent of the rooms and a more basic system in the rest because, "a lot of people don't use all that technology."


Web 2.0 applications are becoming integral to the learning experience, as speaker Sarah Robbins (also known as Intellagirl) from Ball State University (Ind.) illustrated. She has been using the virtual world of Second Life this past year to teach rhetoric and composition to undergraduate students. During her EduComm session-Creating Authentic and Engaging Community-Oriented learning Spaces: Using Second Life in Higher Ed Classrooms- she explained how Ball State and other higher ed institutions are creating multi-user environments, known as "islands," to conduct classes, give lectures, and conduct virtual tours.

Having virtual space in which to teach is crucial considering that learning is no longer confirmed to the traditional classroom or lecture hall, she noted. Students use text messaging, blogs, instant messages, streaming video, RSS, online games, and other tools of Web 2.0 to communicate, and hence research topics and learn. Robbins' point throughout her presentation is that higher education's academic IT model has to get in line with students' new ways of acquiring information. "Education has to follow suit. If we keep preaching to our students and expect their heads to flip open and information to get poured in, we are going to fail over and over." Today's students, she added, see themselves as "doers," not just receptacles for data. The more that a learning environment gives them interactivity and communal experiences the better.


"I evangelize for this solution and advocate for it, but I am not here to say it is the be all and end all, but it does solve a lot of issues," she told attendees.

Those who "live" in Second Life create online "adjustable" avatars that serve as flexible identities, explains Robbins. Through services offered through Linden Labs, Second Life's creator, users can outfit avatars with virtual closing, accessories, and can even have them appear as animals or inanimate objects. There are currently 7 million registered Second Life users, but about 1.5 million are active, according to Robbins' estimates.

Robbins uses Second Life to help students explore diversity.

Robbins is using Second Life to ask students to create their own virtual learning spaces to present their research. Flying to remote locations or getting a close up virtual view of the Sistine Chapel are all part of her coursework. So are the tasks of creating new landscapes and writing about the experience.


One of Robbins' lessons on ethnographic studies called for her writing students to explore diversity. "I am in Muncie, Ind., and there isn't a lot of diversity in Muncie," she quipped. "I need to open their eyes. I wanted them to understand what it is like to be an insider or an outsider in an environment. So I sent them out as weird avatars." One group of students' avatars were Kool Aid pitchers sent to a busy dance club in Second Life. "I told them, 'Don't interrupt what is going on, just go and observe the party and how you feel in the environment.'"

One group of students had 40 minutes to explore Second Life, but returned from their trip within five minutes. "They were kicked out of the club," Robbins said. "I scrambled to find someplace else to send them, but they said they learned everything they needed to learn." Their avatars' sheer size had them bumping into other virtual club goers. In some cases the virtual space in the club was too small for the Kool Aid pitchers, which were much larger than the others.

Students came back with more empathy and understanding about being outsiders, she said. One student said she understood how obese people feel. They also reported on another phenomenon-the need to bond and form their own sub-community. They needed to not feel alone or the odd one in a larger crowd. Several students were uncomfortable with the outcome, but were glad they "weren't in it alone," Robbins said. "In five minutes they learned what I couldn't have lectured to them in two hours."


Because EduComm is co-located with the annual InfoComm show, EduComm attendees got to see the latest in audiovisual technology on the InfoComm show floor. And there was quite a bit to see.

Remember a few years ago when the CIO of Harvard Medical School had an RFID device implanted in his arm to trigger various controls when he entered a room? It sounded like the stuff of science fiction, but developers took notice. Now AMX offers a key ring-sized RFID device to do much the same thing-without the painful surgery.

The company introduced Anterus, the world's first RFID solution designed specifically for use with integrated control systems. Anterus is a new product family that extends the capabilities and features of AMX control and automation systems, allowing users in any commercial or residential environment to locate, track and secure any device, or trigger automated events.


Extron showed off its PoleVault System, a turnkey solution that enables the addition of A/V controls to any classroom in no time. The PoleVault System includes all the necessary audio and video switching, audio amplification, system control, source connectivity, speakers, mounting hardware, and cabling for a complete classroom A/V solution. All the components are designed and made by Extron so compatibility is never an issue. An instructor can control the A/V system through a wall or lectern mounted MediaLink Controller, eliminating the need for remote controls.

Smart introduced new features for its 600i interactive whiteboard system. The upgrade, which is available to existing users at no cost, two computers to be connected to the 600i system simultaneously. A single touch in the whiteboard screen switches between the two computers, allowing "guest" laptops to add to a presentation.

High Definition capability was everywhere, in both screens and projectors. And vendors say widescreen models are finally gaining traction because content is being produced in a widescreen format on computers. Sony has six new models in its VLP-C line of projectors. They range from 2700 to 3000 ANSI lumens, with the VPL- CW125 ($3,330) being widescreen compatible. The VPL-CW125, VPL-CX155 ($2,930), and VPL-CX125 ($2,530) models can all be connected to an IP network for remote monitoring and troubleshooting. Once connected to the network, even projectors on the other side of the country can be controlled, which is useful for distance learning.

At the same time, document cameras are proving popular because they give more flexibility in what images can be projected. AverMedia was displaying the AVerVision SPC300 ($1,299), which will be available in February. Features include the ability to box in sections of the projected image, zoom in on sections, and turn on shields that will black out the screen except for the selected section. Think of the way an eye doctor hides the rows of letters. It can also project a split screen image and record video and audio.


A number of vendors were also singing the praises of digital signage. A new twist is being brought by Aerva, a company that provides the software to drive digital signage content. Instead of just presenting static images, their product is interactive. A practical application is in the event of an emergency on campus, a message can inform students to send a text message to receive updates through their cell phone. A fun application is sending in trivia answers at the rathskeller. The system is both secure and scalable.

LG announced its Digital Classroom solution, created through a new partnership with 1UContro. The system coordinates use of LG fl at panels, DVDs, VCRs, and sound systems with 1UControl's virtual remote control center. IT and A/V directors can obtain A/V equipment status reports and help with administrators in class with setup and display from remote PCs or handheld devices.

Arrive Corp., unveiled its Campus Manager presentation system to a North American audience. The company's system software "sits above" and incorporates all IT and A/V systems to schedule equipment and IP use, conduct web conferences, to monitor buildings, meeting rooms, and lecture halls, and to track maintenance needs. A map demonstrated a global distance learning environment, replete with an accessible list of all equipment and buildings in use and all scheduled to be used.