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3.Local application of standards

4.Service standards
4.3 Space
4.4 Time
4.5 People
4.6 Equipment
4.7 Finance


Case Studies

Defining and Implementing Standards for Lecture Room Services

4 Service performance standards

4.1 BMS has attempted in the past to apply principles described in BS 5750: Part 8: 1991 ISO 9004-2:1991 Quality Systems Part 8. Guide to quality management and quality systems elements for services in delivering high quality AV services in Brunel lecture rooms. This has proven difficult in practice mainly because of the complexity of the service-client provider relationship in our situation. Who is the client? Is it the lecturer who is requesting the service of the AV department or is it the student whose experience is ultimately affected by the quality of service delivery? It is easy for AV departments to perceive lecturing staff to be their clients as it is these people that request the services, specify their needs, expect delivery at the requested level of service, and so on. Where academic departments believe they are subsidising central services, such perceptions are reinforced. This can lead to an oppositional attitude being adopted where blame is attributed to the service, or the client, for any failure in delivery. An alternative view is to define the student as the client, with lecturing and AV staff working in collaboration to deliver high quality teaching. This in my view is the preferred model, but it does require a very high level of communication between the numerous parties involved in service provision. While not rejecting ISO principles altogether, a more pragmatic approach might be to examine aspects of operational practice that can at least be measured in order to determine certain benchmarks.

4.2 The framework proposed here for determining operational standards comprises the following inter-related aspects:

  • Space
  • Time
  • People
  • Equipment
  • Finance

4.3 Space

4.3.1 The physical layout of lecture rooms required for effective AV presentations has already been examined in detail. Other factors that need to be considered are:

  • The total number of lecture rooms serviced
  • Who is responsible for providing which services in which rooms
  • The proximity of service points in relation to individual lecture rooms
  • Suitability of specific rooms for specific modes of presentation
  • Extent of standardisation of room types for multiple and simultaneous occupancy

4.3.2 At Brunel, particularly since incorporating the two campuses of the former West London Institute, BMS is currently in the process of defining its service territory. While AV equipment in rooms in the Uxbridge Lecture Centre is clearly the responsibility of BMS, rooms at other campuses have become `adopted' by departments making most frequent use. BMS is formalising the existing practice of servicing lecture rooms at two levels:

(i) Primary level - where media requirements are booked and serviced via the AV staff;

(ii) Secondary level - where requirements are booked and serviced via departmental technicians, but Media Services is responsible for repairing faulty equipment, supervising new installations, setting up special events, etc..

So the first service standard defined here is:

Each lecture room must have a clearly defined and widely published and understood support system.

4.3.3 Once a published central table has been produced, containing information on responsibility, contacts, level of service, etc., each service organisation must set up and manage its own support system accordingly. The scale of this task is dependent on the number of rooms to be serviced, the level of service to be delivered, the proximity to service centres (assuming there is one in a fixed location). These of course have to be resourced from the other contributing factors, i.e. time, people, equipment, finance.

4.3.4 Brunel Media Services' territory currently comprises 70 rooms at Primary level and 130 at Secondary level. Apart from the Uxbridge Lecture Centre, where the AV staff are located in the same building as the lecture rooms, most rooms require travel to other buildings and indeed other campuses. Current practice is to service Twickenham, Osterley and Runnymede lecture rooms from the Twickenham Media Centre, outbound travel distances of 2 miles and 18 miles respectively. Evidently, there is a need for suitable transport arrangements to be made and the level of local equipment provision (including suitable storage, security and access arrangements) to be sufficient to keep actual equipment transportation to a minimum.

4.3.5 An additional space complexity is the number of floor levels in any building and the extent to which these are serviced by elevators. At Brunel, there are a number of buildings with staircases only or restricted-size elevators necessitating each floor to be considered as if it were a separate building.

4.4 Time

4.4.1 Time is a factor that is often subject to performance measurement in any service organisation and there are several aspects that need to be taken into account when determining standards:

  • supporting services are required for specific pre-arranged events;
  • lecture rooms are subject to timetabling;
  • frequency of changeover between sessions;
  • the number service events likely to occur simultaneously;
  • the time taken to set up, test and dismantle equipment;
  • hours that support staff are available;
  • minimum notice period required for booking equipment.

4.4.2 In terms of service delivery, most operations inevitably work on the basis of supporting specific events that have been booked in advance. There is effectively no margin of error here, providing certain other conditions have been agreed and met, such as sufficient booking notice. Students have a right to expect a performance target of 100%. This depends on effective management of the remaining variables and compliance with clearly stated service conditions. Furthermore, staff and students will rapidly lose confidence in newer technologies if they are seen to fail, even if statistically there is only a small percentage of delivery failure. This target is fundamental and provides the basis for all management strategies planned in relation to the delivery of lecture room services. It is hereafter referred to as the 100% delivery standard. Furthermore, it is necessary to ensure that any failure to deliver is examined thoroughly to avoid recurrence.

The benchmark for achieving delivery of support services for prearranged events is 100% and this has priority when planning service management strategies. A clear statement must be produced specifying conditions under which this target is to be met and performance monitoring must record information on level of compliance by all parties.

At Brunel, this target was actually quantified by the working group on performance standards and readily accepted by BMS (Appendix B). Performance is measured by expressing delivery failures as a percentage against bookings where the conditions of booking have been fully met by all parties.

4.4.3 Lecture rooms are inevitably subject to timetabling and at Brunel this is the responsibility of the Timetabling Unit in Academic Registry during teaching hours and the Conference Office for the remaining time. There are a number of complex issues here but in short it is vital that there is effective communication between those responsible for delivering lecture room services and those who timetable the rooms. While the level of interpersonal communication may be good (at Brunel both the Timetabling Unit and the Conference Office are represented on the Media Services User Group), there must also be effective systems, databases, etc., to ensure that lectures are scheduled in appropriately equipped rooms. Ideally, this should be provided as a one-stop service to the lecturer. While, it is not reasonable for the timetablers to have the specialist expertise in running multimedia facilities, it is desirable for them to be reasonably conversant with the technology and this may have certain training implications. So as a standard, it can be stated that:

There must be a high level of communication between those scheduling events and those delivering lecture room services with shared access by all service providers to a comprehensive lecture room database.

4.4.4 Another important time factor is the length of the changeover interval between sessions. For Brunel, sessions in the Uxbridge Lecture Centre are timetabled in hourly slots so there is very limited time between sessions to set up and test equipment. However, at the other campuses, the timetable slots tend to be longer, so for example a slot might last a whole morning or afternoon. This means that Uxbridge AV technicians have intensive periods of activity on the hour while Twickenham technicians primarily have service tasks first thing in the morning, at lunch times and during mid-session breaks. With the transfer of a whole faculty to Uxbridge it is probable that there will be an increase in the number of service events taking place on an hourly basis, assuming that the Lecture Centre timetable maintains its existing structure.

4.4.5 It is obvious that the number of events that can be serviced simultaneously is finite and dependent on staffing levels, equipment provision, optimum changeover time, etc..

4.4.6 In a situation where there is extremely limited changeover time, procedures need to be in place to ensure that set-up and testing time is minimised. This requires staff to be adequately trained, equipment and systems to be very reliable, effective task scheduling, procedures to ensure that kits are complete, and effective reserve measures available when things go wrong. It is likely that the complexity of multimedia equipment and frequent dependence on remote services will introduce additional problems with maintaining existing levels of performance for set-ups. Indicative BMS equipment set-up performances are:

  • 98% of set-ups are completed in 10 minutes or less;
  • 82% of set-ups are completed in 5 minutes or less;
  • 12% of set-ups are completed in 3 minutes or less.

4.4.7 Ideally, support must be available throughout the hours of lecture room usage and this introduces certain issues with service levels, particularly where arrangements need to be made of supporting events during evenings, weekends and recesses. At Brunel, if AV services are required beyond office hours, special arrangements can be made for specific events, these being represented in the Service Level Agreement produced for the Conference Office (Appendix C).

An adequate system must be in place for ensuring lectures can be effectively supported throughout lecture room usage hours.

4.4.8 Sufficient preparation time must be allowed in order to fully service an event. At Brunel, the minimum booking notice period is 5 working days.

4.5 People

4.5.1 The range of issues concerning people are:

  • Competencies
  • Staffing levels
  • Special needs

4.5.2 There are two levels at which competencies can be viewed: initial training and qualification; continual development. There are a number of courses and qualifications appropriate to the field and a seemingly infinite number of routes media service staff can actually enter university lecture room servicing. This is effectively illustrated by the AV team at Brunel who have a diverse range of qualifications and experience including graduate and postgraduate level. This aspect is further complicated by the diversity of activity a department may service. So for example, where AV events are relatively infrequent, staff service other areas, such as student project support (advisory, equipment loan, post-production), production of teaching materials, off-air recording, training, etc.. Perhaps the only standard than can really be applied here is that staff should possess an appropriate level and qualifications for the job and this is determined at local level via the relevant job evaluation scheme.

4.5.3 Whatever the level of initial qualification and experience, rapid technological development requires a continual process of training and retraining both for lecturing and support staff. A suitable framework for lecture room competencies might look like this:

                                   Minimum level required
                                   Lecturing staff   Support  Staff
Current network operating system   Operational        OP and diagnostic
Presentation software              Operational        Op and diagnostic
Web browser                        Operational        Op and diagnostic
General applications               Operational        Op and diagnostic
(local network)
Course specific applications       Op and diagnostic  Operational

Production processes
Presentation software              Basic              Advanced
Graphic design skills              Basic              Advanced
Image and sound recording          Basic              Advanced
Photocopying                       Basic              Advanced
Video production                   Basic              Advanced

Power supply                       Room specific       Comprehensive
Operating modes                    Room specific       Comprehensive
Adjust image and sound             Room specific       Comprehensive
controls for optimum clarity 

Evidently support staff have to manage a wide range of eventualities, and are consequently expected to have a thorough and wide-ranging knowledge of relevant software, hardware, processes and local lecture room environments.

4.5.4 Such essential competencies depend on an institution having a comprehensive staff development programme, on support staff to provide a role in implementing training, and on priority time to be given for developing new skills, for example in relation to software upgrades. Furthermore, this demands a significant knowledge of new products and so there is an increasing reliance on the availability of objective information. This is where the sharing of experiences via such groups as the Lecture Theatre Managers Group is proving to be particularly useful, but it really needs to be organised as a national / regional activity where centres can test products for their suitably for use in HEIs.

4.5.5 BMS staff are currently having their annual appraisal and this has provided a timely reminder of the need for a more systematic approach to sharing knowledge and developing the core skills listed above. All support staff should participate in this process, both as trainees and trainers. This requires a significant level of planning and ongoing commitment but this must not deter activity from being undertaken, even at a minimum level.

Lecture room support staff are required to have a comprehensive and continually developing range of competencies. Effective systems must be implemented to ensure support staff can fully participate in this process both as trainees and trainers.

4.5.6 In order to achieve the 100% service delivery target identified earlier, it is essential that there is an adequate number of staff available to deliver the service. A number of complexities have already been cited that can assist with determining an optimum number, and this needs to be offset against other factors, in particular cost. While one could examine staffing numbers as a comparison with student FTEs, this is perhaps less helpful in this case than factors such as the actual number of rooms serviced, the number of events to be serviced per day, the peak requirement for simultaneous bookings, and the times staff are expected to be available to attend events.

4.5.7 An additional servicing factor is that a central contact point must be maintained for bookings, responding to emergencies, operating equipment loan services, etc.. If the intensity of room service demands is high, sufficient provision must be made for staff presence to be maintained in a central service point with suitable cover for lunch times, etc.. However, such staff should be operationally familiar with service provision and so this is perhaps best handled by roster rather than employing full-time receptionists.

4.5.8 While it is perhaps a standard that should go without saying, the value of good interpersonal skills, professional and helpful attitude, appearance, etc., should not be underestimated.

4.5.9 Adequate provision must be made for lecturers, students and support staff with special needs and this should be manifest in arrangements for access to lecture rooms, channels of communication, and special installations such as induction loops. It is notable that effective access arrangements for wheelchairs also facilitate convenient access for equipment trolleys. Some Uxbridge Lecture Centre rooms are Category 2 theatres with tiered floors and have only one doorway at the higher level making access to the front impracticable for wheelchairs or equipment trolleys.

4.6 Equipment

4.6.1 Some technical considerations have already been considered in relation to equipment, but there are a number of management considerations that need to be discussed:

  • range of equipment types to be made available;
  • portable and installed equipment;
  • longevity;
  • ease of use;
  • user information;
  • formats;
  • security;
  • maintenance.

4.6.2 BMS endeavours to ensure that a good range of equipment is available for use and classes these as core and specialist equipment. Core equipment currently comprises:

  • Projection Screens
  • OHPs
  • 35mm slide projectors
  • LCD projectors (up to SVGA for data and video)
  • VHS replay + TV monitors
  • VHS camcorders
  • PA equipment
  • Portable cassette amplifiers

Specialist equipment is that which is infrequently requested but is kept in limited stock numbers. It also includes items that may not be held in stock and need to be hired in or in some cases purchased especially.

4.6.3 While some items of core equipment are permanently installed in selected lecture rooms, or at least kept on a trolley that serves a local cluster, certain portable items are kept in central store and are available for delivery or loan for events. There are a number of practical and financial considerations that determine when equipment needs to be permanently installed. Whatever the case, there must be sufficient stock levels to ensure maintenance of the 100% delivery standard. It is also important to ensure that any portable equipment held in stock is genuinely portable and so a realistic all-up weight restriction may be considered appropriate. Weight is not the only factor determining portability and consideration must also be given to fitness-for-purpose in relation to carrying cases and their straps and handles, the need in certain situations to carry bundles of equipment, and the problem that some lightweight equipment may actually be large or have awkward protrusions.

4.6.4 Generally speaking, audio-visual equipment has experienced a high level of longevity in comparison with IT hardware and at Brunel there are countless examples of items of equipment that are continuing to provide effective service delivery beyond ten years. More recently, there has been a move to renew some of this older core equipment at Brunel, but it is expected that the new equipment will last at least as long as the replaced equipment. However, certain items, such as LCD projectors, are developing very rapidly and at the moment it is unrealistic to expect the quality of current models to be unsurpassed in three years time, or even less. Inevitably, the increasing demand for this facility will impose a strain on finances during the next few years, though future products will inevitably offer greater value for money in terms of improving levels of brightness and resolution. Such equipment also tends to have a high depreciation rate.

4.6.5 While the ability to make effective use of equipment can be tackled by staff development, it is important to minimise the level of problems that might occur when using unfamiliar equipment. It is perhaps better for staff development sessions to concentrate on transferable rather than machine-specific operating skills in this respect. Ease of use can be supported by offering consistent models of equipment from stock, minimising the use of equipment with excessive operational features, making use of a standard universal remote control unit, etc.. Perhaps the most useful measure that can be adopted as a standard is a consistent labelling system for all equipment, and indeed other important operational controls such as lighting. This should contain a brief critical operating path for the item of equipment and contact information for seeking help. It might also contain information for the service provider but this must be kept to a minimum, say by use of a bar-code label. The critical operating path should provide information on:

  1. Activating power supply
  2. Selection of operating mode
  3. Essential presentation adjustments
  4. Closing down and switching off

Brunel lecture room equipment is currently labelled in a somewhat ad-hoc way and the need for a more consistent labelling system has been included in the AV Service Performance statement (Appendix B). It is intended to label equipment along the aforementioned lines.

4.6.6 Just as important as equipment labelling is the actual provision of information about the service. This is recognised as a key issue at Brunel throughout the Information Services. Media Services created a revised post in 1997, Recordings and Information Officer, whose responsibilities comprise the off-air recording service and relevant licensing compliance arrangements, and provision of service information. This person is responsible for updating the service's website, for producing relevant literature and circulars, and ensuring that news items, however small, are frequently included in the University newsletter. Bulletins are also circulated by email to members of Media Services User Group and these are certainly forwarded in some cases to entire departments by representatives. Service reports are also made by managers at each Information Services Sub-Committee. The value of informal networking cannot be underestimated as an additional measure. Evidently the provision of service information must be made in a co-ordinated way via the widest range of possible channels. Furthermore, it is vital that communication within the service department is operating at optimum level, both formally and informally, so that consistent information is provided to the user community.

4.6.7 A range of new media formats is now on the market, some in competition with others, giving a lot of potential for confusion and incompatibility. However, the basis for any standardisation must be consensus, and with inevitable exceptions, it is suggested that a useful standard to adopt is that of widespread availability and familiarity to the consumer. This has indeed been the case in the past for VHS video, and there is currently little motive for BMS to change to a different video format for lecture room presentation. However, it is important that convenient services are locally provided to enable transfer of media from a wide range of formats for use on the common one adopted within the institution. This must include analogue to digital forms and BMS has recently invested in two current multimedia computers (PC and Mac) to enhance the level of service in this area, particularly for converting analogue video to MPEG files (and vice versa). A similar principle applies for multimedia codecs in that it is better to adopt those widely available to the consumer. In summary:

Presentation formats and digital codecs must be widely available to the consumer before adopting them in HEIs.

There must be an effective and convenient service operation that provides a core range of format and file conversion operations.

4.6.8 Working on the principle that by virtue of the subject it is better to devise unique local measures for ensuring effective levels of security, there are still certain operational standards that can be adopted. An important factor is that if one adopts the previous standard of consumer availability this also `sale' value and consequent risk in relation to items of equipment. A good basis for effective equipment security is effective premises security and it is vital that there is an appropriate level of communication between those responsible respectively for security and lecture room services. A second principle is that the service implements effective measures for attributing responsibility for certain items of equipment to users while it is in their care. It is particularly important to ensure there is no gap occurring in any handover period between the service and the user during which equipment is exposed to an increased level of risk. This also applies to keys that might be loaned to users for unlocking equipment cupboards, etc.. Procedures and liability must be clearly understood by all parties concerned. Inevitably, equipment will go missing or be damaged but it is often difficult to claim on insurance when levels of excess charge are already high and this inevitably puts the burden of replacement cost on the service or the user.

4.6.9 In order to achieve the 100% delivery target, equipment must be fully operational at the required delivery time. This must be supported by an effective programme of routine inspection, which necessarily includes cleaning and checking for electrical safety, and suitable measures for undertaking remedial maintenance. With the increasing level of digital systems incorporated in today's devices, it is inevitable that the majority of remedial work must be undertaken by manufacturers and appointed dealers. Measures must be taken to provide replacement from stock, both for an immediate session if something breaks down and in the medium term if equipment has to be sent away for repair. So suggested standards are:

There must be a system for routine cleaning and inspection that includes checking for electrical safety.

There must be effective liaison with reputable contractors, normally recommended by regional purchasing consortia, to ensure effective delivery of remedial services.

Stock levels must be sufficient to offer reserve equipment in case of failure to a level that is fit for purpose.

BMS currently aspires to these standards, but the level is somewhat inconsistent. The AV Service Performance Statement (Appendix B) incorporates a line on routine inspection and the service is currently seeking ways of approaching this more rigorously for all campuses than at present. Testing for electrical safety has been subcontracted on an annual basis but the service is currently seeking to undertake this in-house and incorporate a more comprehensive record system via computer database and bar-coding for a collection of routine inspection tasks. The service makes regular use of a selection of contractors for remedial servicing, some recommended via the SUPC AV Commodities Group. The level of reserve equipment for data projection is more limited than is ideal but priority is in any case being given to increasing overall stock levels of LCD projectors.

4.7 Finance

4.7.1 The range of issues concerning funding of lecture room services include:

  • scope;
  • cost recovery;
  • replacement as well as additional;
  • lease or hire;
  • peripherals and furniture.

4.7.2 One of the difficulties thought to be prevalent at Brunel is that the funding of lecture room services is managed by a variety of service operations, both within the academic and administrative areas of the University. This is complicated by the fact that most services are multifunctional and it is only recently that BMS has been required to identify its costs in relation to specific service operations rather than more general categories of expenditure. Consequently, individual service managers may have a limited view of the total expenditure on lecture room services within the University. The most variable budget on a year-to-year basis has hitherto been the equipment budget, partly because of variability of capital funding of installation projects, and partly due to this being a more flexible recurrent expenditure category than pay, licence fees, etc..

4.7.3 BMS is funded primarily by means of a cost recovery mechanism, whereby academic departments have a levy deducted from their resource allocation by means of a distribution model that takes into account service usage and departmental 'size'. The Computing Service is funded in a similar way, but there is also an infrastructure allocation primarily used for networking projects. BMS also receives an annual fee from the Conference Office in relation to AV support, this being recovered by the CO by means of equipment hire charges made to conference organisers. Administrative departments, including some services with interests in lecture rooms, are funded separately to the academic resource allocation. While this is a somewhat complicated arrangement, BMS has attempted to ensure a balanced delivery of service in relation to the cost recovery mechanism, so that the proportion of expenditure in a particular service area such as AV support for lecture rooms is matched to the cost recovery model weightings.

4.7.4 When devising budget strategies, BMS has attempted to ensure that a reasonable level of funding is provided for replacement equipment. Ideally, this would be formulated as a percentage of existing assets, but this has proven difficult in practice owing to the limited level of equipment funding and the extreme range of replacement times for specific equipment items.

4.7.5 There must be a highly efficient means of procuring multimedia resources in order to limit the financial burden imposed by growth, frequent replacement and high depreciation rate. This requires a high level of collaboration by means of central institutional purchasing strategies and national or regional interest groups and consortia.

4.7.6 The majority of BMS equipment has been purchased rather than leased or rented.

4.7.7 Budgets relating to equipment must incorporate adequate provision for related items such as cases, stands, trolleys, lockers, connecting cables, ongoing maintenance, training, etc..

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