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CONTENTS


Strategic Framework
Training
AV Services
Standards
Summary


Case Studies

Managing, Delivering and Supporting Lecture Room Services for the Multimedia Age

Introduction

A workshop on the topic of "Managing, Delivering and Supporting Lecture Room Services for the Multimedia Age" was held in April 1997 under the auspices of the Advisory Group On Computer Graphics (AGOCG). The workshop recommended that a series of case studies be put together which allowed for the wider sharing of experience in the management, delivery and support of lecture room services.

Nine case studies were funded, reflecting lecture room service issues in a variety of institutions, from the relatively small University College Worcester, to large institutions such as Leeds University. Although there seems to be a shift away from traditional learning techniques towards more individual learning, it seems clear that there will be a need for high quality teaching space for groups of students for some time to come. Implementation of lecture room services for theses teaching spaces will obviously vary from institution to institution, depending on size, current facilities and teaching needs. However, many common factors and recommendations were highlighted in the case study reports. These can be divided into a number of sections:

  • The strategic framework
  • Training and staff development
  • Audio Visual services and support
  • Standards

The Strategic Framework

David Brook from the University of Leeds said:
"The technology needed to support classroom teaching spaces increases in scale and complexity. Until only a few years ago all that a lecture room needed was some seats for the students, and a blackboard and a lectern or table for the teacher. Then came the OHP, slide projector and the return of TV with video player. Now there is the computer and networks and related display tools. From having a next to zero maintenance cost, the teaching room is becoming not only costly to equip, but costly to run and maintain, including the escalating costs of security."
These increasing costs and increasing complexity of lecture rooms and teaching spaces require that a strategic framework, which recognises changing users needs, is in place. When changes are planned in teaching facilities, this framework must specify a consultation process between all interested parties. These may include Media Services, Estates and Services, Learning Support Services, departmental representatives, planning and funding bodies. Planning must take in to account future needs and developments, for example by installing suitable trunking for the easy addition of video conferencing or other networking facilities, even if they are not required at the present time.

The main teaching spaces should be equipped with a (minimum) standard set of presentation equipment, and full details of what is, and is not, available in each room must be widely publicised. Without this knowledge and standardisation, lecturers will fall back to using the 'safest' common denominator of whiteboard, OHP and 35mm slides.

Once facilities are available, timetabling needs to be approached carefully. Complex and fragmented timetabling and booking systems were highlighted as a significant barrier to the easy uptake of multimedia presentation systems in several of the case studies. An integrated central approach, which includes booking the technology alongside basic facilities, should be taken, perhaps through the creation of a single, widely accessible database. Allocation of rooms should consider not only the class size, but also the level of presentation facilities required. Presentation equipment need not be permanently installed in smaller rooms, as portable equipment can provide a very cost effective solution, for example with one 'multimedia trolley' being assigned to each set of seminar rooms. Security is obviously an issue here, but the provision of lockable security cases for such equipment has proved satisfactory.

Training and Staff Development

The installation of any new technology will inevitable bring with it the need for staff development courses, and the costs of such staff development should not be overlooked.

With regards to presentation equipment within teaching spaces there are two main groups of people who require training, the lecturers and the support staff, though increasingly students will also be seeking training in presentation skills.

Lecturers

Formal teaching approaches have not been successful in introducing staff to new equipment, with courses often generating little interest. More informal, 'hands-on' teaching has been appreciated, however. In the development, presentation and evaluation of a training course at Queen's University, Belfast, it was found that: Training should be driven by the pedagogical requirements of the teacher and student, and not led by the technology. It is important that the training shows how technology can be used to support and enhance established training methods, rather than training staff just to use the technology
  • Include key service providers to ensure the necessary blend of educational, technical and presentation skills
  • Provide training at a departmental level - so that it fits in with the needs of the department
  • Be clear about the objectives of the training
  • Use a methodical approach in designing training
  • Include good and innovative use of the technology to demonstrate its potential
  • Balance your training methods - after a more formal lecture style introduction provide hands-on training and follow up with support material such as paper based fact sheets
  • Make the trainees aware of the potential barriers to learning and how to cope with them, so that they can use the technology effectively.

Support Staff

Lecture room support staff now need a comprehensive range of skills, which must be continually developed as new equipment is put in place. Therefore effective systems must be implemented to ensure their own staff development. Currently there is a noticeable lack of any formal training for Audio Visual support staff and technicians. To ensure that support is available at the level required there is a need for a structured course and appropriate syllabus, resulting in a recognised professional qualification.

Audio Visual Services and Support

Support for new teaching spaces requires communication between many departments, including the lecturer, audio visual and media services and computer services responsible for networking. It is perhaps helpful when assessing service quality standards to see the student as the ultimate client, with AV staff working with lecturers, rather than AV staff delivering a service to the lecturer.

At Brunel University the benchmark for achieving delivery of support services for prearranged events is 100%, as staff and students rapidly lose confidence in newer technology, even if it only fails occasionally. Recommendations from the case studies to help achieve this include:

  • Each lecture room must have a clearly defined and widely published and understood support system, and they must be effectively supported whenever the room is in use, for example through an on-call support system. In one institution this was implemented by supplying technicians with mobile phones, in another a dedicated intercom system was incorporated into the main lecture theatres.
  • Basing technicians within faculties allows a more rapid response time when problems arise
  • Staff must have adequate training. In particular, staff using the room for the first time should have a hands-on training session.
  • Wherever possible self access systems should be implemented. For example, those requiring minimum technical support at the start of a session, with the lecturer able to control all functions from a lectern during the lecture.
  • 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.
  • Information on what equipment is present must be widely available, and all equipment must be clearly and consistently labelled with a (minimum) set of operating instructions.

Standards

Standards cover all areas, but the main standards covered in the case studies can be divided into:
  • Service support standards (mentioned above)
  • Technical standards
  • Physical standards for room layout

Technical Standards

Specific technical standards are hard to define in such a rapidly changing area. Indeed, such is the speed of change that Keith Buckman of Brunel university feels that they are changing
"to such an extent that several changes can be expected within the timescale likely to be achieved by any national standards review process. To this extent, technical standards will inevitably be culturally driven by manufacturers, suppliers, and local service operators"
Some general recommendations can be made:
  • Data displays must incorporate suitable electronic interfaces to enable spontaneous enhancement of and interaction with any multimedia display
  • 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
  • There must be an ongoing exchange between service deliverers by means of national interest groups, mailbase groups etc., to provide current information on the technology.

Physical Standards

Screens and Seating

  • For members of the audience to be able to view clearly, they should be seated within a 45 angle of the centre line of the screen
  • The bottom of the screen must be at least 1.2m above floor level
  • Adjustable screens (different angles of tilt) are required when projecting from multiple locations to avoid image distortions such as keystoning.
  • Whiteboards and flipcharts should be flexibly incorporated within an installation so that projection screens and television can be used simultaneously
  • The ratio between the length of the front row and distance from front row to screen must not exceed 2:1
  • Where V is the distance between screen and back row of seats:
  • The minimum distance between the screen and the front row is V/4
  • The max length of the front row is V/2
  • The minimum diagonal screen size for video display is V/10
  • The minimum diagonal screen size for data display in V/6

Lighting

  • There must be separate control of lighting for the audience and screen spaces
  • It should be possible to achieve almost total exclusion of daylight

Audio

  • Reverberation time experienced in a room should be in the region of one second.
  • High quality separate audio amplification should be used in lecture rooms seating 40 or more people with sufficient power rating to deliver undistorted sound at a typical operating level appropriate to the room
  • Separate audio amplification systems must include a multiple microphone facility
  • Any lecture room audio system should include a suitable line level output facility for the purposes of recording lecture or onward transmission
  • All audio installations should include an induction loop system for hearing aid users

Summary

The nine case studies provide a snap shot of lecture room services within UK Higher Education. Though supplying different services to varied users, the common recommendations that have emerged from the case studies provided a useful basis for any institution developing its own lecture room services strategy.

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