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An integrated approach to technology within Lecture Room Services
2 Lecture Theatre 2
At the time the Lecture Theatre 2 (LT2) project was initially being considered (late 1995), none of the centrally allocated teaching space on the Riccarton campus of Heriot-Watt University was equipped with any form of data display system on a permanent basis. The delivery of data display and video replay facilities into teaching rooms was achieved solely by means of portable equipment moved around the campus by audio-visual staff. Furthermore, what portable equipment there was consisted primarily of monitors (on wheeled stands) for video and O.H.P. pallets for data.
This lack of display technology was considerably at odds with the University's strategy of encouraging the use of technology in teaching and learning and was widely held to be a serious anomaly that required urgent attention. A number of options were considered but the outcome of this deliberation resulted in a strategic decision to upgrade the smallest traditionally tiered lecture theatre on the campus and re-equip it in order that it might fully support technology based teaching.
Subsequent use of the lecture theatre would be evaluated and that the results of this evaluation would be fully analysed. This evaluation is presented in the next section. Recommendations for the future technological upgrade of other teaching spaces would be developed.
An initial outline was drawn up for the refurbished room and was the basis for a limited consultation document. This consultation was limited in nature and concerned primarily the agencies within the University that would be involved in the refurbishment. Very limited consultation took place with academic staff at this time.
In this section, the implementation of the refurbishment will be detailed including discussion of the facilities required and the methodology used to choose both contractor and equipment.
Original Room Condition
The original space was built in 1974 and comprised a steeply tiered lecture theatre seating 100. Writing surfaces in the form of three large roller chalkboards dominated the front of the room. The main projection screen was mounted in a very high position and was of a landscape aspect. Due to it's resulting unsuitability for use with an overhead projector, a separate portable 6' square screen had been provided for this purpose. 35 m/m slides were available via a Carousel projector in a projection room.
In addition to the basic audio-visual capability, this room also had a fixed lecturer's bench taking up much of the floor space at the front of the room. This contained gas, a fully plumbed sink and a three phase electrical supply. Originally this facility had been provided to enable demonstrations in science and engineering to take place, however, after considerable investigation it appeared that these facilities had never been used and that demonstrations had always been confined to laboratories.
Ventilation was as originally built with forced air supply and extract via remote plant. Lighting also dated from 1974 and consisted of fluorescent main room lights augmented by dimmable tungsten lighting. Control of this lighting was from push buttons mounted on the lecturer's bench.
The Refurbishment Specification.
The initial objectives set for the refurbished room were:
It should be noted that at this stage it had not been felt necessary to replace the existing roller chalkboards as it was assumed (wrongly in retrospect) that the vast majority of lectures had been using O.H.P. instead.
The initial outline provided at the time of specification for the refurbished room is detailed below:
Projector (and Mounting)
The proposed projector (Liesegang dv800) can be supplied with a ceiling mount bracket (preliminary information provided). This is normally attached to a ceiling by means of a flange. In the case of Lecture Theatre Two the ceiling flange would be attached to a steel plate supported by the structural metalwork. The plate would be mounted horizontally with the alignment of the projector being dealt with by means of the mounting bracket.
The Projector siting should be such that the lens is five metres from the projection screen at a height so that the base-plate of the projector is approximately level with the top of the projected image.
Connection cables for power and video would be run across the ceiling space and clipped to the suspension.
Three-compartment steel trunking should be installed in a chase, the entire width of the room, cut in the concrete floor at a distance of two meters from the front wall. There should be further trunking provision connecting this to the projection room.
Floor boxes containing twin 13 amp sockets to be provided at two metre intervals from the left hand wall.
The existing chalkboards to be removed and the wall restored and finished. 12-foot square projection screen to be attached to the wall centred at the position of the existing centre and right hand chalkboards. The screen will be manual but may provide for keystone correction of OHP.
Writing wall panels should be fixed to the wall at a height of approximately one-foot from the ground. Three four-foot panels will be required and the surface should be centred as per the projection screen.
The existing electrical services should be removed from the current benching and safely terminated so that they can be connected to new switchgear. The existing switches will be replaced by optically isolated, low voltage controlled switches, which will in turn be controlled by an AMX Accent room control system. The existing dimmer for the tungsten lighting will have to be replaced by one controllable by the AMX system.
The area of rear wall currently covered by the left hand chalk board and an equal area of the left hand wall will have curved theatrical curtain track provided in order to suspend drapes providing a suitable backdrop to the lecturing area. This will be a five metre 50% full drape with a 4.7 Metre drop chain weighted.
It is proposed to construct a custom lectern, which will also enclose all of the equipment necessary within 19" rack mounting. This will be designed by the AV contractor. The lectern will also house the computer system, and a VHS video recorder.
This outline had been agreed by March 1996, however, a potential new requirement immediately became evident. The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) had funded the development of four Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs), one for each of the major population centres in Scotland. These provided a very high bandwidth communications channel and one of the projects which was developed to exploit this bandwidth was the creation of the Scottish MAN Video Conferencing Network (SMVCN). This used a proprietary implementation of the M-JPEG picture compression algorithm, which resulted in very high quality video-conferencing but with a correspondingly high bandwidth requirement.
A pivotal concept involved in the creation of the SMVCN was that there should be dedicated studios at each participating site. These would be equipped to a very high standard and would be directly funded by SHEFC. Along side these dedicated studios, it was also proposed that each institution should equip a lecture theatre for MAN-based video-conferencing. The lecture theatre installation should be to the same high audio-visual standard as the dedicated studio and the video-conferencing component would again be funded directly by SHEFC.
It was therefore decided to revise the specification for the upgrade to meet this demand.
The Revised Specification
In addition to the requirements outlined above the video conferencing requirement brought new demands which had to be met. These were:
It was concluded that it would now probably be necessary to enlist the services of a specialist contractor to design the system. Although considerable in-house experience existed, the time-scale was becoming increasingly difficult and it was felt that a contractor who had experience of designing similar systems would enable the time required to be considerably reduced.
The Design Brief
A description of the project and an outline of its objectives were drawn up. It was specifically kept as generic as possible to maximise the exploitation of a contractors experience. Certain items of equipment were specified to maintain compatibility with other installation, but it was left to contractors themselves to design the system.
Four potential contractors were chosen based on our perception of their abilities to carry out the work. This was largely based on visits to other installations and discussions with the users. Each short-listed contractor was sent an invitation to tender accompanied by the following brief during June 1996.
Audio-Visual refurbishment and conversion to Teleconferencing Theatre.
To convert an existing lecture theatre into a high technology computer based presentation theatre with a teleconferencing capability.
The existing room is a steeply tiered small lecture theatre seating approximately 100.
The existing chalkboards, lecturer's bench, projection screens, and bench mounted electrical connections for lighting will be removed in a separate contract. The electrical connections for lighting will be terminated and will be available for connection to a new room control system. The walls will be decorated fair finished block work. The existing asbestos ceiling will be removed and replaced to allow ceiling mounting of a video projector. A structural support for the projector will be provided in the ceiling void by the main contractor in consultation with the A/V contractor.
Three-compartment steel trunking will be provided to allow interconnection between the new lecturing position, the rear control room, wall mounted camera positions and provision will be made for overhead cable access to the video projector.
Specification of Required Equipment
1. Teleconferencing Cameras.
Two 3-chip high quality television cameras should be provided. These cameras should be fully genlocked. They will be wall mounted and be provided with remote pan, tilt and zoom capability controlled from the room control system. A further camera connection position should be provided adjacent to the seating area allowing a genlocked studio camera to be used in addition.
2. Audio Capability.
The audio system should provide for a fixed microphone position at the lecturing console. There should be provision for connection of a radio microphone. There should also be provision for a microphone position at a point easily accessible from the seating area. An auxiliary line input should be provided for tape replay etc. Audio connections at line level should be available both to and from the teleconferencing codec. All sound levels should be automatically controlled. A suitable amplifier and speaker system should be provided for the auditorium.
3. Video Projection.
To maintain compatibility with other rooms in the University, the video projector should be a Leisegang dv800 TFT projector with long drop ceiling mounting kit.
The projector should be controllable via the room control system.
4. Projection Screen.
A twelve-foot square wall mounted adjustable projection screen should be provided.
5. Writing Surface.
White board panels with seamless joints should be attached to the front wall. These panels should provide a surface of approx. 12 feet width by 7 feet high.
6. Lecture Console.
A custom built presentation module should be provided which will provide a housing capability for rack mounted distribution and switching equipment, a presentation computer, room control system, a multisysnc monitor with preview capability for the conferencing system, provision for the control panel for the control system capability for the connection of an external lap-top computer.
The existing fluorescent lighting and dimmable tungsten lighting in theroom should be controlled by the room control system. Special lighting should be provided for the presentation area.
8. Document Camera.
A genlocked document camera (Visualiser) should be provided. This should be capable of both top lighting for printed material and bottom lighting for acetates. An easily accessible zoom function should be provided.
Drapes should be provided as a backdrop to the presentation area. A run at 50% fullness of five meters round the room corner at a drop of Approx. 4.7 meters is required. The drapes should be flame retardant and weighted.
10. Room Control System.
This should be capable of controlling all aspects of the presentation and teleconferencing capability of the room. It will provide remote camera control, switching of video and audio systems, lighting control, projector control (video and 35mm). Contractors should be able to demonstrate considerable experience in this area and should be able to provide a skeleton of the system program before coming on site. It is highly desirable that the contractor provides the programming on an in-house basis to ensure continuity of system development.
11. Interconnection to Conferencing Codec.
The teleconferencing codec employs proprietary technology and will present audio and video inputs and outputs on phono-plugs. It is vital that the switching capability of the room allows the video projector to display either the input to the system from a remote site or to display the source being sent to a remote site. Once again this switching should be provided by means of the room control system.
Contractors were allowed a period of four weeks to develop a suitable system outline and to reply to the initial invitation to tender.
The returned tender documents were opened following the University's formal procedure. The successful contractor was chosen based on his clear understanding of our requirements and on cost.
Detailed Design Process
A series of discussions were held with the contractor and it was concluded that a variation of his well proven standard lecture theatre presentation system should be used but that this should have the necessary video-conferencing functionality 'grafted' on to it in a seamless way. In particular, it was stressed that the system would have be used by individuals with minimal training and that the layout of the control screens should be both simple and as intuitive as possible.
Because the design process had to be completed in less than three weeks, there was a very intensive period of dialogue between the contractor and ourselves. During this period the operational methodology of the control system evolved, whilst simultaneously, the equipment to be used was ordered and construction of the physical system was begun at the contractor's premises. It was felt that due to the rapidly approaching deadline, the majority of the system would have to be built and tested off site leaving only final installation to take place at Riccarton. The time available for installation was now only going to be one week due to the discovery of further asbestos within the room.
The System Configuration
The system was to be based on the AMX room control system. This would be used to control all of the AV equipment in the room along with control of the video-conferencing cameras, additionally it would interface with the existing room lighting.
The AV equipment to be controlled now included
The video conferencing camera control included:
Audio facilities included:
Note. Although all local sounds are combined and sent to the video-conferencing codec, two separate sound systems are used in the lecture theatre, one for voice reinforcement only and one for all other sound.
Audio/Video switching capability comprised:
Note. All video switching to be synchronous (genlocked)
Power switching comprised
Note. All lighting control tied to system operation i.e. pre-set lighting states are recalled to match the operation being performed. Lighting control also available from push-button panel at room exit/entry door.
Essentially the system was that which would be used in a normal non video-conferenced room with the additions to take account of the far-end sources and destination. All functionality is available through a hierarchy or screens and the interface is adaptive, bringing up new functional sub-screens for specific operations.
Each screen was designed to mimic, wherever possible, the type of control that might previously have existed on control panels/remote controls for individual devices. The functionality on any single screen is limited in order to firstly make screens as uncomplicated as possible and secondly to allow for large buttons easily identifiable in a lecturing situation.
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