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2.The new centres
1.1 The world in which we live is changing rapidly and that is equally true of Higher education, and in particular applies to Media Services. In the following paper, I will attempt to outline my vision of the future together with topics on best practice and futureproofing.
1.2 Do not expect to see any flights of fancy in the following paper which the title may suggest, what it does address are basic problems which should have been embraced by most institutions at least ten years ago. I have deliberately tried to avoid fanciful ideas and tried to assess what can realistically be achieved set against a background of diminishing resources. There are some suggestions that are far reaching and appear to be unattainable but I am committed to driving the service forward very often against stiff opposition. Old Universities in particular must respond more readily to shifts in demand and perhaps new teaching methodologies will provide the catalyst. Above all we must have `a can do attitude' at all levels within the institution.
1.3 The old days of a college / university having an isolated AV department, in my view, are long gone!
1.4 Developing a professional body of Media support staff is an essential requirement if were are to keep abreast of new technologies and teaching methodologies, I hope this paper will promote debate and help to stimulate change.
1.5 To note that some thoughts expressed here echo views already published in other AGOCG papers and are reiterated to add weight to the arguments and support those views. The `one stop shop' being a typical example and has been one of my objectives for many years.
1.6 If this document forms part of a foundation on which others can build upon in the years ahead and leads on to a UK standard for lecture theatres and service provision it will have been a useful undertaking .
Queen Mary & Westfield College.
1.7 Queen Mary & Westfield College has a large campus spread over sixteen acres and has about 8,200 students with 719 teaching staff. There are 120 classrooms and large lecture theatres plus smaller seminar rooms. We are one of the largest schools in the University of London and it continues to expand both academically and geographically. MSU was only established in 1990 and could still be considered a fledgling compared to others. There are seven staff which is set to increase but physically the group is separated by the geography of the campus and a lack of a central studio complex. Again, this is set to change and our recent review has promoted change. To support the work of the academic community, MSU has two industrial commercial photographers, three AV technicians and a temporary agency technician. Administration comprises a manager and an administrator/ PA.
1.8 The AV centre is well equipped with the latest portable video/data LCD projectors and permanent CRTs. It has a large cache of conventional AV kit together with portable high band SP Umatic EFP kit and lighting plus two additional DXC video cameras and a three machine edit suite. Off air recording systems enable both video and audio to be recorded. The AV centre regularly supports internal and external conferences alongside its normal role. The largest venue on site being of 800 seat capacity and is the former Peoples Palace in Mile End. It has one of the largest stages in London with all of the features associated with a commercial theatre. Conferences are regularly held here and AV staff are often requested to record these events on video. Recently live video relay was needed into adjacent theatres due to the extremely large number of delegates. The installation of the video links were undertaken entirely in house as was the subsequent video production.
1.10 I feel that we are at a crossroads, here at least, we have moved into the twentieth century, but with the twenty first century just around the corner I am anxious that we move and embrace new technologies before the next century begins and we are stranded in the past with little hope of catching the rest of the field.
1.11 It is essential that Media Service Units receive the recognition they deserve and are represented at the highest level within an institution. The service we provide enables the institution to present its work to the outside world, a professional image is vital. This cannot be achieved while institutions see the sharp end of teaching as the poor relation. The image we present to students has to stimulate learning and of course we need them to recommend their younger counterparts to come to our colleges.
1.12 If we do not continually update teaching technologies and improve the environment in which this takes place students will not readily absorb what is being taught. If we continue to fall short of their expectations they will not recommend us to others. In the present environment each institution is competing for student business therefore we must be able to provide a service which represents value for money.
1.13 We must not forget that students are now fee paying customers and they will demand a better standard.
1.14 It is my view that we should seek to establish an ISO standard for the teaching environment. If this could be achieved, students would at least recognise that the institution to which they were applying had a minimum expected standard. This could be augmented with a star rating scheme that would further define the standard on offer (see `An ISO standard'). Academic excellence on its own is no longer good enough.
1.15 Most colleges have not developed Media Service groups or invested sufficient funds in equipment, staff or infrastructure to keep up to date with new technologies. This needs to change and very quickly if we are to take advantage of new teaching methodologies which will be expected by a new generation of academic staff and students.
1.16 Problems will surface as more reliance is placed on new technologies and will be highlighted when academic staff move between institutions. When trying to present data they will find projectors that are incompatible with modern laptops or the interfaces will be non standard or they will not be networked. This will lead to frustration and staff will increasingly be deterred from using new methods. Remember the days before multistandard VCRs were readily and cheaply available and the difficulties that ensued when you wanted to show an NTSC tape, do we really want to return to those chaotic times. No of course not and we must strive to standardise our equipment base now. There are pockets of excellence of course but by far and large services develop very slowly and has no grand plan which everyone should be following in order that presentation platforms have a synergy from the start.
1.17 What can we do to redress the balance, first we must have a vision of what is possible now and in the future. This of course has to be set against a background of diminishing resource. However it is my belief that Media Service Units will be given a larger share of the cake as the importance of its work is recognised. This recognition will surface when academic staff have to spend an inordinate amount of time mastering unfamiliar presentation software packages, none more so than in the field of multimedia.
1.18 Academic staff already rely heavily on self access systems to create hard copy photographs, slides and posters via the network. This has eased the burden on the service centres and transferred it to academic staff. This is fine as far as it goes but if we are not careful it will start to waste valuable academic time on non essential activities and is clearly not cost effective if taken too far. Greater reliance will placed on networked systems technology but the centres will have to increasingly take on the more sophisticated production elements. This will demand that we employ qualified specialist staff to maximise the features within the software. It is only by using software on a daily basis that the full potential will be realised and that can only come from full time specialists.
1.19 Media Service Units are progressively changing their function and will increasingly encompass all types of media to become communications centres. This is already happening here at QMW where we have recently joined the Academic Information Services group. It now comprises Library, Computer Services and Media Services and is the foundation for the `one stop shop' scenario mentioned in a previous AGOCG paper by others. This opens up a whole new stage on which we can build the communications centre.
1.20 A change of name will become essential to identify our new role. I envisage that a generic term will evolve but as a start I would suggest that there are several possibilities that would be appropriate, e.g., Department of Media Communications, Department of Learning Resources or Department of Media and Teaching Resources, spring to mind, it describes more precisely the service we are now providing.
1.21 How can we optimise the resources we already have. Lectures are a valuable resource and normally lost until presented again. This practice is wasteful in the extreme and deprives students of valuable revision material. In future, I envisage that lectures will be automatically recorded and held in library archives. Most institutions have Open University and ERA video libraries and these should be augmented with recordings of lectures both audio and or video. In addition these collections can be further enhanced by archiving multimedia disks designed for specific courses. Of course this would be a massive undertaking and impractical to achieve over one academic year. Since lectures are normally repeated in subsequent years these can be timetabled and slotted in as appropriate to gradually build the holding. Specific theatres should be set up for the purpose which would save set up time and make for a reliable system. Cameras would be remotely controlled from the lecturers' position by touch screen. All seat positions will have a location on the control screen, once a position was touched the camera/s would zoom into that seat/s and a student or delegate asking questions could be shown on screen inset into the main image. Microphones could be voice activated and overridden by the lecturer. Codecs would allow interaction directly onto the presented images by active wands or via laptops enabling fully interactive lectures to become a reality.
1.22 I envisage that all students will eventually have laptops and regularly work from their rooms/halls.
1.23 Software will have to be compatible and colleges must advise students what computers and software to obtain before attending their first year.
1.24 Theatres will have special handsets that would enable interaction to specific questions and even examinations and marking could be set using this technology. The technology exists now to enable this creative leap, which I believe will become common place within five years. In the future all images will be electronically generated, slides will be a thing of the past and about as exciting to use as an epidiascope! We all know the arguments for not going fully digital but technology will become more reliable and offers a flexible teaching/learning platform that can never be equalled by existing projected images.
1.25 Universities are one of the largest users of AV presentations in the UK, we can establish standards and make a difference to training, teaching and design.
Graphics Multimedia Virtual Environments Visualisation Contents