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of equipment, a much more satisfactory option is to be able to tell the system what task is required of it, and have it, rather than the user, control the appropriate bits of equipment. For example, a single button press should be enough


to dim lights to appropriate levels, close blinds, activate an electronic projection screen and switch on a projector. If there is a choice of source, a second press should turn on the appropriate one, and establish it as both the video and audio input. A touch panel interface organised by task, source,


or media type minimises the number of confusing options. Building an ‘idiot-proof ’ interface doesn’t imply that users are idiots – it just allows them to get on with their job without requiring an in-depth knowledge of AV systems. Screens on control panels should contain clearly


labelled, helpful icons for the particular task, rather than offering a massive range of controls. Also, whatever you and your AV supplier think about the interface, consultation with the eventual user, at this stage, will save a lot of headaches later. Beta testing, and demonstrating ideas to lecturers and other staff will give you invaluable feedback. This process will also give staff a sense of involvement in the project, rather than being presented with a fait accompli. A final, but vital design consideration should be


a focus on those with impaired ability – the option for large text on labels, or audible cues to the visually impaired will go a long way to legal compliance. The best designed interface in the world will still


require an amount of user training, and this should be factored into the budget for any new system. That training needs to include both the interface itself, as well as individual pieces of equipment. Support staff will need more intensive training than lecturers, but there is a choice to be made as to whether frontline staff should be trained by the integrator/reseller or by the establishment’s AV team. Correct staff training will make sure that lecturers are as familiar as possible with how to operate the tools at their disposal, and also aware of their features. This will enable them to use the equipment to its full potential, and therefore maximise the educational benefit that students will get from the investment. Lecturers can’t develop engaging content for a seminar without knowing what is possible. It will also keep down the number of support issues. So now you’ve arrived at some kind of staff acceptance and educational nirvana, where everyone knows exactly what they should be doing and never presses the wrong button, it’s important that the system lives up to expectations. Again there are two aspects to this challenge; reliability, and response time. Reliability is really where equipment and system selection comes into play. It goes without saying that equipment should be selected from established vendors, and you will be dependent to a certain extent on your AV supplier to make sure this is the case, but you shouldn’t abdicate all responsibility. Forearmed is forewarned, and familiarising yourself with what’s on offer is a key part of the process.


An ‘idiot-proof’ interface widens accessibility within the institution


To help in this regard a few of the major


equipment suppliers, exhibiting at xSolutions 2011, have provided some insight into how they believe their offerings can assist ensuring that solutions are as reliable as possible. Crestron’s education support manager, Steven


Vacher said: “In a word, it would be e-Control. e- Control is a blanket term that covers our two most important pieces of software for the AV manager. Crestron RoomView is the global management tool that allows at the click of a mouse an overview of the campus-wide AV infrastructure. It gives feedback from the Ethernet connected Crestron Systems for projector lamp hours, in-room help requests, equipment faults and error reporting. This allows the AV manager to be proactive in ensuring their systems are ready for the day’s teaching.” This concept of pro-active maintenance is a vital one for ensuring system availability. Knowing


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how long a projector bulb has been used for, and what condition a cleaning filter is in means that it’s possible to replace them in a scheduled manner before a failure interrupts teaching. Crestron are not alone in offering system


monitoring options. AMX has a similar suite known as ClassroomManager, part of its Resource Management Suite. The company’s business development director, Chris Kendall, explained the benefits: “ClassroomManager is a comprehensive solution that allows classrooms, lecture theatres and their associated electronic devices to be monitored and maintained facility-wide. Real- time monitoring and problem notifications allow audiovisual equipment to be maintained proactively, with automatic and routine checks being made to a system’s status. This facility allows administrators to ensure equipment is working correctly at all times, in line with service level agreements, and that system notifications are directed to the right person, at the right time. Assets such as flip charts and lecterns can also be registered and tracked for inventory management.” These tools will go a long way to ensuring that


Your relationship with the supplier you settle on should be as robust as the system it installs


a regular maintenance programme cuts down the amount of unforeseen problems. But just as important is the response time when the inevitable bug rears its head. A very useful tool that aids this is Crestron’s


XPanel. It is the second half of the e-Control suite. “This is full touchpanel replication at the AV manager’s desktop,” states Steven Vacher. “XPanel allows the support desk to take control of the room to assist should their user get into trouble. In my


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