Tech Talk: Managing the Classroom

For the past 15 years, educators have been pressed to buy video distribution, media management, media retrieval or interactive information systems. Education institutions need to identify the features they require before they purchase. Advances enable formerly freestanding systems to be combined into single, easy-to-manage presentation systems. These systems merge services for security, intercom, clocks and bells, data and media into a single network. Today's model can be more accurately called a “classroom management system.”

A classroom management system (CMS) allows users to access, retrieve and control analog and digital audio and video information. It provides control and display of other computer presentation documents, school news, cable TV, security cameras and teleconferencing.

As a result, virtually any program or classroom-information system on any media can be made available to any television monitor, projection device or workstation in any building. A CMS uses a parallel network architecture technique to deliver full motion, high-quality, broadcast-quality video and stereo audio without affecting the network's performance. It also uses the speed and management of the network to manage all classroom support systems such as security, clocks and intercoms. Traditionally, these systems have been provided outside the network, making them harder to manage and support. Also, traditional systems have not allowed a classroom instructor to use items such as security cameras to view parking lots or hallways.

A CMS can broadcast from one or multiple stations; from station to station; from building to building; or from a central remote location.

Visual instruction inspires curiosity and fosters achievement. When these visual tools complement an educational setting, a student's mind sees and is touched forever. A CMS creates active learning opportunities. The videoconferencing feature can connect many sites to the classroom in real time. Video field trips provide access to multidisciplinary resources.

Central to every classroom management system is a routing switch, which serves to route video information from any one of the switch input sources to the receiving destination. Sources such as VCRs, DVDs, digital content servers, security cameras and satellite tuners are connected to switch points. Each destination, instructional or administrative area becomes an output and requires a TV monitor for viewing the source, computer for scheduling and accessing the source, and a remote control.

The head-end includes multiplexers, transmitters and receivers capable of processing analog or digital signals from the routing switch to the receiving locations. The signals can be delivered along unshielded twisted pair (UTP), fiber optic or coaxial cables.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Bloomington, Ind., a firm specialized in educational facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected]. www.kbdplanning.com

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