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AV and STEM Trends in 2023

AV and STEM Trends in 2023

Among educators, STEM curriculum has been a focus for years. That focus continues into 2023, as the future will clearly be defined by technology. High-paying, stable careers are plentiful in science, engineering, and technology fields. STEM teaching gives your students a head start toward those career paths.

If your school is ready to jump on the STEM bandwagon, it’s an exciting time to do so. 2023 promises to be an interesting year in AV educational tech, as integrators and manufacturers get better at tailoring their solutions to a post-pandemic, K-12 environment.

Here, we’ll take a look at a handful of AV and STEM trends to look for in the new year, and how they can be leveraged for your students’ benefit.

Schools Are Converting Large Spaces into STEM Learning Hubs

There’s a lot of activity and creation involved with STEM lessons. Much of STEM is about developing a solution to a problem, and then making that solution. This lesson delivery approach can be scaled up and down in complexity. Robotics? Obviously, STEM. Crafting with popsicle sticks and rubber bands? That is also STEM.

In short, STEM spaces are makerspaces, and makerspaces need room to flourish. That’s why schools are increasingly transforming their large and communal spaces into STEM learning areas. Libraries and unused computer labs are both common targets for STEM initiatives, though some districts are breaking ground on dedicated facilities just for STEM labs.

Of course, most districts need to ramp up their STEM efforts before they’re ready for a standalone building. They can do so by outfitting STEM spaces with makerspace furniture – like Spectrum’s Aspire desks. These can be arranged to create pods of any size, so no student is left out of the lesson. Placing an interactive display at each pod is also a good idea, as this can kick off collaboration between students. With the display, student teams can whiteboard their ideas and keep a running design document going.

When the day is done, STEM storage cabinets and racks make cleanup, organization, and charging simple for teachers.

VR Technology is Immersing Students in STEM Education

VR and AR solutions have been available to schools for several years, but they continue to get better. With VR and AR technologies, teachers and students have a world of potential experiences to share in. This includes many opportunities to introduce STEM learning into the lesson.

ClassVR has been a favorite of ours for a while, and it remains the top VR option for schools. A ClassVR package comes with a set of VR headsets (packages of eight or 30 are available), a secure charging station and lesson delivery software. Everything you need to power VR learning.

ClassVR is one of the few VR solutions purpose-built for the classroom. In addition to a wealth of lesson content, it gives teachers lesson planning and delivery tools that make classroom management a snap during a VR session. From their desk, teachers can create lesson playlists, so one scene follows another without interruption. Teachers can also monitor what each student is doing inside their headset and focus attention on a point of interest.

What truly sets ClassVR apart from its competitors is the sheer amount of content the technology comes with. This includes STEM content, like exploring the building techniques behind the world’s longest bridges, manipulating a collection of 3D shapes, and exploring the solar system.

Some Districts are Going Mobile with Their STEM Curriculum

Budgeting realities can limit STEM learning initiatives, but some schools have taken this as a challenge instead of a roadblock. For example, some schools are creating mobile STEM stations that can be moved from room to room, or even between schools.

STEM buses are one example, and they’re becoming more popular among STEM-focused districts. How does a STEM bus work? Take a school bus that’s not getting any use, take out the seats and create STEM stations inside. This could be simple stuff, like making paper airplanes, but there’s potential for so much more.

For instance, shade the windows, add a few displays (or a projector), boost the audio and simulate a field trip through space. It’s as close as it gets to The Magic School Bus.

But if your school only needs on-campus or in-class flexibility, mobile AV carts are an inexpensive and simple solution. These carts can be used to mount displays, organization cabinets, or racks for smaller devices (like Chromebooks).

AV Solutions are Inspiring Teachers to Change the Way They Arrange Their Classrooms

AV technology has been featured at the front of the classroom for a while, but teachers are looking for a bit more flexibility. Currently, interactive displays are the classroom workhorse, but it’s common for them to be underutilized.

That’s understandable – interactive displays do perform well as a front-of-the-classroom information delivery medium. They’re the modern chalkboard or overhead projector.

However, interactive displays can also be used to drive student-led learning. Again, STEM relies on tactile, hands-on learning – the kind of learning that interactive displays are well-suited for. In elementary, an interactive display can be used for student-led art projects. For older students, student-led STEM lessons include whiteboarding math equations, diagramming engineering projects, or running a physics simulator to make hypotheses and record data.

In these STEM learning spaces, multiple interactive displays may make sense in order to break the class into more manageable groups.

STEM Education Provides Students With a Brighter Future, and AV Technology Makes STEM Teaching More Effective

An educator’s job is to prepare students for the future they’ll face after school, and the future is STEM. The number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers is growing, and those careers are some of the most secure, well-paying jobs available.

The surest way to connect your students to those high-achieving careers is with engaging STEM education. A lesson that “wows” can be a life-defining experience for budding scientists and engineers. The only challenge is developing and delivering engaging STEM lessons.

Fortunately, it’ll be much easier to do that in 2023. The last few years have seen a wave of AV technologies designed to enhance STEM learning. Look for that trend to continue.

Four Ways AV Can Introduce Multimodal Learning in the Classroom

Four Ways AV Can Introduce Multimodal Learning in the Classroom

Researchers and educators alike have realized that multimodal learning is effective at improving student engagement, information recall and test performance. We all have our learning preferences, which may include the following components:

  • Audio
  • Video
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Kinesthetic (physical)

We all learn in different ways using a combination of the above. A multimodal learning style recognizes this and incorporates as many channels of information as possible into each lesson. By doing so, teachers can reach a larger variety of students and improve their understanding of the lesson material.

AV technology is a multimodal lesson supporter, with solutions that add compelling audio, video, and tactile activities to the classroom. There are many to choose from, but four of the most popular include:

  • Audio enhancement systems
  • Interactive displays
  • Augmented and virtual reality systems (AR/VR)
  • Interactive activity spaces

Let’s take a closer look at each and where they fit best.

Audio Enhancement Immerses Students in Richer Sounds

Poor audio affects a large number of U.S. classrooms, which is suggested by data provided by the Department of Education’s Mainstream Amplification Resource Room Study. The study found that enhancing audio levels in the classroom led to 40 percent fewer special education referrals.

The size of the classroom, the teacher’s speaking volume, the room’s acoustics and ambient noise can all have an effect on classroom audio quality. Students at the back may be outside of the teacher’s effective speaking range, robbing those students of valuable audio-centric lesson material.

Audio enhancement solutions, including those provided by FrontRow and Audio Enhancement, are designed to lift the lecturer’s voice and blanket classrooms with rich sound. These solutions are easy to integrate into a classroom and with the school’s PA system.

With better in-class audio, students that require sound-reinforced learning will find it easier to keep pace with instruction and recall lesson content with greater accuracy.

Interactive Displays Provide Powerful Visuals and a Tactile Component

Like standard digital displays, interactive displays are excellent at teaching concepts visually. Interactive displays take the multimodal approach a step further, though, as they also appeal to the kinesthetic learner. This is valuable for most classrooms, as the most common learning approach for people is through kinesthetic teaching methods.

A study by VARK (visual, aural, read/write, kinesthetic) surveyed more than 237,500 people and found that kinesthetic learning was preferred by 90 percent of students, to some extent. Interactive displays bring this tactile element in the lesson through an interactive touchscreen. With an interactive display like the Clevertouch or ActivPanel, students can use touch gestures to solve quizzes, label maps, compete to solve math equations, diagram parts of a sentence, and a whole lot more. Teachers can also use the display to run whiteboarding sessions, where they can make notes for students or bring in a visual example through the display’s onboard browser.

AR and VR Tools are Visually Compelling and Offer a Kinesthetic Approach to Learning

In recent years, AR and VR systems have been introduced to the market en masse. First developed as a piece of luxury consumer tech, AR and VR have now been adapted for educational strategies. It’s easy to convince students to use AR or VR, of course, and that may be because they offer a full range of multimodal approaches.

Solutions such as ClassVR combine rich, animated visuals, audio, written text, and touch controls into a single learning solution. With ClassVR, students can explore historical events as they happen, discover the surface of the moon, or spend time observing life in the ocean. They can look around, become immersed in sounds, and interact with the world to an extent. Students are engaged at every level.

Interactive Activity Spaces Encourage Young Learners to Move During Lessons

Multimodal learning isn’t confined to the classroom either, as larger spaces can accommodate larger-scale technologies. This includes interactive activity spaces like the Lü Interactive. Ideal for PE classes, the Lü Interactive incorporates visuals, lighting and audio into every lesson.

With Lü Interactive, coaches can get students to push themselves a bit more, whether it’s for a quick warmup or as a team-based competition. Students follow along with a virtual exercise instructor, run to a high-energy music track, throw dodge balls at targets (which can be used to solve math equations or fill-in-the-blank questions) or team up for game-like competitions.

Multimodal Learning Drives Better Engagement, and AV Can Drive Better Multimodal Learning

Multimodal learning strategies are a proven way to reach students and keep them engaged in the lesson. They make work easier for teachers, too, who have access to a greater variety of lesson creation and delivery tools.

Many of those tools are AV-based, as AV is a natural driver of multimodal learning. AV solutions like interactive displays, audio enhancement, interactive activity spaces, and AV/VR systems are just a few solutions that offer better multimodal delivery. They aren’t the only ones, though, and with so many to choose from, schools typically work through their AV integrator to design and implement their multimodal learning technologies.


Effective Video Conferencing for Remote Teams

Effective Video Conferencing For Remote Teams

Video conferencing solutions are a flagship technology for many AV brands – they’re fueling the global economy, after all. With video conferencing in place, organizations have access to a world of professionals and can skim the best talent no matter where it is.

However, there are challenges involved with maintaining remote teams. Here’s we’ll address a few of those challenges and how video conferencing can help overcome them.

Three Obstacles Remote Employees Face That Video Conferencing Tools Can Solve

There’s no denying that remote work fits better for some people. Without in-office distractions and a frustrating commute, it’s easier to get more done. At least that’s what some of the statistics say. According to a 2022 Cisco survey, 82 percent of remote professionals said that work flexibility had made them happier. Clearly, remote workers want remote work to stay.

But it’s not all roses for remote teams. There are a few problems for organizations to solve when managing remote teams – and video conferencing can help solve them. Here are a few examples:

Remote Employees Don’t Feel Connected to Their Team Members

According to an Accenture survey, remote employees feel more connected to their work than in-office employees by two to one. However, a different survey by Wakefield Research shows that managers don’t feel the same about their remote employees. By a large margin, managers believed their remote employees weren’t as connected to their teams.

This seems like a communication breakdown. Fortunately, that’s what video conferencing is designed to fix. If an organization has video conferencing in place, but there’s still a disconnect with remote employees, the fix is often “more video conferencing.”

Instead of running long video meetings, consider breaking up those meetings into smaller touchpoints throughout the day. If the day’s face-to-face communication is confined to an hour-long meeting – and we all know how meetings can be – then it’s easy to see where the disconnect is coming from.

Remote work is changing the way some organizations manage their meetings. Some find that they keep their remote employees better engaged if they are engaged more often. Video conferencing software makes that simple. Managers can schedule short blocks of time for each team member and communicate one-on-one or in small groups with the touch of a button.

My Remote Employees Have Trouble Tracking Project Progress

In fast-paced companies, it’s all-too-common for remote employees to be left out of the loop. Who’s working on what? What’s the status of that report? Wait, the deadline has been moved?

It happens, but there’s an easy solution – recording your project progress meetings and provide them to the meeting’s participants. Of course, you’ll need to let all participants that you’re recording the meeting, but it’s likely that the team will thank you. It’s easy for details to be forgotten following a meeting and having a recording to reference will save employees time in tracking those details down.

Take it a step further. Once the project update meeting is over, timestamp or even edit down the video to highlight important parts. Video conferencing software, including Zoom, comes with some simple editing tools that can be used to trim a recording down. This can be used to point out project expectations to each team member individually, so everyone knows what the plan is.

My Remote Employees Are Having Difficulty Collaborating Effectively

It’s one thing to communicate, and another to collaborate. Effective collaboration can feel difficult for teams that aren’t in the same space, but that doesn’t have to limit their teamwork.

Video conferencing solutions come with collaboration tools, and if you have onsite employees leading the call, you can install additional tools to improve video team meetings. For example, Zoom and Microsoft Teams both have robust screen sharing features in place, allowing users to use their device to share a PowerPoint presentation, images, videos, drawings, graphs, figures, documents – any supporting media a presenter would need to get the collaboration going.

To get the whole team involved, go with a whiteboard. There are virtual whiteboarding options available – Zoom has one built right into its app. Virtual whiteboarding features allow anyone to add to the picture, which is equal parts professional and fun. And once the whiteboarding session is over, an image of the whiteboard can be saved and sent to all participants.

What About Hybrid Teams and Offices? How Can AV Solutions Help There?

Some companies are taking a middle-of-the-road approach with their remote workers. Instead of full remote or full onsite, these hybrid offices have their own challenges.

While most of those challenges are similar to those faced by remote teams, there’s a consistent problem that hybrid employees face – adjusting to in-office technologies.

In a hybrid office, some employees may only be onsite once a week or a couple times a month. It can be tough for these employees to get fully acclimated to the office. The problem is magnified for employees who rotate between multiple sites.

Usability is a vital feature in hybrid office technology. That’s why, with the rise of hybrid offices, wireless presentation solutions have become more popular. Wireless presentation solutions allow users to wirelessly connect to a conferencing room’s technologies, including the conferencing system itself. This is done with an application on the user’s own device.

Once connected, the presenter can adjust audio, lighting and call settings with their own device. They can also share content to the room’s display with their own device, so all essential meeting functions can be handled without having to mess with any hardware. That’s as usable as it gets.

No Matter Where the Employees are Located, Video Conferencing Can Make Everyone Feel Like Part of the Team

Remote work has opened up opportunities for businesses that want the best talent possible. It’s also opened up some difficulties, like most big changes do. However, video conferencing is well-suited to solving those difficulties with meeting and collaboration-enhancing features that help the virtual office feel a little more personal.

Solutions for Common Digital Signage Issues

Digital signage is one of AV’s most popular solutions because it reliably commands attention – the most valuable marketing resource there is. As reliable and impactful as the technology is, though, organizations do run into some common digital signage issues from time to time. Thankfully, most issues can be resolved quickly.

Here, we’ll go over some of the most common digital signage problems that companies face, and how to address them.

Content Creation is Too Difficult or Time Consuming

The engine behind digital signage is content, and one of the first challenges is ensuring you have enough content. Many businesses are overwhelmed by this at first, but good content doesn’t always mean high effort.

Digital signage software comes with hundreds of templates, and each one provides a head start for your content team (or person). Ideally, your content people will be trained on the software before content is needed. That way, they’ll hit the ground running.

Also, there is a world of content resources out there that can fill the gaps. This includes integrating your social media feeds with the signs. That way, you’re still getting organization-relevant content without dedicating too much work to the process.

Content is Cycling Too Frequently and Becoming Uninteresting

Digital signage is designed to cycle through one screen after another, providing a constant stream of information to the audience. With only seconds dedicated to each layout, any design would quickly become stale if it’s repeated too often.

First, make sure your content is programmed for the right times. By scheduling your content in advance, you can easily determine if you have content to work with and adjust as needed.

Also, take dwell time into account. That’s the amount of time your viewers will be in front of the screen. For customers and high traffic areas, sticking to a 30-second limit for each message is recommended. In offices, restaurants and waiting rooms, though, you’ve got a captive audience. In this case, your messaging can remain in place for up to 20 minutes or more at a time. However, sticking to a few minutes for each screen, though, will keep viewers engaged.

Content is Being Displayed in Areas Where it’s Irrelevant to Viewers

If your digital signage network includes hundreds of displays, they likely expand into customer-facing areas and across departments. If this is the case for your company, careful location management is necessary.

For example, celebrating employee birthdays wouldn’t be recommended in lobbies and other locations where customers are present. Another example – you don’t want departments pushing project-centric information out to other departments, where it’s unneeded.

Digital signage networks can be controlled down to the individual display. You can group parts of your network and tag every layout to a specific group, so each display only outputs useful content to each location.

Content That Should Have Expired is Still Being Displayed

If unplanned or inactive messages are being displayed on your screens, it’s likely a media player issue. In the vast majority of cases, the solution is straightforward – check if your media players are connected to the network. If your media players are offline, they’ll continue operating but will not receive updates.

Content Will Not Upload to the Displays

Media players only accept certain image and video formats, and every brand is different. However, most accept the following formats:

  • JPEG
  • GIF
  • PNG
  • TIF
  • BMP
  • AVI
  • WMV
  • MPEG
  • MOV

If your content isn’t in any of the above formats, uploading may be the problem. It could also be a connection problem with your media players.

People Aren’t Paying Attention to the Signage

If your audience is tuning out your signage network, it could be any of the above content issues. Consider whether your content is engaging enough and if there is enough of it.

If you’re convinced that content isn’t the problem, the issue may be your displays’ positioning. It’s a common mistake for signage to be placed outside a person’s comfortable field of vision (30 degrees above eye level to 75 degrees below eye level). Displays outside of this range can cause eye strain. The horizontal angle of viewing is also relevant. The most comfortable viewing angles are within 45 degrees of the display on either side.

Also, account for viewing distance. In larger areas, larger displays will be needed for long-distance viewing. At distances of 30 feet, for example, a 65-inch screen is the minimum recommendation. At 40 feet, an 86-inch screen is recommended.

Messaging that cycles too quickly or slowly will also fade into the background and making slight adjustments here can help.

The Images Aren’t Displaying Properly

If your content is uploading but doesn’t look quite right, it could be due to a few reasons. They include:

  • Wrong image size ratio – Digital signage is designed to output at a 16:9 ratio or a 9:16 ratio for vertically mounted screens. If your layouts are outside of this ratio, parts of the image may be cut off or uneven resizing may occur.
  • Wrong image resolution – For 16:9 displays, the optimal image resolution is 1920 x 1080. For ultra-high-resolution displays, 3840 x 2160 is optimal. If your images are smaller than this, the image will look fuzzy and pixelated.
  • Low quality image file – If your aspect ratio and resolution are both optimal, but the image is still poor, the source file itself may be of low quality. Higher quality images are larger and require more network resources, but a good middle ground is picking files between 2-3 MB in size.

Display Performance is Poor or Starting to Fail

Software problems are much more common than hardware problems, but hardware does eventually fail. If your digital signage has been in continuous operation for years, repair or replacement may be required.

Common signs of hardware failure include:

  • The screen doesn’t display anything when powered on, even if the backlight is operating.
  • The screen does switch on and display content, but powers itself off after several seconds.
  • There are display faults that remain in place even after on-screen images change. This is usually a blank or discolored area.

A Certified AV Integrator Can Solve Many Digital Signage Issues

Whether your digital signage issues are caused by software, hardware or users, a certified AV integrator can troubleshoot and resolve them. In fact, many organizations retain their integrator in a support role so they can be brought in when digital signage issues do arise.

With their high visibility, digital signage issues are immediately noticeable when they occur. With the above fixes and partnering with a certified integrator, those issues can be quickly handled.

Three Reasons to Work with a Certified Integrator for Your AV Projects

If your organization is considering AV solutions, what’s also worth considering is who will implement those solutions. Although AV technology is designed to be simple on the user’s end, it’s anything but for installers and designers.

For this reason, most companies and schools trust their AV project to a certified integrator. Certified AV integrators are industry veterans, capable of matching a client’s needs to the most effective AV solutions available.

Certification is important for AV companies, and when looking for AV integration services, you’ll want a certified team. There are several reasons for this, but we’ve included the three most important.

Reason One: Certified AV Integrators are Experts in AV Solution Design and Installation

The AV integration process consists of several steps and involves much more than just installation. AV solutions are complex, with many technologies working together to create a seamless audio and visual experience.

It’s impossible to craft that experience without extensive planning and design processes in place. While AV technicians attain certification, they learn what planning and design best practices look like, and how to implement them for clients. For example, this is the curriculum on AVIXA’s Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) exam:

  • Creating AV solutions – Creating an optimal AV solution starts with understanding the client’s needs and how to solve them with AV. That’s why, during CTS certification, the technician learns how to run a needs analysis meeting and perform an initial site survey. This provides technicians the starting knowledge they need for a project – knowledge like the quality of the building’s lighting and acoustics, as well as its layout and seating arrangement.
    Once this information is gathered, the technician designs the solution. This includes selecting the right technologies for the job, determining placement locations, and establishing connectivity between all AV system elements.
  • Implementing AV solutions – Once the project is designed, it needs to be implemented. CTS students therefore learn how to properly position and mount hardware, run all necessary cables, and account for any facility-related obstacles along the way. During certification, technicians also learn how to operate various AV solutions and configure them to the client’s specifications.
  • Servicing AV solutions – CTS certification also focuses on post-installation maintenance and support. So, CTS students learn how to solve a variety of technical problems using logical, efficient troubleshooting. During certification, students will also learn how to do this during a live event, when speed is critical.

AVIXA (Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association) is the leading trade association for the AV industry, and its CTS certification track is one of the most popular, as a result. That means if you’re working with a certified AV firm, you’re working with people educated in every part of the integration process.

What does this extra education and experience mean? More consistent and more efficient integration processes.

Reason Two: Certified Integrators Have Unmatched AV Product Knowledge

In addition to their process knowledge, certified integrators are also experts in AV hardware and equipment. In fact, many AV technicians are certified in certain AV brands or technologies, giving them an edge during product selection, installation, configuration, and maintenance.

Vendor specialists are extremely useful if your organization prefers a certain AV brand. For example, if your business prefers any of the following vendors, know that there are AV integrators certified in these vendors’ products:

  • Crestron
  • Poly
  • Extron
  • AMX
  • Cisco
  • Shure
  • Biamp
  • Planar

When technicians attain vendor-specific certifications they’re learning everything about the company’s ecosystem. That includes learning about the vendor’s solutions and how those solutions can meet a client’s AV needs. Vendor-certified technicians are also the people to turn to for in-depth product knowledge and training. Given their value to an AV team, integrators typically staff multiple vendor-certified technicians so they can offer a wider range of solutions.

Reason Three: A Certified AV Integrator Can Support Your Long-term Technology Needs

Certified AV integrators are motivated to support long-lasting relationships and collaboration between integrator and client. This starts by applying best practices (technically and ethically) to every integration project. And it doesn’t end when the hardware is installed.

Following integration, certified AV firms can provide ongoing maintenance and technical support to their clients. With a maintenance agreement in place, a certified integrator becomes the organization’s go-to option for technical support. A maintenance agreement also establishes a schedule for preventative maintenance, which is critical for maintaining system uptime. Additional training and help with AV equipment-related logistics (warranties and shipping) are also standard additions to an AV maintenance contract.

It’s difficult for companies to dedicate in-house staff to AV system maintenance and working with a certified integrator means your organization won’t have to. In this way, a certified integrator is a technology partner for their client – a technology partner that your company can call on when it’s time to make additions or changes to your existing AV solutions. If there’s an AV product out there that could serve your needs better, a certified integrator will help you identify and integrate it faster.

Certified Integrators are the Leaders in AV Technology and Solutions

AV integration has always been a complex process because it’s complex work pushing the frontiers of audio and video. AV integration has become more complicated in recent years, though, as there are more solutions available than ever before.

It’s a challenge to remain on top of the industry’s offerings and practices, but AV technicians manage it by attaining (and maintaining) certification. Your organization can leverage this expertise for your own AV projects, ensuring a more efficient and more effective solution.

Flat Panels vs. Projectors: Which is the Best Fit for Your Organization?

Whether it’s a huddle room or a full-blown training auditorium, your meeting spaces will work better with a digital display. Displays provide critical visual support for any presentation, ensuring everyone in attendance can understand what’s being discussed. Digital displays are also major collaboration facilitators because they allow for simple content sharing. People take in information best when it’s presented in multiple formats and displays deliver that information visually.

The question is – what kind of digital display is the best fit for your company’s needs? The choice almost always comes down to projectors or flat panels (screens).

Digital Flat Panels: Bright, Vivid, Compact and Easy to Operate

Digital panels are the newer, more advanced display technology. As such, they come with several engineering-based advantages that make them a good fit in most spaces.

The most notable is image quality. Most modern LED screens output at 4K resolution, with exceptional brightness and color depth. A flat panel has no trouble delivering crystal clear images in any space, as a result. This is particularly handy for rooms that receive a lot of natural light. Natural light can blow out projector images because projectors don’t generate enough light themselves to overcome the brightness. But that’s not a problem with digital screens, which look vivid in any lighting conditions.

Digital flat panels are also the preferred option for smaller spaces, as they don’t need as much room as a projector to operate. Digital screens are a single-piece display solution built into a compact piece of hardware. If your organization relies heavily on smaller meeting spaces like huddle rooms, digital flat panels are ideal. The screens can be mounted to the wall with no visible cables or mounting hardware, minimizing clutter.

Projectors, in contrast, are two-piece solutions that require space between the projector and wall to operate. This is an obvious limiting factor in small rooms.

A digital screen is also the most familiar and most intuitive display solution for people to work with. They look like consumer TVs and don’t require any calibration to work right, every time. And if adjustments to brightness or contrast are needed, users know where to look without getting IT involved. Projectors, though, can be intimidating for people to use, as few have a projector at home. Projectors also require occasional calibration, especially if they are being moved from room to room.

There are also interactive flat panels that add a tactile element to meetings. The Clevertouch is one example and allows professional teams to whiteboard, annotate, and collaborate using touch controls. Interactive flat panels are a strong addition to video conferencing solutions, as they can be used by remote participants as if they were in the room.

In summary, if your building is bright and tight on space, digital flat panels are a better option. And, if your employees need a simple solution that works every time, digital screens are again the right fit.

Projectors: The Biggest, and Most Economical Image Available

Projectors have been around for decades, but that doesn’t mean they’re obsolete. In fact, current-generation projector technologies are also capable of color-rich, high-resolution images. They still need the right lighting conditions to look their best, but if those conditions are in place, projectors can power an excellent visual experience.

In large rooms, there may be hundreds of people present during a meeting or training session. If your meeting spaces must accommodate a large number of people, projectors are the popular choice. That’s because projectors can be scaled up or down to nearly any size. And a single projector can be calibrated for multiple sizes, so it can be scaled as needed.

Some projectors can output images at extremely large sizes – up to a 300-inch diagonal. This is usually not preferred, as the projector is limited by how much light it can throw at once, which means a larger image tends to be less vivid. However, even at a 90 or 120-inch diagonal, modern projectors can compete with digital flat panels in image quality, as long as lighting conditions are good. And, if a smaller image size is required (like a 60-inch image), projectors can look extremely sharp.

The other main benefit of projectors is their economy. Projectors are the least expensive large format displays available, so they’re a common entry-level choice for organizations on a slim budget. It’s true that some of this cost advantage is offset by lamp replacement expenses, but in terms of upfront expense, projectors beat out flat panels.

So, where should projectors be featured in your building? In oversized spaces where an oversized image is essential for the audience. Large training rooms, for example, are well-supported by projector technology.

For Many Organizations, There’s Room for Both

For the vast majority of rooms, digital flat panels are a perfect fit. They only have issues filling out extremely large spaces, and even in this case, there are single flat panels that reach up to 120 inches. There are also video walls and direct view LED panels that can be pieced together to make displays of any size or shape.

Those solutions can definitely wow an audience, but they’re expensive. They may not always be, but for some organizations, there isn’t room in the budget for a video wall. In this instance, a projector is the less costly alternative.

Can’t Decide Between Digital Flat Panels and Projectors? Talk to an AV Integrator

As you can see, there’s room for projectors and digital flat panels in most buildings. If you’re still not sure which technology should go in your meeting rooms, a certified AV integrator can help. Their expertise with display technology means they can analyze your rooms and select the best fit for each space.

Common Audio Issues and the Best Solutions

Good audio is often underrated in both school and business. Research shows that poor audio makes a bad impression in conferencing settings, leading to negative assumptions about the speaker’s trustworthiness and competence. In the classroom, poor audio can worsen student performance and engagement because they can’t hear everything.

Those are big problems, and many organizations are interested in solving them. But how can these issues be solved? Here, we’ve included some of the most common audio problems facing companies and schools, and what can be done about them.

Problem: People in the Back are Having Trouble Hearing

Insufficient volume is one of the most common audio issues, and it plagues both professional and classroom settings. In large boardrooms, training rooms and classrooms, sound doesn’t reliably reach the back of the room. Whether it’s due to too much space or too much interfering noise, the people in the back are going to have trouble understanding what’s being said.

The solution to this is audio enhancement technology. Audio enhancement solutions typically consist of a worn or handheld microphone, one or more speakers, an amplifier and a control device of some kind. Some notable solutions include Audio Enhancement’s Optimum system and FrontRow’s Juno and ezRoom systems.

These solutions blanket a room with even, crisp audio that ensures everyone can hear – including those way in the back.

Problem: Background Noise is Interfering with a Conference Call

Professionals are spending more time than ever in conferences, which means they’re spending more time than ever dealing with unwanted background noise. Whether at home (rowdy children, pets) or in the office (paper rustling, loud hallway conversation), conference calls are frequently interrupted by ambient noise.

There are a couple of solutions. One is to invest in conferencing technology that automatically detects and blocks background noise. Poly’s audio conferencing equipment is notable for its noise-suppressing features, including Acoustic Fence and NoiseBlock AI. These automatically detect unwanted noise and shut down the microphones that are picking them up.

Another solution for conference rooms is to install a white or pink noise emitter. Both emit a constant stream of low-frequency sound that acts like a screen between the conference room and everything outside.

Problem: Background Noise is Interfering with a Classroom

Classrooms also have trouble with ambient noise because schools are rarely quiet places. Here, white and pink noise emitters can also work. Most noise emitters operate at close range, so they don’t become a distraction themselves.

Audio enhancement can also be the solution here, as it boosts volume to a point where outside audio is no longer perceptible.

Problem: There are Audio Delays Between Participants During Conferencing

Any stuttering during a conferencing session could be a network issue. If there are too many participants on the call, it can stress your network beyond the breaking point, which results in significant data loss between endpoints. The fix here may be optimizing your network’s performance, which may require expanding your network capabilities or maintaining what you already have.

As networks broaden more and more, organizations are turning to cloud-based services, including video conferencing services. Cloud-based services balance network loads, so they can deliver a reliable conferencing experience. If your organization is relying on on-premises solutions, migrating to a cloud option may help.

It’s also possible that delays are emerging from the audio system itself. This may happen when multiple people speak into the microphone at once. If that does happen, attentive muting can help. Improved audio solutions can also help, as older audio systems are more likely to have issues with delays.

Problem: There’s an Echo in Here

Echoes are a long-standing issue for conference calls and they’re extremely distracting. When echoes are present, it’s typically due to input devices – like microphones – picking up the same audio more than once. This could be something as simple as two input devices in the room feeding into a single conference. An example would be two active microphones in the same room.

Sometimes, though, the echo’s source is from the room itself. Most office buildings were not designed and built with acoustics in mind, and it shows. Build materials, the room’s size and its layout all affect how sound travels through the space. Glass and concrete, for example, reflect a lot of sound that can bounce back into the microphone. Covering reflective surfaces with sound-absorbing materials can help.

Items in the room can also influence acoustics. How those items and furniture are arranged will also make an impact, so there’s a lot to account for.

Given this widespread problem, there are furniture and decorative items designed to improve the acoustics of a room. Hanging baffles are one example, as is sound-absorbing furniture.

If you’re not sure about the state of your building’s acoustics, certified AV integrators have software they can use to model it. This information is then used to develop more effective audio solutions.

Problem: My Organization Doesn’t Have In-house AV Personnel to Implement Audio Solutions

Of course, effective audio solutions require effective planning, design, and installation. If your organization doesn’t have an in-house AV team capable of implementing audio and video technologies, an integrator can help.

Certified integrators perform a thorough needs analysis and site survey prior to implementing any audio solutions. Together, this provides integrators with the information they need to select the right technologies, design the audio solution, install it, configure it, and train all users on its function.

With an integrator’s help, your organization can achieve higher quality audio while sticking to any timeline and budgeting limitations. Better audio makes a difference, and an integrator can provide it for your company or school.

Four Makerspace Ideas and the Technology Your Schools Need to Make them Happen

Makerspaces are sprouting up everywhere in K-12 schools, and for good reason. Makerspaces engage students in ways that standard classrooms can’t. With a makerspace, students are encouraged to try new things, persist through their failures, stay focused on a single project, and work with their hands. These are important behaviors for young learners.

The benefits of a makerspace are considerable, but some districts have questions about how to set them up and how to afford them. Part of the makerspace magic, though, is that schools can be creative in how they put one together. No matter what your school’s budget or floorplan looks like, there’s a space somewhere for making.

Here, we’ve included four makerspace ideas that can be adapted for most K-12 schools, even if you’re just getting started with makerspaces.

Idea 1: Combine a Digital Display with Low-Tech Tools and Projects

If you can make something with it, you can use it in a makerspace. That includes low-tech learning materials like:

  • Paint
  • String and yarn
  • Paper products, like construction paper and cardboard
  • Modeling clay
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Duct and scotch tape
  • Toothpicks
  • Straws

The list goes on, and you can include as many or as few materials as your space allows. Once you’ve got your materials together, consider adding a digital display to the space. A digital display makes it simple for educators to find and deliver creativity-focused projects. As long as a teacher is available to curate the videos, a digital display provides students with multimodal learning opportunities.

Even with a digital display, you don’t need much room to pull this idea off. If your school can’t dedicate an entire room for makerspace purposes, this idea can work just as well in the library or even in the corner of a classroom. Many teachers like to rotate their students through multiple activities during class, and making something can be one of those activities.

Idea 2: Turn a Library into a Research and Collaboration Hotspot

Libraries are the ideal starting point for any project that requires research. Whether it’s engineering, science, design, architecture, or just plain crafting. Libraries offer a treasure trove of information for makerspace students.

Unsurprisingly, many schools are making their libraries the focal point for makerspace activities. It helps that the typical school library is a large place with room to fit a lot of kids and a lot of makerspace supplies.

If your school is also targeting its library for makerspace purposes, consider establishing a room-within-a-room just for creating. There are two reasons for this. One, separating the makerspace from the rest of the library will contain any making-related messes (easier clean up). Two, with a space for making and a space for research, students are encouraged to gather information from the library’s research resources and then put that information to use.

An interactive display is the perfect AV solution for this idea. With an interactive display, students can work together while whiteboarding their projects. Sketch them out, put together a project plan, delegate parts of the process to each student, and watch them explore as a team.

Idea 3: Encourage Group Work by Dividing a Makerspace into Pods

Teamwork and group work are points of emphasis in many makerspaces. AV technology and makerspace furniture can help reinforce those points by encouraging better collaboration.

If you’ve got an expanded space to work with (the school library is, again, a good choice), then create pods where small groups of students can work together. There is even makerspace furniture designed to facilitate this. One example is Spectrum’s Aspire line of desks, which are shaped to fit together in a variety of combinations, no matter how many students are in each group.

At each pod, an interactive display can be used to visualize project details, like in the example above. If you don’t have budget room for interactive displays, standard digital displays and a document camera at the front of the room can also be effective. The document camera’s feed can be routed to each pod’s display, so instructors can introduce concepts with up-close physical examples that everyone can see.

This idea takes a bit more room to pull off. And in large spaces, audio enhancement is another technology to consider. Audio enhancement solutions can be as simple as a worn microphone and a speaker sitting on a shelf. The effects of better audio can’t be overestimated as high activity spaces (like a makerspace) will drown out a teacher’s best attempts to speak above the noise. Audio enhancement solutions allow educators to teach without straining their voice.

Idea 4: Add Another Dimension to STEM Instruction with AR and VR Technologies

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) solutions are already establishing themselves in the professional world, where they make excellent training tools.

ClassVR and zSpace are two examples of AR and VR in the classroom, and while they can be used for a variety of lessons, they are particularly effective makerspace tools.

With AR and VR technology, your students can visualize engineering and technical concepts in a way they’ve never seen before, with detailed, 3D exploration. AR and VR can be an engaging and inspiring primer before each makerspace lesson, as they can introduce concepts relevant to the lesson and provide a starting point for creation.

You Don’t Need a Big Budget to Bring Big Makerspace Ideas to Life

Makerspaces are an effective way to deliver STEM curriculum, providing students with a different approach to learning than they would get in a traditional classroom. Even better, makerspaces are infinitely customizable. If your school is just getting started, low-tech materials may be plenty. As your makerspace efforts develop, adding in AV solutions like interactive displays, robotics kits, document cameras and supporting furniture can take it to new heights.

Sound Masking Offers a Privacy and Productivity Booster

Sound Masking Offers a Privacy and Productivity Booster

In most workplaces, controlling sound is a challenge – but a challenge worth taking on for facility managers. Part of the difficulty is the expense involved with acoustic materials. Creating sound barriers and outfitted surfaces with acoustic material is costly and may require significant alterations to the space.

Sound masking technology is an alternative to sound blocking or absorbing materials. It works by blanketing areas with background sound – an invisible fence through which private conversations and distracting noise cannot pass.

The Modern Office is Full of Noise Distractions

Sound masking solutions are effective in a variety of places, but they’re most often found in office buildings. That may be due, in part, to how distracting the modern workplace is.
Research developed by UC Irvine found that the typical office worker is interrupted every 11 minutes by noise. And for some workers, it takes more than 20 minutes to get back up to the same working speed.

These interruptions can damage your company’s bottom line, even if they appear harmless in isolation. It’s different for every employee, but the average worker is losing around 5 percent of their day to audio-based distraction. The more employees your company has, the more those productivity losses add up. Adding a sound masking solution to your facilities may save a lot of time in lost man hours.

Speech Privacy is a Major Concern for Employees and Companies, but it’s Difficult to Find

The other sound-related challenge facing many workplaces is speech privacy. With open offices the standard for professional work, it’s nearly impossible to find a place where private conversation can be had. This isn’t a trivial issue, either, as worker surveys like the University of Sydney’s shows. More than half of the surveyed cubicle and open office workers stated that they were dissatisfied with the speech privacy in their workplace. Only professionals with a private office had a positive impression of their workplace’s speech privacy.

In professional settings, it’s best to keep private conversations private. Many of these conversations, if overheard, could give HR migraines. More importantly, conversations between employees may include sensitive information that your company is legally required to protect. If your organization is regulated or supported by any of the following entities:

  • HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)
  • GLBA (Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act)
  • HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey)
  • FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)

Then it’s of paramount importance that employees have the comfort and privacy they need to exchange critical information.

Sound Masking Technology Can Create a Comfortable Audio Environment

Creating that comfortable, private space for workers is possible with sound masking technology. Sound masking solutions are simple in design, with steady audio piped through a series of emitters installed throughout the building. These emitters are essentially speakers that can output white noise or pink noise. For most applications, noise that resembles rushing water or wind is the preferred option. However, sound masking systems can be tied to your facility’s larger audio system, so it can be used to output music or deliver announcements.

The primary goal of sound masking is to make human speech unintelligible over shorter distances. In other words, if a conversation would normally be heard 60 feet away, sound masking may reduce that distance down to 15 feet. Every system can be calibrated for a different “radius of distraction,” or the distance at which human speech can no longer be picked up.

Ideally, emitters are evenly distributed throughout the floor and in high enough volume to ensure 100 percent coverage. Complete coverage is important because it will interfere with how uniform the system sounds. And if the sound masking solution itself becomes a distraction, that defeats the purpose.

The Difference Between Direct and Indirect Sound Masking

There are numerous sound masking solutions on the market, and most of them can be placed in one of two categories – direct and indirect sound masking. What’s the difference?

  • Direct-field systems – With a direct masking solution, the emitters are installed in the ceiling itself and broadcast the audio directly into the workspace. The primary benefit of direct-field solutions is that they can be easily zoned. Facility managers can set the level of audio masking in different spaces, which allows for a custom radius of distraction.
  • Indirect systems – An indirect solution places the speakers above the ceiling tiles, in the building’s “plenum” where cabling conduit and HVAC components lie. This means the emitters remain invisible, so workers cannot pinpoint where the masking audio is coming from. This can help ensure the system does not become a distraction.

During operation, indirect systems cast the audio upwards, toward the ceiling deck. It then reflects and diffuses through the ceiling and into the workspace. The diffuse nature of indirect audio masking makes it easier to create the uniform sound that installers are going for.

Where Can Sound Masking Solutions Help?

While sound masking technology is an ideal fit for any office space, there are plenty of other applications. They include:

  • Meeting rooms and huddle rooms
  • Research laboratories and engineering labs
  • Educational settings, such as libraries and testing rooms
  • Hotel reception areas
  • Spas
  • Hospital and clinic patient areas
  • Banks
  • Call centers
  • Courtrooms and high security facilities
  • Airports
  • Churches

Certified AV Integrators Can Help Design and Install Sound Masking Solutions

While sound masking technology is simple from a hardware standpoint, installing it isn’t as simple. A single project may involve installing dozens of emitters in the ceiling – or above it. Proper emitter spacing and configuration is essential, too, so installation is best handled by a trained hand.

Certified AV integrators have the expert personnel on hand to oversee sound masking system design and installation. With a certified integrator’s assistance, your organization will have no trouble identifying what features to look for in a solution, and which system comes with those features. An AV integrator can also layout the system, install it, and provide ongoing support, ensuring it remains viable for years after installation.

How Clevertouch is Improving Communication to Keep Schools Safer

How Clevertouch is Improving Communication to Keep Schools Safer

In many schools, education time can turn into an emergency in moments. During those moments, delivering critical information to classrooms and common areas is paramount. With prompt alerts, teachers and students can respond immediately when seconds count.

Instant, effective communication is what AV solutions are designed for, so they’re well-suited for school safety. One such solution is the Clevertouch, an interactive display that can support both education and an emergency response.

Clevertouch Displays Can Double as Digital Signage in Schools

The Clevertouch can be integrated into any school’s digital signage network with ease. Once it is, it can be used to deliver visual alerts in combination with other emergency alert technologies.

These alerts can be triggered by the front office, through wall switches installed throughout the school, or through a worn device that teachers carry with them. No matter how the alert is triggered, though, the response is the same. Once an emergency alert is triggered, messaging is instantly sent to every display attached to the school’s signage network, including any Clevertouch panels being used.

This emergency messaging can describe the nature of the emergency and provide information on what to do next. If digital signage and Clevertouch panels have a large presence in the building, it will be easier to alert everyone at once.

Four Ways the Clevertouch Delivers More Effective Emergency Alerts

AV solutions are purpose-built to deliver faster and more effective communications. This includes how emergency communications are delivered. Specifically, here’s four ways Clevertouch can improve how your students, teachers and administrators respond to an emergency:

  • Instant alerting – While the primary function of a Clevertouch is to deliver compelling lesson content, it can double as full-featured digital signage when needed. This means that, like digital signage, the Clevertouch can be used to deliver emergency alerts instantly. This is the case no matter what users are doing with the Clevertouch on their end. There’s no need to keep an application running on the display to allow for messaging capabilities either. With a single button press at the front office or through a security officer’s device, alerts can be sent to every networked Clevertouch in the building.

They’re also sent with priority, so no matter what the Clevertouch is being used for, the message will appear front and center, on top of everything else.

  • Preprogrammed or customized messaging – Emergency alerts can consist of preprogrammed messaging or quickly customized to provide more in-depth instructions. For example, your school could put together a tornado alert that details where students and teachers should go to keep themselves safe. Other alerts may instruct teachers to lock classroom doors or evacuate at predetermined points.

If the emergency develops over time, additional customized alerts can be sent to classrooms to update staff on the situation.

  • Wayfinding with alerts – The Clevertouch can include graphics with each alert, which expands on what information the alert can deliver. One example of this is including maps with each alert, showing people where to go for safety. With these displayed throughout the building, it’s easier to maintain order during a drill or evacuation.

Digital displays like the Clevertouch are far brighter and far more vivid than print, so they’re easier for people to read quickly. That visibility advantage can be decisive when seconds matter.

  • Alert color coding – With greater layout and color control, the Clevertouch can be used with various color codes to keep K-12 schools safer. Color codes can be associated with different emergencies, and to differentiate between drills and active situations. This gives staff an idea of what to do even if they can’t read the words on the screen. Again, this could be important when time is the priority.

Combine the Clevertouch with Other AV Technology to Enhance School Safety Further

The Clevertouch is a valuable safety and security tool, but it’s not the only one that certified AV integrators offer. In addition to digital signage, an integrator can also set up the following for your school:

  • Zoned audio and PA solutions – Enhanced audio solutions are the “A” side of AV, and better sound drives better understanding. With high-quality audio delivery, your front office can communicate with individual rooms clearly.

Some current generation audio solutions, like those offered by Audio Enhancement and FrontRow, also allow for two-way communication between the classroom and office. They can also be used to deliver audio to certain zones, so targeted instructions can be given to teachers and staff.

  • E-mail and text alerts – An AV integrator can also set up e-mail and text alerts that are tied to the school’s emergency alert system. These alerts can be sent to students, teachers, administrators and even parents, providing instant awareness of a developing situation.
  • Emergency lighting – AV integrators also know how to source, position and install lighting, including emergency lighting. Strobes, for example, are a common choice with fire and weather drills and provide visual reinforcement. Emergency lighting can also be color-matched to any color codes that a school uses during an emergency.

The Clevertouch Instant Communication Features Can Help Keep Students and Staff Safer

AV solutions are a proven method of improving safety in all types of venues, including K-12 schools. Their ability to deliver high-impact communications, reliably and versatilely is what makes this possible. And that’s also true of the Clevertouch, which can act as an in-classroom extension of any school’s emergency alert system.