Proactive Efforts Minimize Lost Class Time at Westminster

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Nobody can accurately predict when a piece of technology will fail next, but it's a sure bet that at some point it will. Westminster's Audio Visual staff is taking multiple measures to anticipate such issues and correct them before they can disrupt teaching and learning at the college. By monitoring equipment, researching technology, and training patrons, AV is preventing a multitude of potential problems before they occur.

Once a class ends and the room empties, the work of supporting the technology that lives there begins. "Every student staff member completes what we call Smart Shutdowns, a series of processes completed weekly that ensure that the equipment in all of Westminster's 50-plus smart classrooms is functioning correctly," said Jake Brown, Classroom Technical Support Manager. "If one of our team members finds a problem during these systematic checks, we can jump on it immediately and hopefully get it corrected prior to the next use of that room. We do everything we can to avoid technology down-time, because that can mean lost class-time, and that hurts everyone."

On top of smart shutdowns, other specifically trained tech support workers complete higher-level Tech Manager Shutdowns twice per semester. This is extensive process includes a battery of system analysis checks for every piece of equipment in each smart classroom to ensure that all are functioning at their highest capacity. This portion of AV's tech team also wipes down all equipment and cabinetry surfaces, vacuums away harmful dust, and cleans any stubborn surfaces with safe, non-toxic chemical solutions. Any issues are noted and again addressed as soon as possible.

"We know how vital time in the classroom is for faculty and students. The last thing we want to happen is for a room to be out of commission," said Instructional Media Technician Andy Borts. "Doing these shutdowns allows us to be proactive, not reactive, which keeps classes running with minimal down time." 

In addition to examining installed classroom equipment, all equipment circulated out of the main AV office also undergoes a series of checks before leaving the department. Specific components, such as batteries, media cards, and chargeable amplifiers are given special attention to ensure that all materials are charged, wiped of data, and ready to go. Erin Sullivan, Operations and Equipment Circulation Manager, notes the importance of checking equipment before it is circulated.

"Nobody wants to worry about if the equipment they are getting will work, they just want to use it. We have a number of checklists for all of our equipment, and always give the equipment one additional look over before it leaves the department," said Sullivan. "We try our best to make sure every piece of equipment is in its best possible shape and ready to go for our patrons so that they can focus on using it with ease and convenience."

This proactive mindset also goes beyond equipment currently owned by the college, through a number of in-depth research projects targeting potential changes to existing technology and possible replacements, as well as future applications.

"Our entire staff is involved with ongoing research projects involving equipment and software," said Brad Steward, Operations and Research & Development Manager. "We research mainly to be prepared for the future. If something breaks down or becomes obsolete, we have to know how to replace it or bring it back much more quickly."

"Anything we can do to make a patron's technology experience better, we want to do it," said Blake Dulick, AV Support Technician. "It's why we offer a number of training opportunities to users. We have online videos and resources, and offer group and one-on-one sessions as well. Training patrons before they use the equipment is important because it prevents common problems that they might not even consider had they not been trained. We can show them the specifics and proper use of the equipment, and leave them much more confident about it, even if they've never used something like it before."

"It's all about helping people accomplish what they want to accomplish, without letting the tools get in their way," added Lead AV Support Tech Stephen Bendig. "If they're successful and have a good experience, we know they'll keep using it and perhaps take it a little further the next time. In the end, everyone wins."

For more information, contact AV Services at (724) 946-7188 or avstaff@westminster.edu

Contributed by Emily Moorhead, AV Public Relations Manager


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Tech staff take Westminster technology through a battery of tests.




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Some of the weekly checks that all AV staff perform.