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Washington University Enhances Learning – Not Obstructs It

Education September 4, 2014

Take a stroll through the 102,000-square-foot Olin School of Business at Washington University and you’ll see students using state-of-the-art technology everywhere. Literally everywhere – from the central forum to the group study rooms, and the auditorium to the classrooms.

The first level of the building is home to several tiered classrooms, a 300-seat auditorium and the Forum. The Forum is an amphitheater-like meeting space that can be used for small gatherings or all-school presentations – complete with a projection system and audiovisual capabilities.

The curved grand central staircase winds up to the second floor where the Weston Career Center is housed – all recently updated with new AV technology. In addition to two-tiered classrooms, the second level is home to a "flat" classroom that can be configured for multiple functions from lecture to group study to conference or receptions.

Digital signage lines the hallways and café areas with interactive maps, news and events. Over 30 huddle rooms are available for checkout, either on the spot using a touchpad located outside of each room, or remotely using the university scheduling system. Send classmates an invitation and conference them in remotely via video, audio or both.

An active learning lab is available to emphasize the “flipped” classroom model, filled with interactive whiteboards, monitors, tables with laptop hookups, video cameras, microphones and speakers – all for student/professor collaboration.

Clearly Washington University has invested a lot of time and money into technology. But why?

The most valuable resource at a school or university is in-time class with a tenured professor. That’s it, says Tony Balsamo, Director of Information Services. “The scarcest resource we have is that 50 minutes you get with that professor – that 50 minutes should not be spent fooling around with technology.

Associate Dean of Finance and Administration at Washington University, Brian Bannister, really reinforces the idea of technology as an enhancement – not a burden to be dealt with.

“The goal of any higher education institution is to provide students with the best possible classroom experience – and technology plays a huge role in the classroom as a communication vehicle,” explains Bannister. “Teaching is paramount to any university or higher education institution and anything we can do to more effectively communicate with our students and enhance the learning experience is very important.”

So. How did we do it?

Since 1994, AVI Systems has aided the Olin School of Business through ongoing technology renovations and upgrades in four buildings throughout the business campus: Knight Hall, Knight Center, Bauer Hall and Simon Hall. Each building is on a three-year technology cycle – so every three years, the technology is evaluated, tested and possibly upgraded and/or replaced.

From chalkboards and transparencies to scheduling portable computers and projectors on a cart - the university eventually grew to a point where they needed dedicated technology in each space. AVI began with projectors and control systems- sound and light control for dimming rooms. Professors could just walk in and push a button and adjust everything all at once. “This is important,” explains Bannister, “because the professors have to give off the air of authority – we can’t have our students knowing more about technology than our professors – so it had to be easy. And this was something Wash U could do with the help of AVI.”

With each new building upgrade, Olin has leapfrogged to another level of sophistication. “We really rely on AVI to help us understand not only what types of technology is out there, but what types of technology we specifically need. And AVI has really been there when we’ve needed them – whether it’s to fix a problem or to support an event with a higher-level audiovisual technician onsite.”

What's next?

Because of the three-year cycle, the staff is always in a state of supporting and enhancing new buildings, while providing updates to the other existing buildings on the business school campus.

“We have classrooms that are still on old analog technology and are very standalone,” explained Tony Balsamo, Director of Information Services. “We need AVI to help us take that old technology and integrate it with the classrooms in our new buildings – so that our experience across the four buildings we operate in is as consistent as possible.”

“We’re looking forward continuing our relationship with AVI – learning more about the technology in our existing rooms, how we use that technology – what things work better than others and how we can use technology to ultimately support teaching and learning.”

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