Media Distribution System Transforms College Classrooms
Located on 600 acres in Pullman, Washington State University has 1,100 faculty and 17,000 students. Nearly a century after its founding in 1890, Tom Mueller, director of Information Technology at WSU, pushed hard to reinvent the school's technology infrastructure.
Mueller and his colleagues wanted the entire telephone, television and computer systems replaced and reconnected. They also wanted to invest in media management technology so that VCRs and other equipment would no longer need to be wheeled from one classroom or building to another.
It was a huge vision that required, among other things, rewiring every building. Dubbed the "CIR Project" for Communications Infrastructure Renewal Project, work started in 1989 and was completed in 1995.
Kathy Beerman, associate professor of food science and nutrition, was a pioneer in instructional technology and helped her colleagues see the potential of using multimedia sources to teach in university classrooms.
WSUnet, as the network is now called, includes capacity for high-speed voice, video and data transmission to every classroom on campus. Future plans include installing satellite dishes, videoconferencing connections and ISDN for fast downloads from any source, including the Internet. SmartSystem, for management and control of media distribution from Dukane Corp. (St. Charles, Ill.), is key to WSUnet and will link to 145 classrooms in 32 of WSU's buildings before 1999.
When workers completed renovation of Washington State University's Instructional Support Services Department in May 1996, Rich Traulsen and his colleagues will enjoy a bright and airy section on the main floor of the uruversity's Holland Library. Traulsen is video prQduction services supervisor in the department.
Its first operational semester was fall of 1995. "In that first semester, we needed to learn SmartSystem's capabilities and advantages," says Rich Traulsen, a supervisor in Instructional Support Services. "And we had to train our instructors how to use it."
After Traulsen himself was trained by Brent Meldrum, Dukane's project manager for the WSU installation, he taught 50 WSU instructors before the 1996 spring semester. "Teaching them was straightforward and simple," says Traulsen. "SmartSystem is easy to learn and operate. It's really phenomenal... it integrates media like videodisc, cable TV, satellite and still video floppies and then delivers this media to instructors' rooms when they want it."
Before SmartSystem, Traulsen and his army of 60 student assistants would cart media hardware to and from classrooms and buildings. SmartSystem has eliminated most of that already, and once it is connected throughout WSU, all carting will disappear.
Scheduling Media to Run
A section on the main floor of the university's Holland Library was recently reconstructed just for Instructional Support Services' needs. The area includes the Video Control Room (where SmartSystem media hardware are housed and scheduling is coordinated), offices, a conference room, a room to repair computers and other equipment, and a room that houses equipment for instructors and students to borrow.
The Video Control Room is only partially filled because it currently serves only eight rooms in Todd Hall. Now housed are 12 VCRs, two videodisc players, one CD-i player, one still video floppy disc player and 16 three-inch monitors to let the control room operator see what's playing where. The system also sends the cable TV signals of programs such as Court TV, the Bloomberg Information Channel and CNN to Todd Hall.
Dwayne Woolsey, a program scheduler in Washington State University's Video Control Room, stands amid racks of equipment as he places a video disk into a player. The equipment is controlled by SmartSystem from Dukane Corporation and delivers videotape, laser disk, interactive compact disk and cable television images to many of the university's classrooms.
"SmartSystem is easy," says Dwayne Woolsey, who operates it. "Even if I accidentally schedule a piece of equipment for more than one class at the same time, the software tells me. It only took me a week to feel comfortable with it."
Faculty Use Is Growing
Holland Library has an extensive collection of media in several formats available for loan. The instructor simply borrows material from the library, delivers it to the Video Control Room and tells Woolsey when and in what room it should be shown. Woolsey then keys the information into the SmartSystem software.
As faculty members become more familiar with the system, they're scheduling more time to use it in their classrooms, says J'e Watson, WSU's assistant director of Information Technology. "All we need to do," he says, "is show the faculty how SmartSystem works. It's flexible and it's fast."
WSU's SmartSystem can also be expanded. The use of fiber optic cable allows many channels to offer "video on demand" so students can, for example, watch a professor's lecture at a time convenient for them or review a specific lecture repeatedly, if necessary.
"We've caused a lot of disruption," says IT director Mueller. "But some of our severest critics have become our most enthusiastic advocates. As more faculty successfully use SmartSystem and the entire network, there will be many others who will accept it. We know they'll use it more and more. "We're emphasizing learning and talking about new ways to do that. The system we have in place will only grow from here."
This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.