Set It and Forget It: Bedford County's In House Disc Duplication

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Victor Gosnell remembers what it used to be like whenever a compact disc duplication project would come up. In the early days--when Bedford County Public Schools in Virginia began buying computers that included CD burners--a teacher or media specialist would purchase a stack of discs at an office store and duplicate them one at a time. Or Gosnell, the director of technology & media for the district, would handle the job himself. They'd produce perhaps a couple hundred discs a year for special projects.

Eventually, Gosnell, who was recently named the technology director of the year for the state of Virginia, decided to invest in a low-end duplication machine that could handle up to 50 discs at a time. "In theory you could set it and forget it," he said. "In actuality, I would set [the machine] up to copy discs. There was a rejection tray which would kind of drop things onto the floor. I'd come back and have a dozen or more discs lying on floor. The mechanism would be jammed. And the job wouldn't be done. I also had issues with the labels being printed by the inkjet printer."

The concept was good, he recalled, but the duplication work became more of a headache than it was worth.

So slightly more than three years ago, he began looking for another solution. After a thorough search online and poring over articles covering the technology, he eventually came upon the devices offered by Rimage. What he read online was impressive, he said, so he decided to try the Amigo II. The investment, which would come out of unused budget at the end of the year, would be hefty--about $10,000. But, recalled Gosnell, "It was so easy to use and it did such a good job, I began thinking outside the box about how it could be used instructionally. Once we got it, we tried to think of ways to leverage that purchase and use it for multiple things."

Selling Disc Duplication District-wide
That meant going out and educating staff and faculty at 15 elementary schools, three middle schools, three high schools, and one science-technology school about the availability of the service. "We have put out to schools, 'If you have disc duplication that you need done, send us the disc,'" said Gosnell. "'Tell us what you want and we'll gladly make copies for you.'"

School cafeteria managers receive nutrition information and programs on CD. The maintenance department uses CDs to get out forms and other resources to their staff members. A social studies department has used the service to create learning materials for students. A number of elementary schools have taped their end-of-year programs or graduations and created video or PowerPoint presentations--"like a page in a yearbook"--to provide to the students.

The district produces a CD each year for every child in the elementary grades that includes study materials for Virginia's Standards of Learning tests. At the end of the year, the students are asked to return the CDs to be reused the next year. "We're getting about 90 percent of them back," said Gosnell. "Then we make up the difference of any that don't come back."

During a new teacher orientation workshop earlier this year, Gosnell videotaped a school safety person who spoke about safety in the schools and how to prevent accidents. Using video editing software from Pinnacle Systems, he created a movie that he burned to a DVD. The district has provided that to all schools to show during their weekly teacher meetings so that all teachers would have access to the material. "There was no easy way to do this prior to having this ability," Gosnell explained. "The speaker would have had to travel to all 22 sites or we would have had to figure out how to get all teachers to a central location, which is well nigh impossible."

Now, Gosnell estimates, the district is producing between 5,000 and 6,000 discs. Most of that work he's doing himself, aided by his secretary. He estimates the cost at about $0.80 per CD and slightly more per DVD. A maintenance agreement with Rimage is $1,841 per year.

How Disc Duplication Works
As Gosnell described it, the machine works like this: The Rimage device has four slots for CDs. He fills three of slots with blanks CDs--about 300 discs total. One slot is empty. As a carousel rotates around, a robotic arm with a laser guide moves vertically up and down. As it comes down, it picks up disc and drops it into a CD burner drawer. After the first one is recorded, the drawer opens, the robotic arm picks it up and drops it into the next one drawer, which is where thermal printing is done. While it's printing that first disc, the arm picks up and drops another disc for burning. "It's burning one and printing another simultaneously," said Gosnell. "It keeps going like that in rotation until it completes the job."

To set up the recording job, Gosnell accesses a program on his computer to create a graphical label for the disc being created, copies the files that are going onto the medium for duplication, clicks the number of discs he wants, and lets the equipment do its job. On those occasions when he has more than a single batch of 300 discs to burn, he loads the system before he leaves for the day, sets it to recording and loads it again in the morning. The job will be completed by afternoon.

"In a matter of two to three days," he said, "I can run a complete job of 800 discs, which is fine for me.... We're not as concerned about speed as about quality."

For normal operation Gosnell inserts 200 CDs and 100 DVDs. He can load a CD duplication job to be followed by a DVD job and another CD job. "You go in and tell it what you're going to put in each tray, put in the correct media, and it just works. You can mix and match without fiddling with it."

Besides the reliability of the system, he said he appreciates the thermal printing capability of the machine. "The labels are permanent. They don't smear. They're professional-looking. So this has really saved me a lot of time and effort, and we've ended up with a more professional look to them than anything we'd done before."

Operational Matters
Early on, when the equipment first arrived, Gosnell made a few phone calls to the company to get answers to questions about setup. Then a DVD burner stopped working. He called Rimage technical support, which sent a replacement burner over night. It was a matter of "undoing four screws, plugging in the new burner' screwing in four screws, and it was back working."

Gosnell has the machine sitting in a cabinet outside his office, behind the secretary's desk. "Can she hear it? Yes," he said. "Is it overwhelming? No. it's not as bad as some server racks we have."

Since most of the projects are system-wide, Gosnell said he currently considers the disc duplication an IT expense. As money becomes available, he buys discs. He said he's talked to other users who have looked at it as a fundraising scheme. In fact, he ran one job for a PTA within the district, which sold the discs, which he created free, for a dollar or two to the parents to raise money.

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About the author: Dian Schaffhauser covers high tech, business and higher education for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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