Large-Screen Projectors Help Rural University Deliver Courseware

To most observers, Washington State University is better known for its agricultural research than its high-tech classrooms. But that may not be the case much longer. Since June of 1994, the univer-sity, located in the rural town of Pullman, has made a concerted effort to equip both faculty and students with the latest video projection equipment. Currently, WSU boasts just under 30 large-screen CRT projectors, all of which are suspended from wall or ceiling mounts in classrooms, according to J'e Watson, assistant director for Instructional Support Services in Information Technology. Watson says the projectors are used for direct instructional support, including the ability to display video, computer and multimedia applications. In the future, the university plans to link the projectors and other presentation devices with a campus-wide video network. Instructors could then distribute both analog and digital educational information to all classrooms from a central location. The need to equip classrooms with projectors became evident when university officials took a look at how many videos and films were being shown each year -- about 6,000 total. An Intelligent System "We needed to standardize the university on an intelligent device so the central video network could communicate with the individual devices," Watson recalls. The push toward standardization was also prompted by the fact that WSU is a rural campus with classrooms spread across 35 buildings. Before acquiring the new projectors, teachers had to request the appropriate equipment, which would then be rolled out on carts by one of 60 student employees -- weather permitting. Permanently installing the units in the classrooms had added benefits for faculty. Aside from having equipment at their fingertips, instructors no longer had to learn how to use several different brands of projectors. Faculty Hold "Shoot Off" To ensure they were purchasing top-of-the-line equipment, the university held a "shoot off." Projectors from several major companies were assembled side by side in a large classroom, allowing faculty members to compare image quality and other features. They ultimately settled on two projectors from the same firm: the MultiSync 9PG Plus and the 6PG Plus, made by NEC Technologies in Wood Dale, Ill. Both devices are designed for unattended operation as well as for traditional settings. "The image quality and light output were the most important things the faculty mentioned, and what the majority agreed upon," Watson says, explaining the decision to purchase NEC products. Officials also took into account the upgradability of the units. "When we put a piece of equipment up in the ceiling, we don't want to have to go back and replace it in the near future," Watson stresses. "WSU wanted something that would last as long as possible." Reliability is Key Watson was pleased to learn that the NEC projectors were extremely adaptable and reliable. Both the MultiSync 6PG Plus and 9PG Plus project images from a VCR, Mac, PC and workstation, videodisc or camera. By using a hand-held remote, instructors can control the machine from anywhere in the room. The projectors can turn themselves on and off, change sources on their own, and select the days of the week they should operate. They also constantly perform self-diagnosis and display their status on a rear panel. In addition, the 9PG Plus employs NEC's exclusive AccuPoint digital convergence memory, which allows one to switch back and forth between graphics and video sources while retaining nearly 100% convergence accuracy. (AccuPoint is optional on the 6PG plus.) This feature, Watson says, comes in handy for chemistry, physics and veterinary classes plus other subjects where preserving detail in the projected image is crucial. Although the projectors have not been in use for long, Watson reports that the reactions from students and faculty are very positive. "The early indications are that students are receiving the information and finding it presented in a very friendly format."

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.