Fiber on Campus Gives Instructors Full Control

When the University of Akron went to a base-band fiber optics system, using Fiber Options' LearningLink units to connect audio and video sources to fiber, they got more than they expected. While having a state-of-the-art distance learning network -- with the ability to send and receive the highest quality signals to and from classrooms -- is undoubtedly nice, having your instructors rethink the way they teach is something that is all too uncommon.

But that's exactly what happened after the university implemented their new media distribution system. "If a professor d'es a better job, students have richer experiences in the classroom," says Tom Bennett, director of audio/visual services at Akron. Because the university has invested in this kind of a high-tech program, Bennett feels that cognizance of teaching technology has gone up significantly.

Instructors are now becoming interested in new teaching technology. Setting up this new system gave them a perfect opportunity to look at what kinds of tools are available for teaching, which has caused them to rethink their methodology.

"Anytime teachers take a look at the way they teach," says Bennett, "they will do a better job." And, freshening up learning materials and presentation necessarily follows from rethinking methods. In short, instructors seem to have adapted to the new system quite nicely, and are also taking advantage of its many time-saving techniques.

Time-Saving Control

How d'es the system save instructors' time? By allowing them to focus on teaching instead of running an assemblage of hardware they never seem to become familiar with. Using an AMX Synergy media retrieval system, instructors have complete control of media in the palm of their hand, using an infrared remote. This means they can pre-plan media for lectures, without worrying about hardware hassles while standing in front of a classroom.

"In the past, to show two videotapes, for example," says Bennett, "you had to walk to the player, push stop, push eject, switch the tapes, press play and hope the new tape was queued up correctly," all while putting the lecture on hold. And God forbid something went wrong with the equipment. Now, instructors simply choose from an onscreen menu and control all the action using their hand-held remote (classrooms also have a backup hardwired remote). And, they have a wider range of tools in their classroom than ever before: satellite, PC, telephone, video and audio, all under their full control.

Many professors want just the tools, not an "equipment bunker," comments Bennett. To meet that desire, there is now a minimal amount of equipment in the classrooms, with a projector hung on the wall, inputs for instructors' computer equipment, and monitors. With this minimalist approach, the university has also realized another side benefit of the new system: less theft. With all of the media players, media titles and controls centralized in one location, classroom theft becomes a thing of the past.

Why Fiber?

Going to a fiber system was an easy choice, according to Bennett. "With fiber, you get the highest quality signals to the classroom and back from the classroom," he says, which lets them send signals out live for distance learning classes. Since they planned to be utilizing live video and audio quite extensively, fiber cabling was, for them, an obvious choice.

When they first installed the system, however, they ran into some unexpected roadblocks. The crucial link between the fiber cabling and media distribution system wasn't holding up. "That was 3:30 in the afternoon," says Bennett, who remembers the problems quite vividly. "The installation wasn't working right and the quality was unacceptable." Nonetheless, the very next morning at 8:30, Fiber Options (Bohemia, N.Y.) had already sent an engineer to the university who stayed there all day until everything was ironed out. "That's good support," notes Bennett. And who can argue?

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This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.