The Mater Dei Paradigm
PART 1: Taking Education & Technology to a New, Affordable Level
This application profile covers Phase I and II of the AV installation at Mater Dei High School, one of the largest Catholic high schools in the United States. To read about Phase III and IV, please see PART 2
Located in Santa Ana, California, Mater Dei High School is the largest Catholic high school west of Chicago. Since its inception, Mater Dei has consistently raised the bar on educational standards by expanding their curriculum and implementing new methods and technologies to enhance the learning process. It's no wonder the school has gained an unrivaled reputation for innovation and leadership, effectively becoming a model for others to follow.
The education market is a fast-growing segment of the AV industry. As new developments in teaching methods rely on more visual aides via computers and video, demand for higher performance AV equipment increases. Unfortunately, budgetary restraints often compromises the quality, usability, reliability, and effectiveness of AV technology in the classroom. Still, some institutions are leading the way and setting a precedent. In today's high-tech world, the writing is on the wall—AV is no longer a luxury; it's a necessity.
Phase I: Validating the Need
Greg Dhuyvetter, Assistant Principal of Faculty Services and Technology at Mater Dei, has been instrumental in bringing more high-end electronic media tools to the school. As a teacher, Dhuyvetter recognized changes occurr ing in instructional methods, and adopted a more visual approach in his lessons.
Teaching methods, just like presentation methods in the business world, are requiring many more visuals and access to a lot of different types of media to be effective.
"Teaching methods are now requiring many more visuals and access to a lot of different types of media in order to be effective," he said.
After spending a good portion of the '90s experimenting with various ways to incorporate video, computers, and the Internet into the school's classrooms, Dhuyvetter began to envision the concept of a full-time, permanent AV solution. In 2000, a state-of-the-art multimedia lab was built to integrate new technology. The lab included a room projector and 32 networked laptops. Eight other classrooms were also expanded with integrated AV systems and programmable computer remote controls.
Although it seemed as if Dhuyvetter's dream was up and running, there were still a few issues to deal with. One of the biggest obstacles was that there was no easy way to centrally control multiple incoming AV sources. This, of course, caused considerable difficulties when it came to operating the system.
The Extron MediaLink® System
At around the same time Mater Dei was planning to renovate 10 more classrooms and broaden its technology scope, Extron was in the process of developing the new MediaLink System. Extron's President, Andrew C. Edwards, a member of Mater Dei's Technology Committee, identified a correlation between the school's needs and the potential behind the MediaLink. For the first time since 1994 when he created the System 4LD, Edwards returned to his first love — product development — with the intention of expanding on the MediaLink's range and fulfilling Mater Dei's needs.
Along with MediaLink Product Development Manager Osbaldo Rodriguez, Edwards' first order of business was to optimize the MediaLink System to overcome hurdles that schools like Mater Dei face when they implement AV equipment into their classrooms. Several features, such as control options and configurable inputs, were added specifically to meet the requirements of schools, conference rooms, and other educational environments. Above all, the features and designs were tailored to keep total system costs low and affordable.
Consisting of a family of easy-to-use and inexpensive products that work together to connect and control AV equipment in any one-projector environment, the MediaLink System was a perfect fit for Mater Dei. Unlike the prior AV systems installed at Mater Dei, the MediaLink family of products is built to streamline operations and simplify control by integrating audio, video, and computer-video sources into a centralized, easy-to-use AV system.
"It's almost as if MediaLink was invented for our specific needs," Dhuyvetter said. "It is able to perform everything that I want a teacher to be able to do in the room. I feel MediaLink is more or less an extension of what I had hoped to accomplish with these classrooms."
Speakers, projectors, and screens are what bring the MediaLink System to life.
The Extron MLC 206 MediaLink Controller, a mountable control interface, is the foundation of the MediaLink System.
Three connection points in each classroom allow teachers and/or students to plug sources into the system. On the front wall, below the white board is the Extron WP 170 wall plate provides convenient way to hook up a laptop, as well as additional composite video sources such as a document camera or other device.
To the left of the white board, mounted on the side of the equipment cabinet, is the Extron AAP 102, a two-gang size wall plate populated with one computer-video with audio pass-through AAP, one blank AAP, and a double-space RJ-45 pass-through AAP for connection to the school's computer network.
"The key benefit for the connection on the side of the cabinet is that a teacher can put his or her laptop on a table or filing cabinet next to the cabinet," Dhuyvetter explained. "This is particularly important for those teachers who leave their computers on all day to report attendance over the school network. The machine is available, but not intrusive, and there are no long cords to trip over."
The third connection is along the longer adjacent wall. Here, the Extron WP 150 wall plate provides computer-video with audio pass-through. Dhuyvetter describes this point as "a great place for a student to run a computer presentation."
Inside the Equipment Cabinet
To ensure a secure, yet serviceable installation, a Middle Atlantic BRK16 rack resides inside the equipment cabinet, which is located inconspicuously at the front of each classroom. Each rack was pre-assembled and customized to accommodate the system's standard sized DVD and VCR players, as well as the Extron MLS 506MA MediaLink Switcher. There is plenty of space available in the rack to provide for future system expansions.
In the Mater Dei classrooms, the projector is primarily controlled by the Extron MLC 206. Connected to the projector's serial port with Extron Plenum Comm-Link cable, the MLC 206 is able to send RS-232 commands to the projector for power and input selection. The MLC 206 also comes with its own IR remote control, the Extron MLA-Remote. With a range of 30 feet, the MLA-Remote provides remote control of the MLC 206's basic functions, as well as those for a VCR and DVD player.
A manually operated, 6-foot, diagonal Draper Luma projection screen is mounted in each classroom. Size and placement are important factors to consider when it comes to maximizing the potential of the screen. For the Mater Dei classrooms, the 6-foot screen offers an appropriate height and width ratio to accommodate the student viewing area. A fiberglass matte white surface with a screen gain of 1.0 was selected for diffusing projected light so the image can be seen from virtually any angle. Additionally, the screen surface reflects the projected image evenly while compensating for the ambient light present in the classrooms.
Phase II: the Borchard Library and Academic Services Complex
One year after the MediaLink System was successfully installed into 10 classrooms, Dhuyvetter called on Extron again. This time, he was looking to integrate AV systems into each and every classroom of the school's newest wing: the Borchard Library and Academic Services Complex, Mater Dei's largest addition to the school since it opened its doors in 1952. The complex contains a library, counseling center, 22 classrooms, 10 science labs, and two multimedia labs. The classrooms and labs would feature variations of the MediaLink Systems.
Mater Dei's Borchard Library and Academic Services Complex, the newest and largest addition to the school since it opened its doors in 1952.
For Phase II, alterations to the AV systems were based on observations that Dhuyvetter made during the previous school year. For example, instead of mounting the MLC 206 AAP on the wall in front of the room, the assistant principal determined that it was much more practical to mount it on the side of the equipment cabinet, just above the AAP 102. "In the other classrooms, teachers would plug their laptops into the connection point on the cabinet, and either had to use the wireless remote or walk to the other side of the room to control the equipment," Dhuyvetter said. "In these new rooms, everything is in one central location."
The MLC 206 AAP mirrors the configuration of the previous rooms as the six input selection buttons are identically labeled. Three are designated for composite video sources — DVD, VCR, and auxiliary video — and three are allotted for computer-video sources.
Control and Connectivity
The WP 150 Wall Plate with Computer-Video and PC Audio Connectors.
The WP 170 Wall Plate with Computer-Video, PC Audio, Composite Video, and Stereo Audio Connectors.
The Extender WM Wall-Mounted VGA-QXGA Line Driver with Audio.
In the two multimedia labs and 10 science labs, there is no WP 170 or WP 150. Instead, because of their larger size and distance between sources, these rooms are equipped with an Extron Extender WM, a line driver that sends high resolution, computer-video signals up to 250 feet.
Dhuyvetter sees the multimedia labs as integral steps forward in student/teacher interaction with the AV equipment. "We wanted to give students access to high level computers where they could work cooperatively on projects for a limited amount of time," he said. "An English or Social Studies class can come into the multimedia lab and use the computers with Internet access, video capture, scanning, and all the other things that are available. Then students can create presentations and burn them onto a disc. That presentation can be used in either the multimedia lab, or more likely, in the classroom where the teacher can show it from his or her laptop. As a result, students are learning basic computer skills in the lab, as well as presenting their assignments."
Projector and Screen Modifications
Because of their larger size, each room is modified with a larger, 8-foot diagonal Draper Luma projection screen and an NEC VT-650 LCD projector. Like the VT-540, the VT-650 includes a native XGA (1024 x 768) resolution, maintaining compatibility with the teachers' laptops. The VT-650 projects at 1500 ANSI lumens instead of 1000. With its increased light output, the VT-650 meets the requirements of the larger screens in the classrooms while maintaining image quality. Due to the larger screen and brighter projector, the distance between the two was extended between 12 and 16 feet.
Everything else from the cabinet to the speakers to the cable used is equivalent to the previous installation. The MLS 506MA is again used to switch the projected image between the VCR, DVD player, laptops, and other miscellaneous sources.