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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.

One of the first classrooms at Mater Dei to receive major AV enhancements. Note the MLC 206 AAP mounted on the wall to the right of the whiteboard.

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 occurring 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.

Simple Operation

The Extron MLC 206 AAP MediaLink
Controller provides control of the projector,
VCR, and DVD player in Mater Dei's

The foundation of the MediaLink System is the Extron MLC 206 MediaLink Controller. Engineered to easily integrate into one-projector environments, the MLC 206 standardizes the control interface, effectively becoming an extended remote control unit. In Mater Dei's classrooms, the MLC 206 is mounted on the front wall, about five feet high, just to the right of the white board. This allows a teacher to control the AV system without obstructing the students' view.

The MLC 206 is equipped with six input selection buttons — suitable for a small classroom where six sources or less would normally be used. Three are designated for video sources — DVD, VCR, and auxiliary video, such as a document camera. The other three are for selecting computer inputs.

At Mater Dei, the MLC 206 is mounted within a five-gang wall plate that features an opening to accommodate up to four single space AAP - Architectural Adapter Plates. In this case, the opening is populated with two double space IR Control Modules: the Extron IRCM-VCR, which provides control of such basic VCR features as rewind, play, forward, pause, and stop; and the Extron IRCM-DVD, which provides control of a DVD player's basic features such as previous, play, next, pause, and stop. These IR Control Modules are yet another step forward in centralizing control of the AV System's sources.

System Access

Equipment cabinets were
constructed and placed in
each room to secure and
hide all AV components.

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.

AV racks occupy a small
portion of the equipment
cabinets, leaving room for
shelves, storage, and
additional modifications.

Combined with the Extron MLC 206 AAP, the Extron MLS 506MA was chosen as an appropriate fit for the one-projector classrooms of Mater Dei. With six inputs and one output, it is more than sufficient for a typical classroom. As a multi-format active switcher, the MLS 506MA is flexible enough to handle learning materials from a diverse range of sources. In the Mater Dei classrooms, composite video signals from the DVD player, VCR, and wall plate are fed into the other three inputs of the MLS 506MA, while computer-video and audio signals are linked to the last three inputs. The MLS 506MA also comes with an integrated 30-watt, mono amplifier that can drive a 4 or 8 ohm speaker load or a 70 volt distributed audio system. This ensures even and consistent sound distribution throughout a room.

Ceiling Speakers

One of the first tasks the installation crew tackled was prepping the ceiling for a distributed sound speaker system. Ceiling tiles were removed, cut, and fitted for each speaker. Six two-way speakers were selected for their compatibility with the MLS 506MA's integrated amplifier. The line of discreetly positioned speakers assume a clean, flush, and streamlined appearance that evenly disperse sound throughout each of Mater Dei's classrooms.

NEC VT-540 Projector

Next, each room was outfitted with a light and compact NEC VT-540 LCD projector with a native XGA (1024 x 768) resolution. Instructors at Mater Dei use laptop computers, which are optimized with an XGA resolution, for many of their lessons. The VT-540 is rated with an output of 1000 ANSI lumens. In classrooms like those of Mater Dei, it is important that the images be bright enough to see from a distance, without having to excessively dim the lights. The 1000 lumen VT-540 does an exceptional job of projecting bright and vivid images in the classrooms, even with ambient light present.

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.

Draper Screen

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 AAP 102 two-gang size
mounting frame features an
opening to accommodate
video, audio, network, and
power pass-through

Like the earlier installation, the MLC 206 is equipped with the IRCM-VCR and IRCM-DVD for control of the classroom's VCR and DVD player. The AAP 102 underwent some slight revisions from the previous installation. While it still includes a computer-video with audio pass-through AAP at the top of the wall plate, an RCA to RCA pass-through AAP was added so teachers can easily connect external video and audio sources. Below that is an Extron AC Net AAP, which combines an unswitched AC outlet to power a laptop or other external device, and a configurable connection point for a phone or network connection. Dhuyvetter believes that having each room equipped with mobile podiums makes it even easier for teachers to plug in, set up their laptops, and carry out their lessons.

Replicating the other classrooms, the WP 170 wall plate, featuring computer-video with audio and composite video with audio pass-through connections, is mounted on the front wall, just below the whiteboard. However, the WP 150 wall plate with computer-video/audio pass-through connection is conspicuously absent from the new complex. Originally intended for students to plug in their own laptops and display presentations, Dhuyvetter attributes its exclusion to a lack of space and use. "These new classrooms are a little smaller and the desks are a little closer to that side of the wall, so there isn't much room to set up a laptop," he said. "We have sort of abandoned the idea of students bringing laptops to the classroom, at least for another three to five years."

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.

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