Western Carolina University’s Decades of Standardizing on Extron AV Pays Financial & Operational Dividends
I consider Extron a partner, not a vendor. They support us. They provide valuable training. Sure, Extron products work well - as they must. And they’re supportable, with rapid RMA turnaround. But most important to me is the respect and mutual trust built over many years.
Surrounded by the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains and recognized as a top adventure college, Western Carolina University - WCU - is renowned for its unrivaled educational experience. Located on a 600-acre main campus and several satellite campuses, WCU offers more than 115 undergraduate and 40 graduate programs.
A lean AV technical support team consisting of a manager, three full-time staff, a classroom support technician, and an occasional student worker, is responsible for 379 AV-equipped spaces and just under 2000 networked AV devices. With such a small team to design, install, and maintain such a large equipment pool, AV system standardization has been a priority for WCU since at least 2006. The drive to standardize led to WCU becoming almost exclusively an Extron campus. This has yielded tangible money-saving benefits, including seamless designs, better interoperability, more efficient maintenance, easier upgrades, and a consistent AV experience for users in every room. WCU’s state-of-the-art $110.5 million Apodaca Science Building, dedicated in 2021, continues their standardization on Extron AV technology.
Classroom AV Hardware Standardization Simplifies Operation and Maintenance
The AV system in most of WCU’s 110 standard classrooms is centered around an
IN1608 xi Switcher Enables Quick Transition to Remote Learning
WCU’s AV team says they were fortunate to have the IN1608 xi in every classroom when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pivot to remote learning. With extensive audio switching and mic ducking capabilities, the IN1608 xi in each classroom was used to provide the instructor microphone audio to the lectern PC. Document cameras were purchased and connected to the USB port of the lectern PC in each classroom and functioned well as classroom cameras to capture images of the instructor and the whiteboard at the front of the classroom. This created a quick, elegantly simple, yet functional lecture capture system that allows storage and streaming of classroom sessions via Panopto or Zoom applications installed on the house PCs.
GlobalViewer Enterprise and Inexpensive Observation Cameras Facilitate Remote Tech Support
Another innovation introduced by the WCU AV team that streamlines AV system maintenance consists of inexpensive IP network cameras in each classroom that provide a live remote view of the AV system displays and projection screens, as well as views of AV cable connections and touchpanel activity on the instructor lectern. To allay privacy concerns, the cameras are carefully aimed to pick up only technical images, not people, and they do not record. The video from the cameras is ported into
Problems like disconnected cables, failure to turn on a piece of equipment, or an incorrect selection on a touchpanel can be diagnosed and fixed simply by checking the observation camera feeds. It’s been a significant time saver because technicians don’t have to make a trip to a classroom to fix trivial issues. GVE also saves wear and tear on AV equipment by remotely powering-down all AV systems campus-wide during non-business hours. This can be overridden in each room manually, or by
New Apodaca Science Building Continues WCU’s Standardization on Extron AV Technology
The five-story, 182,989-square-foot Apodaca Science Building houses laboratories, classrooms, lecture halls, and collaborative spaces. It is the new home of the Biology, Chemistry, and Physics Departments, replacing the 1970’s-era Natural Science Building. Extron AV systems enhance teaching in every corner of this building, as detailed in the equipment list included in this article. AV enabled spaces, a few of which are shown in photos and in the Featured Video in this article's sidebar at right, range from small conference rooms, 18 seat labs and classrooms, to 150 seat lecture spaces.
The AV team notes that WCU’s AV purchases have topped $1M per year for five years to implement a strategic plan to standardize and modernize AV systems across all academic departments and buildings. This plan aims to achieve a sustainable AV standard - anchored by Extron components - where a limited AV staff can schedule new installations and upgrades, while keeping all AV systems operational every day.
WCU’s AV team deeply understands Extron AV equipment and software, having attended many Extron training classes over the years.
Most of the school’s AV systems are designed and built in-house. The school’s AV team has averaged 55 new installation projects per year over the last five years.
Even when the systems are installed by outside contractors, such as in the Apodaca Science Building, WCU’s AV team closely monitors every facet of the project, including the types and brands of equipment, because the in-house team is responsible for maintenance for years to come. Contract maintenance isn’t an option; the closest contract maintenance firm that’s capable of handling an institution the size of WCU is located a three-hour drive away.
In summarizing the advantages of WCU’s longstanding relationship with Extron, William Frady, Director, Instructional Technology/Desktop Services, says, “We use the gear; we’ve tested the gear; we’ve seen the persistence of Extron in providing solutions for our unique AV needs. If something works and I can afford it, then I’m obviously going to go that route.” Frady completes his assessment of Extron with this: “I consider Extron a partner, not a vendor. They support us. They provide valuable training. Sure, Extron products work well - as they must. And they’re supportable, with rapid RMA turnaround. But most important to me is the respect and mutual trust built over many years.”