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Classrooms Around Campus to Get a 'Rapid Refresh'

Mar 06, 2023   |   Dartmouth News

Vice President of Information, Technology, and Consulting and Chief Information Officer Mitchel Davis is part of a campuswide push to modernize the technology, furnishings and adaptability of the 100 or so Arts and Sciences and Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies classrooms. The Provost's Advisory Committee on Classrooms, which is comprised of representatives from departments across campus, has been tasked with planning an ongoing, five-year renovation cycle for all the classrooms called Dartmouth Classroom Rapid Refresh.

Classroom Technology Services integrator Jason McDonough installs a ceiling tile equipped with a speaker in Silsby, part of a campuswide effort to refresh the technology in classrooms. (Photo by Katie Lenhart)

Dartmouth is an older campus, with buildings of various ages that have been renovated at different times. That variability has created a number of challenges. Professors who know how to start a Zoom meeting in one classroom might struggle in a room with a different tech setup. And it takes a lot of time to update AV software when equipment can vary from classroom to classroom.

The goal of the rapid refresh project is to establish five standardized room types across campus—avoiding unusual, one-off designs—that can be adapted for different purposes and share a user-friendly tech platform. There may be new cameras, microphones, projectors, and speakers, but the hope is that a common audio-visual interface will make even a new classroom feel familiar.

"So faculty, students, and staff can walk into rooms, and the systems they interact with and the designs they interact with are the same," says Dushyandhan Yuvarajan, the program manager for the initiative.

Because students coming to Dartmouth have grown up with computers and mobile devices, Yuvarajan says, outdated AV tech and inflexible classroom arrangements don’t always speak to the way they learn. And as technology and teaching methods continue to evolve, the rapid refresh initiative will help classrooms remain current.

Mark Franklin, Thayer's senior director of computing services. (Photo by Kathryn LoConte Lapierre)

One key to the success of the updated classrooms, according to Davis and Yuvarajan, is a home-grown system called OpenAV developed by Thayer Computing Services.

Mark Franklin, Thayer's senior director of computing services, describes the OpenAV approach as "AV done IT style." OpenAV software controls all AV systems at Thayer and has been adopted for the classroom refresh project.

Franklin remembers feeling frustrated by the time and cost it would take for vendors to install previous AV systems. And if something didn't work quite right or broke later, the room's tech system might be down until the vendor could return with a fix.

"We kept thinking there ought to be a way to do this using the IT tools we know," Franklin says.

So he and his team built OpenAV using standard IT development and deployment tools.

OpenAV also focuses on making systems easy to use by keeping the complex details hidden, centralized, and in-house. Dartmouth can write and deploy updates to all classrooms at once, so the AV systems' interfaces across campus will always be consistent and up to date. And Dartmouth can maintain and upgrade those systems without having to wait for an outside vendor.

"We take great pride in making straightforward solutions that work in many contexts," Franklin says. "And because we built it, we can fix it."

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