Dec 16, 2019

Standardizing technology to improve the learning experience

Teaching & Learning 3 min read

The classroom is more than just a stage for teachers or instructors to perform in. It provides an environment that defines the foundation of the learning experience. It is not a place for wasting time, even though this still often happens, as instructors struggle trying to understand how new technology can be beneficial. Most universities grow organically, which results in different technologies and multiple user interfaces spreading across their campuses. However, as IT coordinators, how do you go about standardizing AV and IT when are only six team members and you have to manage hundreds of classrooms? We asked Frank Alaimo from the University of Nevada Las Vegas to share his experience.

Bid for the money

Back in 2012 and 2013, IT support at the University of Nevada Las Vegas was very difficult. There was no standardization between classrooms, they had multiple control systems, different types of projectors and no budget for spares. Thanks to a Vice President with considerable foresight, the IT team was given the opportunity to make a case to turn things around, an opportunity they seized with both hands.

Taking a data-driven approach, they analyzed the issues in their ticketing system and made a successful case for overhauling the technology in over one hundred classrooms.

Commitment for the long haul

This was only the start. Learning from their successes and their mistakes, the IT team went back year after year with a bid. Over a six-year period, they upgraded the technology in over 650 classrooms for a total budget of over $10 million, more than half of which coming from individual departments and the rest from the university’s central services. 

The work didn’t end here. Every year, the team makes new improvements based on user feedback and other data. In 2018, the touch panel was enhanced for a new Hospitality faculty building, and these enhancements are being rolled out to the hundreds of new classrooms entering the system. The project keeps running: the first equipment provided will go out of warranty and receive an upgrade next year.

University of Nevada Las Vegas - start screen

(The touch panel user interface of The University of Nevada)

A structured approach for a standardized solution

It took eighteen months to perfect their approach, but the team has used “solid brands to create a solid platform” with a standard touch panel and lecterns – a user interface created by their expert programmer and rolled out across the entire campus.

The core team has been determined from the start, but they had to learn how to deal with all kinds of issues, from purchasing to classroom construction, in order to get their projects in on time.

At first, taking thirty-five classrooms offline for three weeks at the same time was a daunting prospect, now this has become business as usual.
Today, user training is minimal as instructors know what to expect when they walk into a classroom. And there’s been a significant drop in service calls, thanks to the standardized solutions.

Remote monitoring allows the team to be pro-active. They can identify microphones with batteries running low remotely and change them without instructors noticing any issues.

Teamwork and trust are the secret to success

Frank believes that the secret to success for their project was teamwork and trust. The core project team was very small and relied on trust and belief in each other, as each member focused on specific areas. Teamwork made them more productive and allowed them to come up with creative ways of moving forward.

And this hasn’t just been an achievement of the core team. They have grown very close with the specialists from the AV integrator they work with, who now share the same buzz about the project and with whom they also hang out socially. Having worked together for a several years, they know each other very well, which further streamlined their workflow.

University of Nevada Las Vegas - team

(The project team, Frank Alaimo third on the left)

Don’t be afraid

We asked Frank for his top tips for others working on major EdTech projects. His advice was not to be afraid:

  • Don’t be afraid to fail – you learn more from your mistakes.
  • Don’t be afraid to fight back if someone turns down your request for funding – if you know your classrooms really need something, be persistent and keep fighting for it.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help, reach out to colleagues in other schools – technology changes every day and it’s impossible to be an expert in everything.

Frank D. Alaimo is an AV/IT Systems Specialist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He is a key member of the Office of Information Technology Classroom Technology Services and has worked in Higher Education for 27 years.

The University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) has over 30,000 students and offers more than 350 bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in varying fields, taught by 850 faculty members.

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