With great power comes great responsibility, and Kurt Henne has both at California State University at Monterey Bay. As equipment coordinator, he has been tasked with choosing the best and most appropriate technology to outfit the campus’ brand new classrooms—not a job to be taken lightly. And he doesn’t.
But therein lay the problem: What was the best product to outfit classrooms with? Over the past 14 years at CSUMB, academic locations on campus have grown from 10 to over 75 with basic technology. Which product could fit in his budget, minimize downtime in the classroom and, most importantly, hold the students’ attention?
Luckily for CSUMB, Henne’s 30 years of experience in the audio visual field gave him the knowledge and skills to make this critical decision. With around 6,000 students and founded just 20 years ago, CSU Monterey Bay is one of the Cal-State system’s smaller universities—but it’s growing. New buildings are under construction on campus, situated on the former military base at Fort Ord on California’s central coast, and Henne is overseeing the technology selection and installation process.
“The first thought was to install flat-panel televisions. They’re cool and they’re new, but they’re a lot more expensive,” said Henne.
That’s not to say that flat screens won’t be gracing the new buildings at all, as Henne realizes that there is a place for them in conference rooms and as digital signage. But for classrooms, both he and the teachers knew that projectors were the way to go. When Henne joined the university in 1998, he walked around the classrooms, asked the faculty questions—and listened. “They want the latest technology, because they know that students are learning when they use these tools,” Henne explained. “The teachers also understand that the Epson projectors have great new technology, including interactive capabilities that just can’t be found on any flat-screen television.”
And like a painting or other wall hanging, a flat screen is always there, taking up wall space; but a projector provides flexibility for a classroom. A flat screen creates ‘dead space’ when it’s not in use, meaning that the wall area can’t be used for anything else. When you use a projector, you can project on a blank wall or whiteboard. But when you turn it off, that whiteboard can be used as a whiteboard, and the wall can be used for just about anything. “CSUMB’s new platform of technology in the future is moving in the direction of BYOD (Bring Your Own Technology),” explained Henne. “And with an Epson 1430w interactive projector, DaLite Idea Panoramic erasable projector surface and Extron IP control solutions, we are able to accommodate any user.”
Henne definitely does his due diligence, and he was also factoring in keeping classrooms up and running, now that his teachers depend on the visual technology every day. “I can keep a few projectors on hand, but in the rare event a projector goes down, Epson will have a replacement out to us within one or two days,” Henne said. “So the only things we really have to store are bulbs and filters.”
On the contrary, new flat panels are too costly to keep on hand. “If I have a projector go down during a class, one person can go in and replace it,” Henne explained. “If a flat-panel goes down, it’s going to take two to four people to get that down off the wall. And then you’re going to have to wait until that thing is shipped in, serviced and returned, which could take a month to six weeks. And basically that classroom is down for that time.”
And while the size of the product is important, image size mattered too. Over his years in the business, Henne has also noticed the huge gap in attention levels when students are watching a television screen versus a large projector image. And the teachers he’s talked to know it too. With a projector, students in a classroom or lecture hall have no problems seeing the content, even if it’s a complicated image like a spreadsheet. For instance, the United States Sign Council’s Legibility Index rules of thumb state that a rate of 30 is considered legible, which means that letters should be one inch high at a 30-foot distance. A 60-inch flat panel display would provide a letter size of a half-inch or less, especially when showing an image such as a spreadsheet.
“I think the whole reason they’re pushing flat panels in classrooms is because it’s just the latest buzz,” mused Henne. “But any teachers I talk to on campus, and others in my capacity…they all say ‘No, it should be projectors.’”