Aside from managing extended technology support departments in the remote facilities, AV and IT (information technology) managers must outline the paths to effective and efficient classroom technology design for overseas buildings. There is a lot of support for the development of campus-wide standards for classroom technology. Creating technology standards is a useful and helpful process on many levels. Standards reduce systems cost of maintenance and down-time, manage expectations of students and faculty, reduce training time and can even help save money on equipment. Some schools may experience challenges related to maintaining those standards on different campuses, providing significant obstacles to extending those standards to campuses in different parts of the world. However, maintaining those standards may just be the piece of the puzzle that makes the difference between disconnected, inconsistent campuses and cohesive, well-supported and successful global classrooms.
I was fortunate enough to be able to discuss technology specific concerns for schools with multiple campuses with two experts. Jahn Westbrook, Technical Manager, Campus Media, Classroom Support Services from New York University (NYU) and Tim Cichos, Senior Audio Video Engineer from University of Notre Dame were kind enough to share some insight into the challenges and successes of managing technology and teams worldwide. In an effort to preserve the context and the authenticity of their responses, here are the Q&A from our session:
What are some technology specific challenges for higher education schools to consider when expanding their campus globally?
Westbrook: “Electricity. The differences in current here and abroad are necessary considerations when specifying equipment.”
“The real challenge comes when designing uniformity across the global network. From independent classroom design, for faculty to ‘know’ the equipment regardless of where they teach, up through collaborative class structure interoperability across the network.
“Another consideration is the specified equipment. Is the equipment available in the all countries in your global network? It is becoming less common, but the possibility does exist for certain countries to not allow manufacturers into their space if ‘local’ product exists, regardless if it is inferior or not.
“Centralize the design phase and retain the programming code from install to install. This strategy will reduce costs long term. Negotiating ownership of the system program code is an important element to consider, and should be included in the proposal/bidding process. Retaining the programming code and files allows for immediate updates and reparations, especially if you have a qualified programmer on staff.”
Cichos: “Most, but not all, products are designed to work with the different AC voltages around the world. Research and know what format you are working with prior to design. Understand what language(s) the user interfaces should be in. And discuss requirements similar to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in the specific global locations where you are building/ upgrading.”
What role does technology play when considering and connecting remote campuses?
Westbrook: “Direct interoperability versus ‘third-party’ or writing external code to communicate across the network. Any additional ‘rigging’ to communicate increases the probability of failure. Anytime a network communication is involved, there are a whole host of potential failure points, such as firewalls, sub-nets, addresses, et cetera. Local IT professionals manage each network, so they have to communicate together and separately with the integrator and programmer. It adds complexity and time to completing the installation.Time zone considerations should be considered when technical support is required.”
Cichos: “We are fortunate to have a robust network, and a good team to configure it. Most all of our global equipment can be accessed from our main U.S. campus. It is important to make sure there is a reliable Internet connection to the facility. We recently had to work through getting a fiber connection at an Abbey in Ireland.”
Can worldwide campuses still maintain main-campus specified technology standards?
Westbrook: “Yes. The MAIN campus would be the paradigm to work externally out from. Where the absolute yes gets difficult is the answer for the technology challenges with global expansion.You may have an apples-to-apples solution, with the caveat that one side is a Macoun and the other side is a Jazz. Still an apple, but a different family, different taste, different look.”
Cichos: “Yes. Most, but not all, products are designed to work with the different AC voltages around the world. If your institution has standard equipment like we do, this is important to consider. And while mentioning standard equipment, verifying the warranty on the equipment is different per supplier. Some require you to purchase it in the country it is installed to keep the warranty. Also, if shipping equipment to other countries, there are import taxes to consider.”
How do you hire an AV team to manage the remote campuses?
Westbrook: “The hiring process follows the same hiring conventions dictated by the university. There typically are location specific requirements, such as language competencies, that have to be met. An obvious requirement has to be ‘willing to relocate’ for a minimum duration of time. Helpful skills can be considered, such as knowledge specific to the installed equipment and an X-amount minimum years experience. Certifications like InfoComm’s CTS, CTS-I, CTS-D are helpful for a member(s) of the distant campuses to have.”
Are they managed as independent campuses with their own freedoms and budget?
Westbrook: “Global locations have their individual budgets.Currency exchange is one reason for this, in my estimation, but also to have the MAIN campus have many AV accounts could get confusing and introduce the possibility of ‘blending’ budget lines if the need arose.”
What types of advisors — specific to campus AV technology — should schools seek out as they are planning to expand their worldwide presence?
Westbrook: “Key internal personnel would be IT, AV, and conferencing specialists.
Key external advisors would be individuals familiar with the local standards of the intended global site. There are AV integrators that have offices — be them virtual or actual — on more than one continent. Those integrators have relationships that can benefit the entire process, as well as having a presence close to both locations. These relationships are also of value to the institutions, for the time differences become virtually non-existent.”
Can you please explain some of the skills/competencies you look for in an external technology consultant or design-build company during the planning phase of campus expansion?
Westbrook: “In addition to our local requirements and skills, we look for foreign country support and in what fashion that support will be realized. That support could include familiarity with foreign country tariffs, importing/exporting guidelines, government rules and regulations,guilds, unions, trades, etc.
“Location specific holidays, and foreign country hiring practices are many of the important secondary and tertiary competencies that are important to consider.”
Cichos: “For our spaces, we design most of the AV systems internally. For other spaces, we rely on vendors to recommend a local AV installation crew. For example, we needed to buy Crestron products locally for warranty purposes. We then could use those companies for installation assistance. In London and Rome, we met with various vendors on site, interviewed them and determined who would best fit our needs.In Ireland, we worked with the local authorities to find a reputable AV company and because of our Campus Standards, we were able to work with them on the AV designs without the need for an onsite visit.”
What types of success have you seen with technology deployment in your worldwide campuses?
Westbrook: “We have experienced excellent success expanding globally. Not without many trials and errors and learning experiences along the way. With schools and campuses on four continents, collaborative learning has been fully established as beneficial to the broad curriculum, uniting students across the azure void. At the outset of our collaborative learning initiative, a class was specifically designed around this concept with a faculty member on either end, or full class involvement; it has become a desired class to enroll in.
“Faculty that travel from campus to campus, globally, appreciate having the equipment and installations standardized — or as standardized as regions allow. This helps to reduce the fatigue of letting the technology inhibit their teaching the class. Designing the equipment to be ‘invisible’ increases faculty buy in to the technology, and them knowing there are competent personnel, locally and abroad, to assist when necessary attributes to the success of our global expansion.”
Cichos: “One of our greatest indicators of success is the low number of service related issues. When there is an issue, even with the language barrier in some locations, we are able to work with local support and remote troubleshooting to resolve any issues.
“Since we install standard base systems, anyone that has been on our main campus is already familiar with the AV systems in other locations.’