2022 Northwest Managers of Educational Technology Conference Summary

This April I attended the Northwest Managers of Educational Technology conference held this year in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Since there’s nothing quite like this group in the Southeast, it felt well worth it to me to fly across the country to enjoy a little normalcy and connect in person again with fellow A/V professionals focused on education. Of course, I can’t deny that the location for this year’s event on the shores of beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene was an added draw. The conference was well attended (I’m guessing ~100 attendees), and exceptionally well run. NMET is a close organization with a history that spans several decades going all the way back to the beginning of the AV industry as we know it in the era of analog media.

Lake Coeur d'Alene

TOPICS

  • Responses to the pandemic and various school’s efforts to work toward a “new normal” 
  • The CARES Act as a catalyst for A/V classroom upgrades: UNLV launched a huge new program during COVID called RebelFlex using CARES funds that is seen as largely successful that would likely not have been possible otherwise. (Duke, along with several other top private universities such as Harvard and Princeton chose not accept CARES act funding.)
  • COVID as a driver for A/V initiatives and standardization: Many schools saw decision-making for A/V and IT-related projects shift to the provost level and higher as schools developed alternative teaching strategies such “emergency”, “HyFlex,” “hybrid,” “co-mingled,” and remote teaching as pandemic responses. In most cases timelines for implementing major A/V projects sped up significantly as well.
  • COVID as a driver for A/V standardization: Oregon State University described how COVID helped their campus standardize on an enterprise A/V strategy that centered on Kaltura, Canvas, and Zoom, and quieted demand for competing tools. Interestingly, OSU does not use a dedicated recording tool such as Panopto but instead utilizes Zoom for all recording and pushes this content to Kaltura within Canvas course sites. 
  • Faculty support models for hybrid teaching: UNLV’s RebelFlex program experimented with hiring students who were assigned to in-person classes as tech support. While overall this seemed successful, there were challenges, such as the diminishment of the need for tech support as the semester went on and faculty became familiar with the new technologies involved. Additionally it was observed that faculty members tended to morph the roles of their student help into roles resembling TAs and research assistants over time, including using these helpers as moderators for their Zoom chats.
  • Building a Networking Group like NMET: Some of the conference attendees were surprised I came all the way from North Carolina to attend the conference. “You mean the Duke?” several asked. I explained there’s nothing in the southeast comparable to NMET, an education-driven organization focused on the intersection of A/V and IT. That’s sad, but not surprising in a way, since a successful organization like NMET isn’t built overnight. NMET began holding conferences in 1979 and is the result of the hard work and passion of several generations of A/V professionals who have comprised NMET.
  • The A/V Superfriends Podcast (https://www.avsuperfriends.com/): Some of the members of NMET together with other A/V professionals extending beyond that group maintain a very cool podcast for A/V professionals focused on the intersection of A/V and pedagogy in higher ed. They were actually recording new episodes of the podcast live in the exhibit area. Members of this group led several interesting conference sessions focused primarily on the impact of COVID for classroom technology. Recent topics of their podcast include: 
    • Managing PO’s and supply chain issues
    • Campus support structures
    • Auto-framing and auto-tracking cameras
    • Cabling infrastructure and TIA standards
    • The intersection of A/V and IT in hiring new staff
    • AV replacement cycles–do we set arbitrary schedules of 5, 7, 10 years or tie AV refresh projects to capital projects?
    • Bootstrapping light video production switchers into classroom systems
  • AV over IP: It was argued by some that the NDI (Network Device Interface) protocol represents the wave of the future, and that we should future-proof our classrooms by purchasing NDI-capable cameras
  • Benefits and drawbacks of Zoom certification: It was discussed this may be OK as long as not mandated or exploited for commercial benefit (cross reference Tandberg)
  • “Hybrid” (instructor-driven) vs. “HyFlex” (student-centered) classrooms
  • USB as the “common language of hybrid learning spaces”
  • Elevating sound quality in the rush to add A/V infrastructure to classrooms 
  • Keeping classroom AV UI’s simple and standard even in classrooms where there is great complexity under the hood
  • ePTZ (auto-tracking) cameras: Importance of good lighting, fixed positions are better than continuous tracking
  • Making a virtual lightboard: One presenter showed how he used Procreate and a green screen in front of presenter to make a virtual lightboard 


VENDORS

  • Kaltura: Kaltura was one of three main sponsors of the conference. As mentioned above, Oregon State University, which was the main organizer of the conference, is a Kaltura customer. It was noted that Kaltura, unlike most other vendors, still offers an unlimited storage and bandwidth licensing tier, although it was mentioned it is “expensive.”
  • Panasonic: Panasonic was another major sponsor of the conference. Their projectors and displays were used in conference venues.
  • Elmo was showcasing its wide array of document cameras from a $200.00 USB to similarly portable wireless options starting at ~$800.00 to its flagship 4K, 12x optical zoom version designed for fixed classroom installations, the PX-30E (MSRP $3700.00). Interestingly, while WolfVision is the 500lb gorilla in the doc cam space, Elmo actually invented the document camera, and is the older company.
  • Epiphan was showcasing its well-known Pearl live encoder lineup along with its cool new device, the LiveScrypt. The LiveScrypt connects to Epiphan Cloud to add live ASR-based captions to your live production. These captions can be embedded with your live streams or sent out to monitors in the room for display for in person or hybrid events. There is a charge of $10.00/ hr to use the cloud-based ASR service in addition to the $1,500.00 cost of the device itself.
  • Alfatron had its wide range of PTZ cameras on display, ranging from a MSRP of $700.00 to $2150.00.
  • Shure had a booth showcasing equipment by Stem, a company they recently acquired. Stem offers complete solutions for outfitting conference and meeting rooms with a range of mics, including tabletop, wall, and ceiling mounted ones, together with a hub and an integrated control system for managing the individual elements.
  • Smart was demoing its latest lineup of interactive displays
  • Legrand AV showcased a wide range of products focused on physical classroom infrastructure, including displays, display mounts, projectors, PTZ cameras, speakers, device controllers, and network switches. Legrand is a large company that owns Vaddio, Chief, Da-Lite, and Middle Atlantic Products.
  • Cleardigital featured its modular display wall called Vue featuring very smooth touch surfaces and replaceable panels as well as other products such as a PTZ cam, the RL400, a portable doc cam and an all-in-one conference camera.
  • Newline Interactive was featuring its newest interactive and non-interactive displays ranging from 27” to 98”
  • AVer gave a conference session demo-ing its new autotracking PTZ camera, the TR333V2. The TR333V2 offers:
    • 30x optical zoom
    • Sophisticated pre-set configuration, including the ability to move in and out of continuous tracking and fixed position mode based on how an instructor moves in the classroom
    • 4k
    • 3G-SDI, HDMI, IP, and USB output 
    • Full or half body tracking

Sennheiser

The DDMC hosted Sennheiser’s Steve Wingo who spoke about two very interesting technologies that might serve our community.

Team Connect 2

The TeamConnect Ceiling 2, with its patented automatic dynamic beamforming technology, was already a leader in conference room audio technology. Now, with the addition of TruVoicelift and advanced zone control, TeamConnect Ceiling 2 combines the advantages of a boundary microphone and a microphone array. Therefore, it is the best solution for both (video) conferencing and in-room audio, for example in classrooms, lecture halls and boardrooms. TeamConnect Ceiling 2 now offers our customers unparalleled levels of control with the addition of a priority zone (allowing a single area in the room to be highlighted), 5 advanced exclusion zones (for pinpoint targeting and removal of unwanted noise sources) and more. All of these new features are activatable and configurable via the latest firmware update for the TeamConnect Ceiling 2 and via the latest version of Sennheiser Control Cockpit. Easy to install and, due to a flexible microphone ceiling mount system, easy to integrate. Let us help you understand the difference TeamConnect Ceiling 2 can make for you and your business.

MobileConnect

MobileConnect consists of three main components: The MobileConnect Station is the “audio-to-network bridge” that picks up the audio signal in the room and streams it to any preferred streaming network. Using the pre-existing WiFi access points, the signal is provided to up to 100 smartphones per Station, using the MobileConnect App as a receiver. When using multiple Stations, the MobileConnect Manager can be used as the single point of administration for all MobileConnect Stations. If not needed, MobileConnect can also be operated in the so-called Standalone Mode, where single MobileConnect Stations can be run and administered using a local web interface.

 

Take a look at our Zoom Call for more information: https://duke.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=66a9a1eb-f4cc-498e-99ac-ae6100fed53c

neat.

The DDMC hosted a new comer just 2 years old to the Zoom/Teams appliance world of approved products called neat.

” Neat designs simple and elegant pioneering video devices for Microsoft and Zoom, helping make the meeting space experience the best it can be.

Continuously pushing boundaries, Neat devices are incredibly easy to install, set up and use and have unique features to support a safer, more enhanced and engaging hybrid working and learning environment going forward.

Advanced smart room sensor technology enables you to monitor air quality and people counting for healthier, lower-cost rooms. At the same time, crystal clear audio and video mean you can always precisely see and hear everyone, no matter where or how they position themselves in the room.

Bringing you the future of video today, Neat bridges the gap between in-room and remote participants like never before by individually auto framing each person in the room and presenting them equally up close on remote participants screens. This capability gives you, your colleagues or students the truest sense yet of being physically all together in the same room.”

One of the stand out features is what they call double-talk.

“All Neat devices have an excellent echo canceller that suppresses echo and not someone’s speech. As for the other echo cancellers out there, even though many do a great job of suppressing echo, they unintentionally squash speech too, which typically happens if people talk over each other – a phenomenon known as ‘double-talk.’

When ‘double-talk’ performance is poor, people may not always hear what you’re saying. Or worse, they probably won’t even realize you’re saying anything at all. It means that you can’t just quickly jump into a conversation without most devices dampening out your voice. Neat devices enable you to share in lively debates without that worry.”

 

 

POLY.com

As follow up to the ZOOM meeting from January, 28th. We just finished a product preview of the new POLY X70. That can leverage the ZOOM ability to share multiple screens simultaneously and be that “all-in-one” videoconference solution. The X70 combines (2) 4k video cameras with a stereo sound sound bar promising a conference room solution at a reasonable price.

 

Poly X70 Cut Sheet:

https://www.poly.com/content/dam/www/products/video/studio/studio-x70/doc/poly-studio-x70-ds-en.pdf

Along with the similarly featured (1) camera X50 all in one conference solution that brings small to medium conference rooms into reach as far as ease and simplicity is concerned.

Poly X50 Cut Sheet:

https://www.poly.com/content/dam/www/products/video/studio/studio-x50/doc/poly-studio-x50-ds-en.pdf

Some interesting audio features that may help with noisy environments are the Acoustic Fence and NOISEBLOCKAI features which allow user to set up an “audio exclusion zone” and reduce unwanted room noise.

https://blogs.poly.com/the-most-of-poly-acoustic-fence/

https://www.poly.com/us/en/innovations/noiseblock

Take a look at our ZOOM meeting for yourself!

https://duke.is/85juq

 

 

 

 

Logitech Spotlight – 4 Years Later

Four years later, I still really like the Logitech Spotlight and enjoy utilizing it during my presentations. When I do, I usually get at least one or two “How did you do that?” type comments. The Logitech Spotlight, a “laser pointer” without a laser, highlights information on a PowerPoint, Keynote, PDF, etc. in an elegant way by “spotlighting” the information (see above graphic) via software (note, you can also have the “spotlight” act as a magnifying glass or to act as a red “dot” similar to how a laser pointer would look on a display). In 2017, this was a bit of a novelty as most of my presentations were in person, and a traditional $19.95 laser pointer would have done most of what the Spotlight can do (if not more)… THEN… COVID-19 hit, and things changed a bit. Traditional laser pointers don’t work well with Zoom, WebEx, Teams, etc. and while a mouse works well in some of those situations, there are other (specifically hybrid teaching) environments where the faculty may not have easy access to the mouse. The Logitech Spotlight solves a specific issue where the in-room participants can see where the faculty member is pointing, but more importantly, the remote participants (via Zoom, WebEx, Teams, etc.) see the same highlight. Also, the in-room lecture capture system captures the information being highlighted. Best of all, it just works.

[Quick Logitech Spotlight video]

What’s changed over the years? Originally, the Logitech Spotlight software used to generate the highlights was a bit clunky and installation was a bit of a pain. Over time, as I’ve installed the software on a few devices, Logitech seems to have cleaned up that process a good bit (or, perhaps Apple has streamlined the peripherals platform access). You still need to enable a good number of OS-level security items, but it’s easier in 2021. Also, in 2017, I was a little perplexed as to why Logitech selected USB-C as the charging connector (I wanted my USB-A!). But, the USB-C port has proven to be useful now that just about everyone has a USB-C charger or open port to charge the device. Lastly, I still enjoy the flexibility of the device. The remote can communicate by either a dongle (that tucks away nicely in the base of the unit when not in use) or via Bluetooth. There are pros and cons to the two communication methods, but having flexibility is nice. Overall, the ROI of the Logitech Spotlight has been great, and I don’t see it losing space in my backpack anytime soon.

Atlona Professional HDBaseT PTZ Camera

While on a classroom technology Zoom session, a peer institution mentioned that they had installed a few Atlona cameras in a subset of their classrooms. While I was somewhat familiar with Atloma as a complete AV solutions manufacturer, our University has primarily been a Crestron/Extron/Biamp/Vaddio/Sony house, with a wide range of exceptions depending upon the location. One challenge opportunity we’ve faced is the cost of reasonably high-quality cameras in our somewhat smaller classroom and meeting environments. Once two cameras are added to the av design (one facing the students and one facing the faculty member), you can be in the $8,000+ neighborhood without breaking a sweat. That price is before you start the conversation about a projector, mics, DSP, control processors, touch panels, and signal routing. When you start looking at less expensive camera options, you usually see one of three things happen: You lose most (or all) support for the device and the warranty is very limited, the image quality doesn’t meet acceptable baseline standards, or the device lacks professional long-distance connections (power/video/control).

After testing the device, on and off for a few weeks, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Atlona camera ticks a wide range of boxes. Obviously, the cost of the device is good… but controlling the device is straightforward and the HDBasseT connection was familiar and compatible with a wide range of devices (Atlona or otherwise). Within twenty minutes or so, the device was added to my test environment and I was able to see the camera’s feed and send control commands to the camera. It just worked…

Pros:

  • Cost… cost… cost. With many professional PTZ cameras topping out in the $4,000+ range, it’s nice to see an option that’s literally <25% of that price point. This is a value-focused device.
  • HDBasseT/Power/Control: With a single connection, you can send power, receive a video signal, and send control commands to the Atlona camera. The HDBasseT seemed solid during my testing and it was nice that it could all be done over a single cable (no need for power near the camera, running a second RS232 cable, etc.). The camera can be placed up to 100m from the receiver, which accommodates many teaching environments.
  • It just works: From the web-based GUI, included remote, and industry-standard HDBasseT output, it just worked.
  • Warranty: I just couldn’t get past the limited product warranty of 10 years for electronic circuit and optics, and 3 years for PTZ motor.
  • Value: I can’t get past the value these devices offer, with support.

Cons:

  • Build Quality: The camera felt a little… “plastic-ey” and the device didn’t have the same heft I usually see in our general professional offerings. Does this matter? I don’t think so, as long as it works as advertised.
  • Image Resolution and Quality: Wait… wait, these are somewhat of cons based on pros, all things considered. The device I tested (Atlona’s AT-HDVS-CAM-HDBT-WH paired with the AT-OME-RX11 – HDBaseT Receiver) offered a resolution of 1080p @ 60 Hz. Some would say, “but that’s not 4K… burn it!” But, in higher education, I’m not sold on 4K for standard classrooms as many of our capture systems and unified communications platforms can “only” capture or transmit 1920 x 1080 camera signals (there are obvious exceptions where 4K makes sense). The image quality is good for the price, and reasonable when compared with cameras that are approximate twice the price. At the price point, I wasn’t expecting a good image… and I was pleasantly surprised, so pro/con. It’s also worth reiterating that the cost of the device is very reasonable.
  • USB: This is a small thing, and somewhat unrelated to the camera, but I wish the AT-OME-RX11 HDBasseT Receiver had a USB video output that we could feed directly into a computer via a UVC driver for ultra-budget-friendly locations.

Final Thoughts: Is this the best PTZ camera on the market? No… yes… well maybe, as it really depends upon your goals and objectives. In the era of ever-shrinking AV budgets and a drastic uptick in the demand for video conferencing and lecture capture capabilities in classrooms, adding one or two $4,000+ cameras, not to mention the other devices necessary to integrate said cameras, is problematic. This camera may be a solid alternative to the costly, perhaps more professional, options on the market.

Enhance Your Next Video Conference Audience with Mentimeter

It’d be hard to find anyone in the past three months who hasn’t been a part of a video conference meeting, webinar, training session, symposium, graduation, book reading or even a cocktail party. With the increase in the use of video conferencing solutions like Zoom and WebEx, it’s great to add interactive and engaging tools that help elevate the user experience for both small and larger events.

I was a part of a large symposium last week where a word cloud was used. Even though word clouds aren’t new, it really stood out and was extremely effective. In this case, since there were thousands in attendance, the responses came in fast and the cloud grew quickly with the many different responses.

The tool used was Mentimeter and there are many positives about the product.

Pros:

  • The good news is there’s a free version available for educators and students that contains many attractive features, especially if you only want to use it occasionally.
    • Unlimited audience size
    • Unlimited presentations
    • Unlimited Quick Slides
    • Core question types
    • Q&A
    • Image and PDF export
    • 2 questions per presentation
    • 5 Quizzes per presentation
    • Help Center
  • There are multiple types of questions/layouts available besides word clouds, such as, multiple choice, open ended, scales, ranking, image choice and Q&A. This is great since most video conferencing solutions don’t have the variety available as part of the their built-in feature set.
  • Another plus is the ease of use. I set up an account and had a presentation created and launched in under 5 minutes without having to read documentation. 

Cons:

  • One downside I see is with the level of flexibility and customization that comes with the free version. The paid versions, for example, gives you the ability customize themes, logos, prevention of audience downloading the results, owning your data, importing of PowerPoint or Google presentations, etc.
  • Purchasing the Basic or Pro versions require a yearly subscription and can’t be purchased on a monthly basis.
  • There’s a limit to the number of questions and quizzes you can have in one presentation, therefore, if you need more than you’ll need to create additional presentations that’ll need to be launched separately.

Overall, it’s a simple and inexpensive way to add to your next video conference. 

Zoom Room Appliances

It’s no surprise, but I’m a fan of Zoom and Zoom Rooms. The platform is easy to understand, flexible, and users simply like it. While many people are familiar with Zoom, they are generally less familiar with what a Zoom Room is. In essence, a Zoom Room is a computer attached to a display, mics, speakers, camera, and a control interface, that is always on and ready to host a meeting. This is in sharp contrast to a bring your own device (BYOD) space where the user brings a laptop and connects to the AV in the space, wasting precious conference time and adding complexity to the essential task of having a meeting. With a Zoom Room, similar to a Cisco WebEx Room Kit, you walk in, touch a button on the control interface… and away you go! But, unlike a Cisco WebEx Room Kit, a Zoom Room is hardware agnostic which, relying on a Windows or Apple computer at the heart of the system, attached to anything from consumer to professional peripherals. This nearly infinite flexibility of the Zoom Room platform comes at a cost of reliability. Maintaining a Zoom Room can be challenging… keeping the local computer up-to-date with the OS, security, virus protection, not to mention all the drivers of the peripherals! If only Zoom offered a Zoom Room codec style device!

Enter Zoom Room Appliances… While these haven’t shipped, they may resolve many of the issues many Zoom Room managers have experienced. By eliminating the need for an in-room computer attached to a camera, mic, and speaker… it dramatically reduces the overall complexity of the platform.  Install the soundbar like device, enter the Zoom Room activation code and BOOM! The system is connected to the hardware and you’re ready for the next meeting. No more worrying about Windows updates, what feels like weekly security patches, etc. etc. It should just work! We can’t wait to get our hands on the devices to properly test these in higher education!

 

Kuando Busylight

Many businesses and universities have transitioned to open floorplans for staff. It’s efficient, flexible, and saves a considerable amount of money. But, for the employees, having unscheduled disruptions can be distracting, causing loss of work or worse, general fatigue. The Kuando Busylight hopes to resolve that issue by integrating a simple light to your daily workflow. It works in a few different ways. First, you can run the light in a manual process (self-selecting your color) to alert those around you of your availability. Perhaps green for available, red for “leave me alone,” and yellow for when you are on a break, and purple for “NO, REALLY, leave me alone!” Because the light inside is an RGB light, the device can create thousands of different color combinations. It runs off of a standard USB plug, no no extra power is needed. Simple and clean.

But, if you want to, you can integrate the device into a range of platforms. For example, the light also integrates with Microsoft Teams so it will automatically change color based on your availability. Also, in a call center, this might be a good way to keep tabs on your employees. As long as the office agrees to use the lights, it can work well.

During our testing, we found the device to be simple enough to get working in just a few minutes for basic availability sharing, yet sophisticated enough to properly integrate with Microsoft Teams and Zoom (both are Windows only).

But wait, there’s more!
The Kuando Busylight can also work with a Panopto appliance to show the status of the device. In our install, we’re testing a Matrox Maevex 6020 with Panopto. We plugged in the Busylight and to the Matrox box, and when a recording started, the light turned green. Literally, you just plug it into the USB port and it worked. Now, this may not sound like a big deal, but it’s nice to have that confirmation that the recorder is working. Well worth the very low price of the Busylight.

The Busylight comes in two different sizes, and both worked very well during our testing. My only input… make a Mac driver for Teams and Zoom 🙂

Google Jamboard Visits Duke

The Google Jamboard may not be newest technology to hit the market, officially announced in late 2016, but the 55″ 4K touchscreen still delivers a wonderfully playful experience in 2019. To start, the hardware “feels very Google” (well organized cables, stylish design, solid materials) and while I was a bit concerned about the two giant boxes the device shipped in, I had the entire system connected an running a software update in no time (granted, with the help of another person when connecting the display). The device is essentially a monitor/computer combo with a wide range of features.

The best way to describe the interaction is fun.

Pros:

  • The hardware is heavily rubberized and should withstand any normal office environment (no small feat)
  • It works seamlessly in the Google ecosystem (Google Drive, YouTube, etc.)
  • Working in a synchronous and asynchronous way, for large projects, is a breeze.
  • The handwriting recognition is amazing!
  • The touch screen is of a very high quality, with 16 points of touch and a 60Hz refresh rate
  • It’s cross platform (Windows, Mac, Linux, etc. and it just works)

Cons:

  • At $4,999 (not including the $1,349 stand), it’s kinda expensive, not to mention the annual management and support fee of $600. [all MSRP]
  • The device works wonderfully in the Google ecosystem, but doesn’t necessarily work well with other environments (WebEx, Zoom, etc.). If you aren’t a Google shop… this may not be for you.
  • Like any technology, there is a learning curve… even for those inside of Google’s ecosystem on a regular basis.

So, what do I think?
If I worked in a smaller office environment (say 20-100 employees) and we were 100% a Google House (Gmail, Google Docs, YouTube, etc.) I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this device. But, if you living in a mixed unified communications world, it’s a more difficult decision, especially with the likes of Microsoft and Zoom floating around.