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.

mmhmm, Taking Advanced Online Presentations to the Next Level

As we enter year 700 of COVID-19, some faculty and staff are looking at 2021 wondering how they can spice up their online teaching environment without spending hours or days learning a full-blown video production application. While Zoom offers a wide range of ever-expanding features, there is still plenty of room for growth and mmhmm, a startup from Phil Libin, is capitalizing on that need.

First and foremost, mmhmm acts like PowerPoint steroids. You can supercharge your presentation by your webcam video overlayed on rich media content elements such as slides, images, videos, sounds, etc. Best of all, I was able to pick up the basics of the application in under 20 minutes or so, your mileage may vary. The easy drag and drop configuration nature of the application will have you creating or enhancing your presentation in minutes. Best of all, you can save your layout so that the next time you present, unlike Zoom, you won’t need to reposition your webcam feed, content location, etc.

Where mmhmm really excites us is its ability to feed that content into Zoom and a range of other video applications as a virtual camera or piece of content. While Zoom has enhanced a few features in this area over the past 6 months, mmhmm is considerably further along when it comes to rich presentations. On top of that, mmhmm is capable of capturing your presentation locally in a high-quality .mp4 video file WHILE also sharing that presentation with Zoom. Yes, Zoom can record the session, but sometimes you want a higher quality version, or you would rather not have the participants being a part of your recording. It’s the best of both worlds.

Finally, mmhmm has a copilot capability that will allow a remote participant to manage aspects of the presentation. This would come in handy when you have large productions where people are working together advancing slides. Perhaps not something for everyday use, but for power users… this could be a game changer.

Pros:

  • It just works!
  • Adds a level of sophistication to presentations, when you have the rich content
  • May allow for a better teaching delivery
  • Simplifies tasks that could take 30-60 seconds in Zoom (30-60 seconds doesn’t sound like long, but when you perform that task 20-30 times during a class, it’s an eternity)
  • The ability to save rich presentations can’t be understated… and is a feature lacking in Zoom. Having to “reset” your video layout can be problematic.

Cons:

  • The subscription pricing model is… well, expensive ($9.99/mo or $99/yr – no educational pricing to be seen)
  • mmhmm can consume a considerable amount of processing power. The fans on my MacBook Pro were screaming when running Zoom and mmhmm with advanced videos, etc. in the content box. I’m sure the new MacBook Pro with the M1 CPU won’t even blink.
  • You CAN do much of what mmhmm does with free and open source applications if you are willing to invest a good bit of time learning such platforms (which can be buggy at times), but mmhmm packages it up in a more faculty/staff friendly package.

Moving Music Instruction Online

Music teachers across the globe are struggling with the reality that they cannot bend time/space to their will and teach music synchronously as they’ve done in the past. Modifying instruction and understanding the limitations that online instruction impose will help make a meaningful learning experience for your students.

Mike from Brooklyn provides some great ideas on how to make the most of teaching online using something as simple as the mobile phone you already have. Again, understanding the limitations of camera angles and microphone performance and adapting are key to having successful online lesson

Here’s a summary of top points from his video:

  • General
    • Sit at a 45° angle from the camera for wind instruments so students can see the embouchure and fingers
    • Lighting is always important (no light behind you)
    • Student(s) and instructor should be in a quiet environment
    • Number your measures – students and teachers to make conversation about the music more efficient
  • Phone Challenges
    • Audio compression is significant. Sit farther away from the phone when performing and move physically closer when talking
    • Put phone on a tripod or some sort of a stand to avoid “difficult” angles
    • Put phone on do not disturb during lesson
    • Don’t use earphones or AirPods

For those on the Zoom platform, the most important item is to enable original sound. For folks at Duke, my team has published an article about optimizing sound for music on Zoom.

In a recent conversation with Brooks Frederickson from Duke’s Department Of Music, we both agreed that making sure the sound going into the computer is the best it can be is critically important. Using a headset mic or your computer’s built in mic will start your audio’s life off at a disadvantage so any challenges along the way will only make a bad sound worse.

In their testing, they’ve found that the reasonably priced Røde NT-USB mic is a great all purpose mic for use with many types of instruments. This pressure gradient mic features a JFET impedance converter with bipolar output buffer, A/D converter 16bit 48kHz to make it extremely flexible for voice and instrument use.

They are also experimenting with two interesting technologies.

They are using Cleanfeed to handle the audio collaboration while using Zoom to handle video. It offers built in recording, conferencing and a mixer to help give you much better control of your audio.

Soundtrap is a web based DAW that allows you to produce asynchronous collaborative music projects. Each individual performance will be in sync since you all will be playing with the same track. Brooks aptly described this as “Google Docs for music creation”. This could be used as a new approach to producing ensemble performances.

Please comment below for any tips/tricks that you’re employing to help continue music education through this challenging time.

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. 

Ultra-Cheap HDMI to USB Capture Device

In the golden age of AV, when confronted with the joyous task of converting an HDMI signal to something a local computer could easily ingest, you would simply fork out $2,500+ on a proper 1U device that would elegantly make that digital transition with ease, and call it a day. The single-purpose device was robust, came with dozens of features and capabilities (many of which weren’t utilized in the higher education market), and would work well for five to seven years with minimal issues (except for the faculty and staff that would tinker with the settings – which I’ve been guilty of!). This is during an era when HDMI to USB conversion was a luxury, reserved for those with deep pockets.

But, during the past 3-4 years, we’ve seen the rise of HDMI to USB dongles. Generally speaking, these dongles were much less expensive (usually in the $500 to $300 range), offered fewer features, and generally worked well. But, they were still $300+ and not something most technicians felt comfortable simply handing to a faculty, staff, or student in fear of the device going missing.

Enter 2020… and Amazon seems to be awash with this very inexpensive HDMI to USB thumb-drive style devices, listed under multiple manufacturers (usually not a good sign). Willing to roll the dice on a $32 purchase, my supervisor gave me permission to test the device. To my surprise, IT WORKED! I plugged it in, and the device was immediately recognized as “USB Camera” in Quicktime, Zoom, etc. by using the universal UVC (USB video device class) driver that ships with all modern Mac and PC computers, no driver software needed!

To check compatibility, I threw some oddball hardware at it to see how it would respond. First, I connected my aging Canon 5D MkIII DSLR at it, and it performed well. This is how good a proper DSLR can look in Zoom.

I then connected a game console to the device, and sure enough, it worked! I kept the connection alive for a few hours, and the image never dropped.

Conclusion:
So, do I completely trust this device? Maybe… it hasn’t failed me yet, but it was only $32, and it should cost $300! It’s hard to wrap your mind around such a device when the cost is so low. “There must be something wrong with it!” I keep thinking to myself. That said, I’m probably not going to recommend it as a complete replacement for our more reputable dongles for the foreseeable future. That said, this does make a nice device for testing or possibly handing out to faculty/staff/students to try in unique setups.

Here is my shortlist of Pros/Cons:

Pros:

  • It works!
  • The video quality looks great
  • It’s incredibly flexible for situations where you would like to capture a higher-end video camera, document camera, etc. Anything with an HDMI out!
  • Audio also seems to work (but honestly, I’d like to spend some additional time testing how robust the audio capabilities are).
  • It is C-H-E-A-P!!!

Cons:

  • My main beef with the device is that I don’t like “hard” dongles connected to my desktop. AKA, I wish it had a flexible USB connector between the device and my laptop to allow for some flex. It acts as a perfect lever and could damage your computer if directly connected and someone pulls on the HDMI cable. This wasn’t an issue as I was using my MacBook Pro dongle to connect the device
  • It’s “only” 1080p – 30 fps or 720p/60fps (no 4K here!)
  • The latency is surprisingly good for $32, but it’s not amazing
  • If you are buying this to stream games… you may want to spend the extra money
  • The HDMI to USB processing happens on your computer (some more expensive dongles perform the processing on the dongle, freeing up those extra processing cycles for your computer. This WAS a big deal, but modern computers have the extra bandwidth)
  • It’s USB 2.0, so the image quality is somewhat limited to USB 2.0 speeds, but it also works with older devices, so perhaps this is a pro?

Purchase Location: Amazon

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!