Apr 21 2020

Making the Most of Small Campus Spaces with Digital Collaboration Solutions

Schools are deploying advanced digital and collaboration solutions in conference rooms and student spaces

When it comes to higher education, most people associate collaboration and digital workspace solutions with experiences on a larger scale, such as distance learning or connecting multiple campuses.

It’s no wonder: Higher education institutions have been at the forefront of using collaboration and digital workspace solutions to help them scale up, most notably by expanding distance-learning programs or connecting remote campuses. But schools are also applying these tools on a smaller scale, both in the classroom and at an administrative level. In turn, they’re experiencing unexpected benefits, including cost savings and significant return on investment.

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Room with a Zoom

When Martin Dunn arrived as the new dean ofthe University of Colorado Denver College of Engineering, Design and Computing, he was tasked with personally raising the bulk of the $72 million needed for a new state-of-the-art engineering ­building. The effort required creating a space with collaboration and videoconferencing solutions that efficiently supported a steady stream of virtual meetings with prospective donors and strategic partners, both locally and around the world.

At the time, Dunn’s small administrative ­conference room wasn’t up to the task, explains CU Denver IT manager Kenny Sisco.

“We used a portable system that was cable-heavy and would take 15 minutes per meeting to set up, and then another five minutes to tear down,” Sisco explains. “Plus, the audio was bad, the camera didn’t cover everything in the room, and people had to bring their own laptops and set up their own video meetings. It was obnoxious.”

4 seconds

Average login time at Community College of Rhode Island, down from 1 minute before digital workspaces were introduced1

Source: EDUCAUSE Review, “Digital Workspaces Elevate Learning,” Dec. 2, 2019

Dunn tasked the IT team with finding a better solution that would allow him to “burn and turn” from one presentation to the next, as Sisco puts it, and be as productive as possible.

The team talked to existing vendors and investigated a variety of piecemeal enterprise-grade collaboration setups, with little success — that is, until the IT team’s research led them to the Logitech Zoom Room, which offered more functionality at less than half the price of anything else they’d seen.

“It was extremely cost-effective, but it was also very close to the kind of one-touch solution that we needed,” Sisco says. “With this setup, users don’t even have to bring a laptop. They don’t have to plug in any cables or fight with adapters. They just walk in and touch the tablet to bring up their meeting, and it kicks right up. If they want to share a screen, they touch a button for that too.”

The kit, a Zoom Room Large, comes preconfigured with a pan-and-zoom camera, three microphones, speakers, a Logitech Tap touch controller and an Intel Nook, which connects the tablet to the video screen and the network.

“There are only two full-time IT staff working within the college, plus a handful of students, so we wanted something we could implement without any outside support and that our users could use independently,” Sisco explains.

For Dunn, the new setup translates time into money. He’s already raised 50 percent of the cost, with a big chunk of that coming in since the new conference room went live last fall. “He obviously has a strong presentation that appeals to donors, but the Zoom system just makes it so much easier and more efficient for him to connect with people and make his case,” Sisco says.

In fact, the new solution made such a difference that others at CU Denver are following suit. The Business School, for example, implemented a Logitech Zoom Room, and the College of Engineering plans to install the system in all of its conference rooms.

“It’s simple, easy to use and intuitive, which just increases productivity and decreases overall costs to the college,” Sisco says. “And people can use it independently. They don’t need the IT staff to get the system going, and we don’t have to dedicate support staff for a meeting that’s taking place after hours. It’s just highly efficient.”

Redefining a Multipurpose Room

For St. John’s University in New York City, advancements in collaboration and audiovisual technologies offer a chance to better engage students — and even shape student recruitment efforts.

This unique benefit extends from the school’s 2017 decision to transform an outdated and little-used computer lab into a Technology Commons to meet growing student demand for a variety of activities.

With the installation of a relatively new DigitalMedia NVX broadcasting system from Crestron,
St. John’s was able to convert the old lab into a new, flexible, tech-powered space that proved capable of hosting a media art design studio, a virtual reality lab and sports management classes. The university is also looking at using the technology to showcase medical simulations and collaborate on crime scene investigations.

Kenny Sisco
The audio was bad, the camera didn’t cover everything in the room, and people had to bring their own laptops and set up their own video meetings. It was obnoxious.

Kenny Sisco IT Manager, University of Colorado, Denver

“Faculty members and anyone else working on a group collaboration can grab any content from their own screen or a VR pod or a group member’s workstation and cast it up on the screen so that everyone else can see it, get a better idea of how someone else is solving a problem, provide feedback or ask questions,” says Eric Alvarado, executive director of enterprise architecture and strategy at St. John’s. “It just really provides a seamless, highly visible way for people to work together and learn.”

With regard to gaming, which has seen rapid adoption among new classes of students coming into the university, the space has proved to be suitable for any esports aficionados, hosting both intra- and intercollege esports competitions.

“The room was set up so students could play on the 12 gaming stations that we put in place, but we also wanted to try to broadcast that play out so that other students and visitors could watch it on large wall displays,” says Alvarado.

This multilayered solution uniquely channels all the content from different gaming stations through one platform and then broadcasts it to a variety of wall displays, no matter the location. At St. John’s, that not only includes screens within the Technology Commons, but also on external screens, including two large walls of glass in a high-traffic, outdoor area of the campus.

MORE ON EDTECH: How University Faculty Embraced the Remote Learning Shift.

Initially, the IT team thought the only way they could enable this functionality was with a local AV switch, but that would be more difficult to manage and would limit the action to wall displays set up within the Technology Commons.

“With this system, we are now able to project those games out so not only can other students, campus visitors and prospective students watch and enjoy what’s happening on a big screen, but also our esports coaches and team members can analyze the play and then later go back and talk to the players about how to make adjustments and improve,” Alvarado says. “Before, they would have to walk from workstation to workstation or huddle around the student’s monitor. Now, they can get a much better view of all the intricacies of play that are taking place.”

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