Furnishing for Connection

The Fox School of Business at Temple University faces the typical challenge of every institution of higher learning: a keen interest in improving student services with limited resources. By combining three wireless DLP projectors with complete walls covered with projector paint, large whiteboards, and easily movable furniture, the Management Information Systems (MIS) department at Temple’s Fox School of Business transformed Speakman Hall Room 200 from a traditional classroom into a high-tech meeting and events space that can morph from seminar room to an event area in a few minutes and that offers a very high-tech video wall and wireless projection for all participants.

“That kind of flexibility, there is no lab like this anywhere in the world,” says Munir Mandviwalla, MIS chairman at the University. “And we did it for less than half the cost of a normal tech-enabled classroom.”

As part of its mission, the Fox School says that it is “thoroughly committed to providing a student-centered education and professional development relevant to today’s digital, global economy,” a value that, the school says, “is reflected in the integration of technology into the curriculum and classroom.” This new classroom, which can accommodate up to 30 people, embodies those values.

The room features a wall painted with projector-friendly paint measuring 21 ft. long by five ft. wide. Users have a choice of displaying a single large projection or a patchwork of smaller laptop-driven images simultaneously. “This implementation is interesting and unusual because we’ve used the three projectors to create a single image or project multiple images, without adding the cost of processing that is normally involved,” says David Spiegel, president at Audio General, Inc., the Huntingdon Valley, PA-based systems integrator that implemented the technological aspects the project. “Usually, you can’t do this sort of thing without spending a lot of money.”

In total, equipment costs were kept to a minimal $16,000, although first quotes on the project put hardware costs at as much as $150,000. The whole project came in at under $50,000, about half of what the University expects to spend on a technology-enhanced classroom. Audio General put together a video integration system and processor that connects the projectors. In addition, the room is populated with tablet PCs and netbooks which can be used with the system.

Up to a dozen students can connect from their laptops to the installed projectors wirelessly to display their images, diagrams, or workspaces without additional specialized equipment. Each of the three projectors can link data and video from up to four PCs simultaneously, while remote monitoring and control provides flexibility in sharing data. The high-brightness projectors ensure that displayed content is clearly visible throughout the room.

“We had many different goals that we were trying to satisfy. We needed it to be extremely flexible,” says Mandviwalla. “We wanted a room where people could imagine and innovate and use the technology in a way that is completely personalized to their needs.”

To join the collaborative environment, users only need to take a few minutes to download a simple software program from the projector manufacturer. Using the software, everyone present can negotiate control over the image or images. Meanwhile, a hardware-based switch automatically turns off the projectors to conserve energy after a specified length of time, and can also be used to manually control the projectors.

“We wanted to push the frontier of in-tegrating technology, space, and meetings,” says Mandviwalla. “The requirements of flexibility, multipurpose, mobile, and so on all came from that vision.”

The classroom also features tables and chairs that can be nested for storage and moved around the room to create endless variations that exactly match the needs of whoever is using the room, whether they are hosting a small conference or encouraging conversation in small breakout groups. To further enhance flexibility, the room’s power outlets are embedded in the floor to power equipment without creating wire hazards.

“The concept of flexible spaces has been around for a long time, but it is only now that technologies such as wireless projection and furniture have converged to make these spaces feasible and convenient,” says Mandviwalla. 

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