Planning With a Team

When conceptualizing a new space or a classroom renovation, there are probably a number of decision makers on the team, but sometimes certain stakeholders are missing. End users and those who will be maintaining a facility are sometimes left out of the process — another key group, integrators, have also often been left in the dark. This is changing, though, as more schools are realizing the importance of multiple voices at the table helping to visualize how a space will be used and what exactly really needs to be in the space.

Susan Holguin, CEO and founder of Vizual Symphony, Inc., an audiovisual integrator in California, says that they’ve found the most success on projects where they’ve partnered with the end user from the beginning of a project. “We get a vision for what they’re looking for, what they’re trying to accomplish, their longer range plans, and that just doesn’t come through working with a contractor or architect; it just gets lost in translation,” she explains. “We’re not the kind of firm that just puts in equipment — we are one that likes to be more like a solutions provider.” It’s frustrating for Holguin to be pulled in at the end of a project to only install equipment because often it isn’t the right equipment or something is missing or not what the end user intended.

Having a seat at the table from the very beginning allows an integrator to get a feel for not only how a space will be used presently, but also what the future uses might be. A school that wants to integrate digital signage or video conferencing sometime in the future must not only budget for these items, they need to plan them into their actual facility spaces. Adding infrastructure for future technology will make the transition easier. The coordination between people working in IT and those using the technology can also result in better decisions from not only the actual technology pieces themselves to important, but often overlooked, pieces, like where outlets should be.

Holguin offers an example from this summer when Vizual Symphony helped a school install forward-thinking classrooms modeled off the University of Minnesota’s Active Learning Classrooms. Student tables were going to have eight connections for devices, which came up during discussions a month before the project began. “We had a really good discussion with everyone involved about what is it we’re really trying to accomplish because eight connections at each table seemed like overkill,” Holguin recalls. “And it was a lot of money to do that because it is eight tables time eight connections; that’s a lot of electronics behind it to make that happen. Once we sat down to discuss what we want to accomplish, what is the reason behind it, everybody had a voice and we were able to come up with a much better solution.” Instead of eight connections, each table would have two connections and a permanent computer. “There’d always be something the students connect to, but if the students brought their own devices, they would have a couple of choices as well.”

That meeting exemplifies what Holguin hopes to accomplish. “I felt that everyone was able to state the reasons, and we all came up with something we felt satisfied all that, and that was not only a good process but good results. I felt like everyone had buy-in, and there weren’t people coming later and saying, ‘If only you had…’ which is frustrating because you really try to take into account people’s requests.” She adds, “But that’s ideal, you don’t always get that.”

A diverse group involved in the planning of learning spaces can create facilities that not only tick off the list of needs in a building, but also serve as effective learning environments that achieve a school’s goals. Without involvement from IT or other stakeholders, necessary infrastructure can be forgotten or improperly installed. Diverse involvement from the planning stage is key to implementing the most usable system at the end of the process. Integrators will be there from the first step to the renovations and beyond to support your needs as technology and learning modes change. 

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