Q&A with Mark Gareau, Director, Multimedia Distribution Service, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada
The winding and elegant Rideau Canal gives Ontario’s capital city, Ottawa, a singular charm. The city is also known as a museum, culinary, and high-tech mecca. Near the Rideau is the University of Ottawa, a global research hub with a staggering enrollment: 42,000 students. We asked Mark Gareau, the school’s director of multimedia distribution service, to shed light on how large higher ed institutions like the University of Ottawa can stay current with technology demands.
AV Technology: How is AV/IT convergence playing out in your company’s facility?
As part of the Teaching and Learning Support Service at the University of Ottawa, the Multimedia Distribution Service’s (MDS) role is quite diverse. The group is responsible for design specifications and technology solutions to new and renovated spaces for the over 500+ classrooms and learning spaces on campus. Ancillary services include classroom support, coordination and expertise to live events, video services (production, editing, storage and live streaming), classroom lecture capture and virtual polling, BYOD and digital signage. As hybrid and online courses become more prevalent and pervasive, quality and punctual support will become even more encompassing.
MDS meets these high expectations with little or no downtime by emphasizing standardization, proactive tools and backend monitoring — such as PROD/DEV servers, dedicated VLANs and enterprise resources such as AMX’s RMS Enterprise and DELL KACE solutions — allowing staff to solve and reduce issues before they would normally occur.
What AV/IT problems have you solved recently?
Mark Gareau: Working collaboratively and closely with our IT service, the University found a campus-wide solution to the wireless and BYOD conundrum.
The challenge would have seemed at first to be quite simple and straightforward but, in actuality, became complex and daunting due to the need for standardisation and campus saturation. Authentication, Secure Access, Network Addressing, connectivity and reliability (especially for video and polling) were of paramount concern. For such an implementation to take place, the BYOD solution had to be simple, reliable and secure.
To our end users, the overall experience was the key to the project’s success. Clients were expecting the same experience in their teaching spaces as they would when in their own homes. To facilitate and encourage the process meant that professors could use their personal devices and roam freely in their teaching spaces allowing for better professor-student interaction and consequently better cognitive learning. Tools such as ECHO360’s Active Learning Platform (ALP) also enhanced the teaching experience allowing students the opportunity to review material before, during and after class and providing a personalized repository for note-taking. Professors, on the other hand, had the opportunity to quiz students at any time in order to follow their personal progress.
What types of new tech or products do you want to learn more about?
Mark Gareau: Cloud-based product and service solutions in general.
As more solutions are trending and transitioning towards the cloud, educational institutions are grappling with the thought of the “cloud” and the impact it may have on the overall organization. The University of Ottawa has already started the migration of certain products and services to the cloud. However, in the process, questions have often arisen on certain tangibles and potential risks:
· What are the actual cost-savings, if any, of cloud vs in-house solutions (infrastructure, staff, and so on)? If there are no cost-savings, perhaps other savings and/or benefits apply.
· Cloud services still require in-house staff to support the product or service (training, troubleshooting, client key contact, authentication, etc.).What is the justification process for such positions within the organization?
· Are there any security issues or confidential information that can cause legal or other issues and repercussions to the institution?
· Is analytical data easily available to users, staff and key decision-makers?
· What is the reliability factor with the service provided on the cloud? How do issues get resolved promptly? How do you work out the issues, what is the workflow and who takes lead responsibility and ownership of any such issues?
· Is there the potential threat of losing core competencies from within the organization?· Does the cloud service provider/product provide all the necessary requirements (accessibility, multilingual packs, and so on)?
What AV/IT do you hope to buy in the near future?
Mark Gareau: We are continually looking to improve our products and overall services; finding new collaborative tools and a Unified Communication strategy are equally as important and imperative if we are to assist and empower our campus clientele.
At the moment, unifying the digital signage and wayfinding on campus (design templates and product standards, technical support, content policies, interactive kiosks and IP clocks) are key to our overall campus marketing and communication success strategies. Roles and responsibilities to both the selection process and type of technology used for Emergency Notification Alerts in various areas of the campus are crucial. At the moment, we are proposing an open-source solution to better unify the various deployments we have on campus.
Where are tech manufacturers getting it wrong or missing opportunities?
Mark Gareau: For the most part, in the last few years anyway, the better tech manufacturers are ‘getting it right’ and are making the connection with the end users for retroactive feedback and collaboration. Certain key manufacturers are scheduling on-going meetings with the end users to get better insights on their products and services.
Unfortunately, some manufacturers are more reluctant to follow this path and other manufacturers are missing opportunities for totally different reasons. Manufacturers that are seeking to abruptly change adopted infrastructures in larger educational institutions, or introduce new competing products in a mature product segment, may find it difficult to penetrate these markets.
What are your collaboration strategies?
Mark Gareau: We have several solutions and offerings based on the specific request or the application. The solution for successful implementation is one that meets or exceeds the needs of the client, a solution that will be accepted and endorsed by the majority of users, be user-friendly and intuitive and, lastly, provide the scalability, system redundancy and analytics to our technical and administrative teams.Our staff constantly evaluates and proposes technological tools and solutions to the professors. But in the end, it is the professor who decides whether the technology suits the needs of the course or the program. It is the pedagogy that drives the technology in the classroom (but oftentimes it is the technology component that facilitates and enhances the cognitive proponents of the pedagogy).