In 15 years of working at Roanoke College, David Mulford has witnessed firsthand the convergence of A/V and IT technologies and has not escaped unscathed: It has changed not just the way he works, but his very job title.
His old title reflected the siloed thinking of A/V and IT as separate entities. Mulford, whose background is in A/V, used to be the Director of Media Services. But as the college upgraded technology across the entire campus, the A/V and IT departments merged, and five years ago Mulford became the Director of the Instructional Technology Resource Center.
“I came from an AV background and [now] I work for IT,” Mulford said. “They’re compatible in some ways but its kind of like being a Republican and a Democrat: You both have the same goal but you have different ways of getting there sometimes.”
Those previously disparate, red-state-blue-state philosophies have made stories like Mulford’s common.
In the last decade, as information signals have changed from analog to digital signals, A/V and IT delivery technologies have blended so much so that the two fields are now essentially one, said Jonathan Joyce of New York-based JD Professional Systems.
“Pretty much almost every single A/V component out there right now… has some sort of IT data connection,” Joyce said. Instead of transmitting as analog sine waves, this new world of (almost) completely digital data transmits over an IT framework that works like an internet structure, with each output node – be it a computer, a projector or a flatscreen digital display – on the network having an individual IP address.
“Everything’s melding into one big lump,” Joyce said.
In some instances, the transition has created tension between competing departments within colleges and universities, and administrators have dealt with it according to their level of technological competence.
“It’s become a necessity to learn the other trade, or at least have a good relationship with the other department,” said Joyce.
“What you have to do is sort of find the moderate person in the room,” Mulford advised.
“I don’t know if there’s any set game plan, it’s probably a reflection of their degree of integration,” said Tim Ridgway, the Vice President of Marketing for Califone, a developer and manufacturer of audio/visual equipment for schools.
This convergence has also created communication problems between college administrators and commercial integrators. Often times decision-makers at schools don’t know – or don’t care – that many commercial integrators come from A/V backgrounds and do not have an innate familiarity or comfort with IT solutions.
“It actually creates a big challenge,” said Anthony Cortes, the Director of Sales and Marketing, K-12 Classroom Systems for Extron Electronics, a leading vendor of control systems. “We’ve been making that statement that if you’re an A/V company you need to adopt some sort of IT experience. Because it’s going that route and if you don’t you’re going to be left behind, it’s just the way the market’s going. It’s not something that we’re predicting, it’s something that’s happening today.”
To circumvent potential communication issues, schools need to find integrators who can think of the solutions from an educator’s point of view.
“I think there’s a divide between equipment and usage and students,” said Patti Palancia, an education consultant for A/V integration leader AVI-SPL. “As integrators, you have to look at what the student learning outcomes are going to be from what you’re going to install. So it’s not about the equipment, and it’s not about the projector. It’s about what is going to make a difference for the student. How are the teachers going to be able to use this technology for student learning gains. And that’s the biggest gap.
“It’s been an interesting shift over the last 10, 20 years,” said Ridgway. “But as the systems are beginning to spill into other areas, and as teaching itself is changing, the two are beginning to converge or have more overlap than they historically have.”
The transition at Roanoke has been thankfully smooth, said Mulford.
“We’ve had no trouble at all working with our IT staff… there’s no real turf battles being fought on our campus, which is rather fortunate,” he said. “I’ve heard of it not being so smooth on other campuses.”