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AVNation ICONS: Paul Martin

Making AV Work Harder For The Community at DePaul University

It rarely happens, but if a professor encounters technical difficulties in a classroom, Paul Martin and DePaul University’s AV Technology and Support team are just a phone call away.

It’s an information-services version of rapid response designed to fix things fast. When some students attend class remotely, and professors have incorporated essential elements of a lecture into a PowerPoint presentation, technology gone awry is more than an annoyance. It can grind learning to a halt.

“Over the past three years, we’ve done a significant upgrade to the classrooms,” says Martin, the associate director of AV Technology and Support at DePaul. “We have Zoom in the majority of classrooms, and we’ve added a significant amount of technology.”

The team is ready to spring into action, appearing in a classroom in 15 minutes or less to assess the situation and, with any luck, make the fix without too much downtime for the professors and their students.

The first person to respond is typically a student with limited experience earning money while getting a degree. Martin says the classrooms have been designed with that typical first responder in mind. The idea is to keep classroom technology setups as standardized as possible so that the first person on the scene immediately recognizes what they are looking at and the likely fixes.

The system works well, says Martin, who has been with DePaul for seven years, though he was only recently promoted to his current position. Working well and prioritizing the needs of DePaul’s community, whether it’s the day-to-day support of AV services or upgrading 85 classrooms for remote learning in a single quarter during the pandemic, is what makes Martin an AVNation ICON.

Pivoting, Then Pivoting Again

Martin and the university have proved a good match, even though an audiovisual career wasn’t what he envisioned when he was a teenager growing up in Tinley Park, a suburb of roughly 55,000 people on the southside of Chicago, about 35 miles from the DePaul campus.

In those days, Martin played guitar and formed a band with his friends. Like many musically inclined young people, he imagined a career on stage, wowing the crowds in one city after another. When Martin determined his musical ability had its limits, he embarked on a career as a sound engineer. It proved a fun profession, an excellent way to get a jolt of excitement backstage if you weren’t going to be onstage.

Over time, though, Martin realized that a profession that required so much night and weekend work wasn’t for him. He was still young, but he could already see that the lifestyle this career required didn’t match the life he envisioned for himself.

So, he pivoted and began working as an audiovisual technician. Eventually, this new career path led him to DePaul, a Catholic university that serves about 21,000 students.

There, he joined the AV Technology and Support team, which, in addition to keeping classrooms running, is also in charge of such duties as handling the technology for 100 conference rooms and managing most of the university’s digital signage.

Finding a Partner in CTI

Generally, DePaul’s AV Technology and Support team technicians handle all service calls and improvements. Occasionally, there’s a need to look outside for assistance. Fortunately, as Martin says, the university has developed a long and fruitful relationship with CTI, a leading custom audio-visual systems integration solutions specialist.

“It’s an interesting relationship,” he says. In the early days, DePaul would order equipment through CTI and use its staff to install that equipment. Over time, CTI was brought in to handle the installation on bigger projects.

Then came 2020 and the pandemic. University closures across the country had students heading home to avoid COVID-19. Learning still had to happen, but most facilities weren’t equipped for remote instruction.

DePaul devised a plan to modify 85 rooms and prepare them for the next academic quarter. But there was a more than slight problem. The job was bigger than the in-house team could complete in such a short time window.

“There was no way our staff could do that,” Martin says. “We tapped CTI, and they were up to the challenge. I am sure it wasn’t easy because I’m sure they were answering the call to a lot of other universities. It strengthened our relationship.”

Since then, many more classrooms have been modified, making them capable of in-person and remote lectures.

Putting the Results to the Test

DePaul wasn’t wholly winging it when COVID-19 changed all the rules and the needs. The university had an advantage because the AV team was already working on hybrid classrooms. The pandemic, Martin says, just accelerated the schedule, and “we did a little tweaking to our design.”

The entire department also sweated over supply chain issues that the pandemic caused. Martin describes a constant battle to secure the equipment they needed.

Finally, the classroom design was put to the test. Overall, he feels things worked well, though there was still tweaking ahead as the faculty provided input, and changes were made accordingly, resulting in a classroom design that is now locked in. What was once innovative is now routine, and online learning is widespread, offering faculty, students, and even guest speakers opportunities they didn’t have before.

Want an expert from Italy to give a guest lecture, but travel expenses are limited? Remote learning was made for such moments.

Not everything lends itself to checking in from a dorm room rather than showing up in person. Lab work is a hands-on activity, and music classes are definitely better in person. Sound quality has its limits in the virtual world.

Says Martin, “You can’t hear what an oboe really sounds like over Zoom.”

 

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