Posted in practice on August 11, 2015 3:41 pm EDT

AV In Learning Environments

Teachable Moments AV is a major force in the sanctuary, less so in the classroom, but that is changing.

"If teachers and students are all using their own mobile devices, it really sidesteps the issue of budgeting for technology in the classroom.” - Jeff Miller, Senior Consultant, Idibri, San Diego, CA.











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By Dan Daley

At its core, a pastor’s Sunday sermon is a teaching moment, a recreation of the original two millennia ago on a Galilean hillside. But plenty of other educational activities take place in and around houses of worship, from the ubiquitous Sunday school classes that virtually every Christian church offers to training to operate the increasingly sophisticated AV systems that churches rely on to communicate their messaging. However, Christ’s exhortation of the Sermon on the Mount to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” hasn’t thus far extended to educational environments in most churches.

"Some churches are putting their content on the Internet and using online browsers to pull it down—allowing churches with multiple locations to use the same content."

“Cartoons on a 32-inch display purchased at Best Buy,” is how one AV systems integrator described most of the Sunday school learning environments he’s encountered at the same churches in which he’s installed concert-level line-array sound systems and large projection-video systems for their sanctuaries. The contrast between the level of technology in those sanctuaries and what’s found in educational areas of the same building or campus can be stark. Gary Zandstra, director of sales and marketing at Parkway Electric, an AV integrator in Holland, Mich., says that’s unfortunate but not unexpected.

“Sanctuaries aren’t really geared for typical classroom-type teaching,” he says, noting that he has seen them used well for higher-level conferences among church leaders, using the audio and video to communicate and share ideas. But for both youth and adult education, most of the time LCD screens are used to show commercially available content used to teach church precepts or other related topics. “And some of that is driven by the need to exert stewardship,” he adds, noting that for most Sunday schools and adult education little more than displays available at local electronics stores may be needed, keeping costs under control.

That said, the typical Sunday school environment has changed, thanks in part to those affordable LCD displays. “Sunday school isn’t the dusty basement room anymore,” Zandstra says, noting the use of multiple displays in some environments. However, it rarely seems to go far beyond that; he says he’s seen some use of interactive whiteboards in church education areas but they tend to be rare, citing volunteer teacher unfamiliarity and intimidation with the technology as the main culprits.

Jeff Miller, senior consultant in the San Diego office of AV systems designer and integrator Idibri who works in both house of worship and education verticals, agrees that there has been little crossover of advanced AV technology from the sanctuary to other educational areas. “Where [secular] education has made the shift to the whiteboard, education in churches tends to still be on the blackboard,” he says. “Most of the video content you see tends to be presentational rather than aimed at deepening knowledge and understanding.”

Val Dempsey, CEO of Communications and Entertainment, an Atlanta AV integrator that includes many churches in its portfolio, says the technology disconnect between the sanctuary and the classroom may have to do with the fact that many churches can justify the spend in the sanctuary because the better the AV systems are in it, the better the chance for a return on that investment, through use of the space for concert and other performances, and from third-party rentals of it as an entertainment or meeting venue. “They’re not seeing that same opportunity when it comes to AV technology in a teaching area of the church,” he says.

A Brighter Future?

But there are bright spots. Even if the content might still be of “Davey & Goliath” vintage, it’s coming from more high-tech sources. Miller says he seeing more use of central video servers in churches. These might have been installed mainly for use by the sanctuary’s control room but other aspects of church operation, such as Sunday school and adult education, are storing and pulling content from them. Miller points to Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, Ariz., as an example of a house of worship that has installed a video on demand (VOD) server that services both the sanctuary’s and the Sunday school’s needs. Some are also using lecture-capture techniques to create their own content, by recording lectures and classroom experiences. These are mostly audio-only at this point, but Miller says the decreasing costs of video and document cameras are helping create more original video educational content.

In addition to video servers, some churches are putting their content on the Internet and using online browsers to pull it down. This approach allows churches with multiple locations to use the same content. It also allows those with adult-education programs to let students access lectures and other material independently of the classroom.  continued >>