About this PROJECT.
The Calgary Board of Education's Career and Technology Centre is a renovated school that's been converted into modules such as an auto shop and hairdressing studio - as well as a complete audio and video production facility that makes broadcasting pros jealous.
The studio, created with Matrix Video Communications, is a "proof of concept," according to Assistant Principal Mark Anderson. "The school board (wanted to) develop a prototype model for this and the most economical way was to take an older building, Lord Shaughnessy High School, and to do a renovation to bring it up to the latest technology standards." The CBE was looking for a kind of plug-and-play strategy, Anderson said, "and when we requested that from Matrix they didn't think it was a problem - and it didn't turn out to be one."
The overall facility is a kind of junior polytechnical institute - kind of like a small Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) for high schoolers - in which students from 17 different schools spend half days working with the best equipment, with dual-certified teachers who help them get a leg up on their postsecondary studies.
Building a working studio is expensive and complex, however, and that means it can't be done at every high school, which is why the CBE decided to make it part of its Career and Technology Centre. "What we conceived," Anderson said, "was a program that all high school students could access, that created media that can be taken back to the (students' regular) schools. And we've created opportunities for students to both publish their own content and to work with customers in media production and design."
Starting from scratch allowed access to the latest technology - not just digital video and audio but augmented by other technologies such as green screens and leading edge, LED studio lighting that uses 50 per cent less power than old fashioned lights (and last longer), and whose grid-based mounting design offers extreme ease of use and flexibility.
According to Les Enser, Matrix' project leader, "they're fully outfitted to handle any kind of medium-size production, and it gives them an edge in getting prepared for what's expected if they decide to go into these fields."
The studio includes "full production switching facilities to control the studio's three video cameras, and they can either shoot something live or edit it for later," Enser said. The video is full 1080p HD and there are three computer-based Avid video editing suites plus a dedicated audio mixing studio whose digital board handles 16 channels, all of which tie into the latest version of Avid's Pro Tools audio suite. A separate booth allows for "voiceovers including public service announcements or an actual production - or even music," said Enser.
An Avid server supports up to 30 students, so people can preview video files and/or edit them remotely, which is great for collaboration. And a portable mixer, with monitors, can be moved virtually anywhere a student needs an "on location" shot. It gives students the same capabilities for mobile production as in-studio.
Anderson is bullish on the studio's success to date. "This is now year two and we've had some great productions and lots of success for the students," he said. "Last year, Canada's Gold Medal winners came from this facility. They won Best in Canada, two young students in Grade 11 who I believe are on their way to ACAD (Alberta College of Art and Design) now. We have some very top performers."
Matrix was instrumental in the design, execution and training. "The stuff was technically complicated and the Board doesn't have the expertise," Anderson said, "so we worked with Matrix to come up with a plan that would allow us to reach our educational goals, fit the budget we had and (attract) kids to the curriculum."
Anderson had worked with other installation crews, but said Matrix' "were the best of all of the installers we had. I had a chance to work with a lot of different consultants and it was a pleasant surprise to have such a great working relationship with the designers and installers."
The collaboration didn't stop there, however. "The training was huge," Anderson said. "There's an awful lot of different technologies here, and teachers are not necessarily the experts, so there was significant investment to ensure everything we designed and purchased was usable, because the downside is that it only collects dust. But everything here is being well used. Matrix left us in a position to use it all and use it wisely."
And it's working. "We have great interest from the students who come here and they're very serious about the work they do. That leads us to some really good quality productions."
The facility is apparently creating lust outside of school, too. "Breakfast Television and a few other news outlets have been here to do stories," Anderson said, "and their television crews are really envious - because we have the latest technologies!"