Catchbox Stories – Engaging AV Students at InfoComm 2016

4 minute read

With more than 1,000 exhibitors and nearly 40,000 attendees from 110+ countries, the InfoComm Show is the largest event in the Western Hemisphere focusing on the professional AV industry.

The show is run by InfoComm International®, which is the trade association representing more than 70,000 AV professionals from more than 80 countries.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Jeremy Caldera, CTS-D & CTS-I, one of the many amazing instructors at InfoComm 2016 and Engineering Director at AV integration firm Zdi in Normal, Illinois. An all-around awesome guy, Jeremy has over 17 years of experience in AV, and a passion for making learning a better experience for everybody.

We were super excited to hear Jeremy’s story on audience engagement & his first encounter with our throwable mic:

You’re Gonna Throw a What?

When they [the organizers] told me that we were going to have throwable microphones, my first thought was ‘oh boy…this is going to be interesting.’

Strictly speaking, as an AV professional, I had some reservations about the product. I was concerned with the noise that, throwing a mic from person to person, might generate in a sound system. As soon as I got to test out the product, and learned how to use it properly, my initial concerns went away. Then it was all about how the crowd would react.

And the Crowd Goes Wild

For our sessions at InfoComm 2016, we generally had 25-50 people in a room, sitting around small tables. The rooms had screens for slides and were set up for presentations.

There was a little hesitation at first when it came to Catchbox. When I say at first, I mean the first 20-30 minutes of the class. My co-instructor and I tried to make the ‘Icebreaker’ portion of the first class fun and interactive. The Catchbox caught on quickly with the students as they tossed it from participant to participant while doing their introductions.

The atmosphere became much lighter and less stoic. I watched relationships form between strangers quicker during the collaboration events, mostly due to the relaxed atmosphere of the session. By the end of the first day of class, throwing the Catchbox was just ‘the way things were done’ in these sessions.

Setting the tone that this is a fun learning experience is extremely important. If attendees feel they are free to have a proper laugh, they will be more inclined to contribute more and express their ideas freely.

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Instructing for Engagement

One of Jeremy’s co-instructors, InfoComm Staff Instructor Chuck Espinoza, CTS-D, CTS-I, offers insight into engaging students when he teaches AV:

Several studies have shown Adults, who participate in learning sessions and who are active during the discussion, retain more of the concept and skill the training is trying to communicate. This is what I believe in when I’m instructing classes.

The primary function of an instructor is not be a manager of content, but a learning guide in the process of learning, The instructor is a person who uses two-way communication to establish the objectives and methods of the learning process.

Adults don’t want content, they want to solve problems. Having them discuss and engage with each other is a way for them to learn from their experiences. Also it means my student’s don’t have to just sit there for hours and listen to me talk at them.

Volleyball Instead of Ping-Pong

“I often use humor as an icebreaker,” Chuck continues. “I also use real-world examples in an attempt to relate to the problems that audience members have and are trying to solve. The goal is to have the students collaborate and exchange information with each other (think volleyball), instead of solely interacting with the instructor (think ping pong).

Once the participants start to “feel” more engaged and the benefits of that engagement – once they feel like a part of the team and not just someone sitting in a room with strangers – they add to the whole of the experience.

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Accommodate AV Learning to the Individual Level

I had one participant who, even though she enjoyed the engagement, had a fear of things being thrown ‘at’ her,”. When I felt that her participation level could be elevated a bit, I would walk over to her area, and hand the Catchbox to her. I would walk away while she was talking and have her toss it back to me.

She later commented that she felt more comfortable being handed the Catchbox and as a result, participated more.

Strangers Becoming Friends

Jeremy says he appreciated the camaraderie that the Catchbox brought about.

When people are seated at tables, they don’t generally talk to each other. They feel uncomfortable because that’s normal in a professional environment. You are expected to listen to the speaker, so you focus on just that.

I don’t want that. I want their experience and ideas to come out.

Think about it – A single person at the table can have 25 years worth of experience. An entire group can therefore culminate 70 years of experience. Why wouldn’t I want that to be heard?

With Catchbox, I could roll it to them and everyone would chuckle: ‘Hey we’ve had a similar situation! Give me the box, let me tell you about it.

People would develop a relationship during the session and connect after class. I’m putting people into a situation where they are comfortable and in some sense, forced to interact. Once I have broken that wall for the students, they are far more comfortable contributing to the class and their own little group.
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For the Av Pros & Instructors Out There

“Learn the electronics,” Jeremy suggests. “Make sure the microphone, transmitter pack and the Catchbox circuitry are all on and the gain structure for the channel is set correctly. The mic won’t work properly if you don’t switch the Catchbox Automute circuitry on.

But in general, use it; play with it. The more comfortable you are with the Catchbox, the more comfortable the students will be with it. Make the experience enjoyable — learning that is entertaining is far more effective than learning that is boring and unenjoyable. The message sticks better if the experience is positive and the desire to repeat that experience is present.

“I would say we had 10 to 15 times more student engagement than when we weren’t using Catchbox for our educational sessions.”

Thank you Jeremy & Chuck for sharing your Catchbox Story with us, and the whole InfoComm International team for being for a welcoming host at the event!

About Jeremy Caldera:

Jeremy Caldera, Engineering Director for Zdi Inc., is also a member of the InfoComm University faculty and Chair of the InfoComm Certification Steering Committee. He developed and now teaches an AV design course for Columbia College Chicago. It is one of the premier accredited, college-level professional AV courses in the United States.

Twitter: @jeremy_caldera

LinkedIn: Jeremy Caldera

About Chuck Espinoza:

Charles (Chuck) Espinoza, InfoComm Staff Instructor, has over 26 years’ experience in the Audio video industry with 13 years in the United States Marine Corps – 8 of those years as Platoon Sergeant and Marksmanship instructor. He has contributed to the development of hundreds of audio visual professionals in his numerous professional training roles, as well as through his leadership in InfoComm International.

Twitter: @madsoundguy

LinkedIn: Chuck Espinoza


Photos provided by EPNAC for InfoComm International.

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