Higher-ed classrooms serve a tech-savvy society. Laptop computers are now as mandatory for students as pens and three-ring binders were 10 years ago. Likewise, audiovisual technology is as important as walls and podiums are in today’s classrooms. Whether students are sitting in the classroom or tuning in from across the country, they’re quickly coming to expect sophisticated technology that offers more choices in their education and helps them learn efficiently and effectively. Here are some trends in audiovisual technology that will help you build competitive educational buildings today (and beyond).
The ability to capture classroom audio and video directly to the computer so it can be recorded for future broadcast or streamed live to off-campus locations is necessary. This technology offers quality video and audio to offsite students, online interactive capabilities, and convenience for students and instructors. Today’s classroom-capture technology should include cameras and controls that are easy to use, and that can even be automated. Touchscreen controls allow instructors to change the camera view on the fly and pan around the room. Flexible capture software can record and display multiple images and audio so students get a more fulfilling remote experience.
Acting as the sophisticated cousin of classroom capture (see above), distance learning creates production-quality material and is commonly seen in higher-end classrooms at major universities. Akin to telemedicine in the healthcare setting, which allows medical students to observe and interact in real time with surgeons during surgery, the ability to connect students to world-class teaching from remote colleges and rural areas is making quality education more accessible. Large universities can tie campus classrooms together through sophisticated video-conferencing technology. No more will the remote student strain to hear the speakers on a panel due to subpar audio recording. Advanced controls can be incorporated to allow speakers to touch a button that not only turns on microphones, but also points the cameras in their direction.
Essentially forums without cameras (forums that use a PowerPoint type of presentation), webinars allow instructors to hold classes from a central location for a location-diverse student body. Live or recorded webinars allow students to take courses remotely and give teachers the flexibility to teach a course from almost anywhere, be it a studio or from their own office. Live webinars often include chat lines so students can text questions or interact with the class.
With huge implications for the ease of use of classroom technologies, not to mention the cost of maintenance incurred by the facility, this technology allows support staff to access technology from a remote central help desk. Help technicians log in, take control, and assess and repair system problems with little class downtime. Remote monitoring takes place through the facility’s data network, which offers other advantages, such as monitoring assets. For example, alerts can be set up for events as simple as a burned-out projector lamp, or as major as the equipment’s physical location.
Related to remote monitoring, as well as dynamic digital signage, room scheduling has great potential for making life easier for teachers and students. LCDs or touchscreens mounted at the entrance to lecture halls and conference rooms display information, such as what class or gathering is in session in a room at any given time, or the availability of the room for future use. Teachers and/or students can search for available rooms and schedule rooms at the door (on touchscreen systems) or from any computer.
School design is following the collaboration trends in society – collaborative spaces are crucial. As in libraries, conference centers, and other public spaces, large, flexible rooms that are divisible into smaller breakout rooms are in demand. These spaces have collaborative software and audiovisual systems with plug-and-play technology to support collaboration.
Collaborative software allows a room of students with laptops, all connected to the network wired or wirelessly, to work together on a large screen. The instructor or group leader can switch to any one computer or multiple computers, simultaneously projecting them on the large screen to show multiple images of students’ work for comparing notes or discussing the material.
Replacing the optical overhead projector, annotation technology is an important tool for classroom teaching, distance learning, and collaborative learning. With the trend toward larger classrooms, small electronic whiteboards just won’t work. Annotation technology projects onto the large screen in the lecture hall, and the instructor isn’t limited to annotating with a pen, but can drag in text and objects, such as circles, squares, and arrows, that can be saved to a file or sent to a remote site for a distance learning class. The instructor can annotate on the image going out to a remote class, and the students can actually annotate back, making for a very collaborative session.
The Move to Digital
The move from standard analog to full digital technology is the wave of the future. The possibilities of digital technology are endless, from high-definition images to virtual teaching. Cost implications have been a factor, but costs are coming down. Digital changes everything, from normal screen to widescreen, analog to high-definition video, ease of use and programming, less components to run the system, and much more.
Richard Erwin and Brian O’Bannon are audiovisual consultants and project managers at Sparling. Erwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. O’Bannon can be reached at email@example.com.