The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown as social distancing measures were implemented by the Government and health officials took the education sector by surprise. The speed at which the virus took hold meant many HE institutions simply weren’t prepared adequately enough to meet the new health regulations on social distancing and to deliver academic to student learning within a safe environment. Rob Smith, Senior Director, System Sales, Shure explains how audio technology van deliver a superior videoconferencing experience.
The pressure on the education sector was immense, with a need to reorganise and reopen, quickly and effectively, on a national and international level. Running parallel to this was also the need for technology that could not only communicate lessons via online modules and virtual collaboration tools but offered a superior videoconferencing solution away from the immediate choice of utilising social media platforms as a means of delivering learning, which were simply not up to standard.
The response was a patchwork of solutions to ‘just get the job done’ in the short-term without much focus on the student experience. This soon led to the realisation that these short-term fixes were being detrimental to the learning journey, with both academics and students tired and frustrated at AV systems that were inadequate for purpose. Faculty heads and administrators needed to re-think strategy and many took the opportunity through the summer months to migrate lectures online ahead of the classrooms reopening and lessons taking place again.
In some instances, HE institutions had to start from scratch, investing in new AV systems fit for purpose, redesigning classroom layouts and thinking about AV systems that not only offered better audio clarity within the classroom, but also for students collaborating remotely and working to online modules. Classrooms in the most part are designed to provide line of sight to the teacher from all seating positions, however, AV equipment was usually not part of the design considerations. Along with the room acoustics, this is one of the many initial challenges that an integrator has to deal with when first scoping a project.
Zoom, MS Teams and a host of other video conferencing platforms were also now an essential tool in order to keep lessons on track, platforms that just 12 months earlier had been the reserve of the corporate world but were now being utilised by HE institutions on a global scale.
The convergence between AV and IT departments has been well documented. However, there was now a renewed focus as both sets of professionals worked together to provide the efficient, flexible AV solutions needed to offer students the best possible experience for them to progress with their learning journey, designing and creating larger classrooms and lecture theatre environments with smaller groups of students.
By drawing on their shared experiences and knowledge, and working alongside specialist AV integrators, AV systems were created to meet and exceed requirements. This enables an inclusive high-end audio experience, effortlessly connecting both faculty and students with each other and their classes with high-quality audio, for both domestic and international students. The plus side to this investment also meant cutting-edge videoconferencing technology could now be implemented within the HE environment.
Lecture capture is now offered to both faculty and students as a means of referencing lessons and coursework. Voice lift, a relatively new technology that provides natural and consistent speech across a given space from near to far-end participant, has been embraced by the HE sector for providing faculty with a means of conducting lessons without the fatigue of having to raise voices or strain to engage with students in open sessions. It also provides a way for the remote students to accurately hear the questions and discussion points made by students in the classroom.
There is, of course, a need for understanding and effective operation of this new technology. Shure has been working alongside our partners to provide assistance and support for the audio needs of new learning styles to ensure that both academics and students are not inhibited by this new technology. We appreciate that collaboration and discussion is an essential part of the learning experience and want to make sure that our customers have the best support possible, so that in turn they can support the needs and requirements of the teachers and students.
Recent innovation within the Higher Education sector has been, and continues to be, both amazing and encouraging, with our partners adapting these new technologies to provide the sector with the best learning environments possible. This network of fantastic talent, along with the dedication and perseverance of professionals within the AV means that we have seen the integration of exciting new solutions that have enhanced the remote learning experience, as well as giving all students – whether learning in the classroom environment or learning remotely from their homes – the feeling of being connected.
As a manufacturer, it is important for Shure to provide our customers with the tools needed to meet and exceed the audio challenges they face on a daily basis, to listen to their ongoing needs and requirements and to design and create innovative solutions for environments of all types. By doing this, and utilising the Shure Ecosystem of products, from microphone to DSP to loudspeaker, we can continue to support our customers as they in turn continue to service the HE sector post-pandemic, offering both faculty and students the best possible AV systems and solutions for now and the foreseeable future.