Technology managers in the education market are keenly aware that their jobs today look far different than in years past. They’re living the day-to-day reality of needing to find solutions for an ever-changing model of digital and hybrid-learning that – for many districts – is still being worked out.
It is not uncommon that districts, in an effort to react safely to the ongoing pandemic, are working on a temporary model of online learning.
The idea of what next semester looks like, for many, is still up in the air. This is, of course, done with the hope that we can return to physical schools sooner rather than later.
So, while the immediate demand is on the digital space, the return to schools will eventually take place. And, without making a prediction on when, it is safe to say that at the time that occurs there will be additional precautions put in place – from kindergarten on up to the collegiate level.
Largely, these changes will look to social distancing as a norm. Non-traditional seating arrangements are likely. It’s possible we will see physical partitions – such as plexiglass or cubical walls – installed in classrooms.
It’s likely we will see classes take place in multipurpose spaces such as gymnasiums, cafeterias, auditoriums, and outdoor spaces – anywhere that allows for more distance to be placed between students.
In all of these scenarios, the ability to effectively communicate will be crucial to maintaining the learning environment. And so, while the “right now” looks at videoconferencing tools, the next big discussion in our learning environments is going to be on professional audio.
Ensuring Engaged Learners
Studies show the better a student can hear in a class, the better their test scores. This was research conducted before 2020, when the idea of what a classroom looked like was typically quite uniform for most people.
So, if speech intelligibility and audio clarity is crucial in the education environment – how can we ensure it is provided in a new type of classroom?
Either one that has barriers in place, is spread out across a larger space, or even one where remote participants are taking part?
The answer almost definitely requires us to look to the loudspeaker and the technologies it has put in place across multiple uses and markets.
Loudspeakers that make use of digital beam steering enable users to precisely control where sound is placed. Technically speaking, this is achieved by utilizing software and powerful FIR coefficients within the loudspeaker’s amplifier module.
Through a combination of amplification, DSP, FIR filters, EQ, and delay, individual beams are created that allow for perfect sound to be placed precisely where you want it: on the audience. Or, in the case of a school: on your students.
This might sound complicated, but the advent of software solutions means most installations can be set up quickly and effectively.
Some will even be able to use their mobile device and a series of simple presets to precisely position sound.
These digitally steerable solutions have shown tremendous results in locations where reflective surfaces might otherwise alter quality – think of the pews in a house of worship as a case study for this need.
Further, these solutions are used to improve intelligibility of the spoken word and create immersive audio environments in theaters, museums, stadiums and – perhaps most critically – schools.
Yes, the digitally steerable solution has already been tested and proven in the education space. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t still learn some new tricks.
What Can We Solve For?
So, what are these new tricks? What specific scenarios can these types of loudspeakers help with as we begin to discuss the return to physical schools?
· In-person, socially distant scenarios. In a world where we need to remain socially distant by six feet or more, there will be a need to hold classes in larger spaces – or, even outdoor spaces. Digitally steerable solutions can offer complete coverage of such a space in a way that ensures every listener – front or back – receives the same quality of sound.
· Hybrid learning environments with remote participants. In situations where students are split up across multiple rooms – or where some students are located at home – there is a need to ensure everyone is being heard. By placing high quality audio in multiple locations, you ensure quality and clarity for all students who are located on site.
· Scenarios where physical barriers may be put in place. If plexiglass and cubical walls do become the norm, steerable solutions can easily work with such a setup. By utilizing digital beam steering you can navigate around such barriers, and again, place sound where you want it most: on your students.
· Long term solutions. Digitally steerable solutions provide agility. Even when we do fully return to normal, these solutions are not single use products. The recalibration of a loudspeaker can be done swiftly because physical repositioning isn’t always required. By utilizing digital steering, you can quickly alter your audio coverage depending on any change in use.
· Mobile solutions. Further, many of these solutions can be designed to be portable and capable of being deployed elsewhere once they are no longer needed in a particular location.
A Better Sounding Solution
Again, the status quo right now is changing daily. The job of technical minded staff at schools is likely to look different in a few months than it does today – because talk will, eventually, change to physical classes.
When that occurs, technical teams can be prepared to offer their district the answer to the biggest question: can we hold classes in a different way? The answer is assuredly a “yes.” And it’s a “yes” without compromise!
AV Managers, IT Directors, technical staff and administrators at schools also don’t need to brave this change alone. Seek out manufacturers, consultants and integrators that can help design specific systems for your specific needs.
With partnerships that are focused on both short-term and long-term success, we can get students back to school both effectively and safely.