Classroom instruction has historically been an in-person activity, with direct participation from and between teachers and students. Even as technology has progressed over the years, many processes have remained intact. Questions were addressed in real time for the classroom to hear. Hands-on experiments were common, allowing students to share physical experiences and discoveries with classmates. Teaching and attending school were distinctly social activities. With the pandemic that all had to change, and fast.
Initially, online efforts were hampered by poor technology and inexperienced teachers and students, both of whom lacked a model for interactivity. Over the months of the pandemic, this changed.
Teachers developed intuitive ways to connect with students, students became more familiar with the tools and expectations, and some of the technology improved as teachers and students got better headphones and microphones.
The online services upon which everyone depends stepped up and began rapidly making advancements to products and the reliability of their back-end deployments to suit this new market.
Over the past several years, many schools have upgraded their AV systems in anticipation of greater online learning opportunities, and many more were planning to do the same. COVID-19 occurred at a time for some schools to leverage their investments in technology, and drove others to accelerate their plans in order to serve students now quarantined in their homes.
These upgrades have opened the possibility of schools leveraging AV in myriad ways. This is because AV has moved well past the static, closed installations of the past and into a new world of network connectivity. Let’s look at some of these evolving uses.
- Remote learning is the most obvious benefactor, of course. The capability for students to now connect with classrooms in an interactive way will have far reaching effects on the access to education for many years to come. However, it is just the first of many ways in which teaching and learning has been irrevocably altered.
- The use of AV-over-IP gives teachers, students and school AV departments an entirely new way to share information and teaching methods that were previously only available to people in small groups. With the ability to easily and flexibly deploy multiple cameras and microphones in classrooms and lecture halls, both speech and visual information can be shared with students on location, in overflow classrooms, and at home with unprecedented ease and clarity. Moving equipment no longer means stretching heavy cables across a hallway; any network jack can accommodate any AV device, wherever it may need to be.
- Lecture capture has been streamlined by the introduction of remote participation. With video for most class activities, the ability to press the record button is a simple extra step – in fact, many are setting streams to be recorded by default. This provides a valuable resource for students who missed a live class – and also archives valuable educational materials.
- On-site AV benefits from this shift to IP-based tools just as much as remote offerings do. IP cameras are small and easily moved, allowing teachers to highlight close up items they wish to share – either on the local display or virtually. VISCA over IP allows PTZ controllers to be used simply by connecting to any convenient network jack, allowing students to explore on their own as well. High quality beam-forming ceiling microphones powered by AV-over-IP allow for detailed, clear pickup of speech and other sounds without encumbering instructors with wires and battery packs, enriching the experience for students at home, in overflow areas, or remotely.
- AV-over-IP allows for the easy distribution of monitors and loudspeakers for play out anywhere on the campus network, with audio and video synchronized by a common clock. And because all signals are already digitized and on the network, it’s easy for computers to connect all of these signals to streaming services, recording applications and LMS systems. No longer are these tools isolated islands of specialized technology; everything shares a true common platform that is fast, efficient and easily installed.
- In addition to massive flexibility, AV-over-IP allows administrators to monitor all devices at all times. Rather than being separate, disconnected objects, the entire AV system is visible to IT staff in tools that can also restrict access and prevent unwanted devices from joining the system. Monitoring plays a key role in determining the ultimate reliability of the system, giving administrators unprecedented visibility into every classroom, lecture hall and overflow area. No more “lost” projectors. No more dead microphones left in closets. The use of every item is logged and attached to a user account.
These benefits – and this extreme level of flexibility and creativity – is only enabled with AV-over-IP tools that allow for intelligent workflows. By moving to IP, the network can act as the ultimate extension cord – carrying real-time data over long distances via copper or fiber. As numerous collaborations have shown, it is now possible to connect campuses separated by many miles to share bidirectional AV content, enabling concerts and rehearsals that would otherwise have proved impossible.
Guest lecturers can now host classes in multiple locations at once. Teachers can exchange virtual classrooms for special sessions and alternative points of view. Students can be given temporary access to the leader position for presentations, demonstrations and performances with their class – even from the privacy of their homes.
Example of success
One example of the flexibility and high performance of AV-over-IP network technology is at the University of Southern California (USC), which deployed an impressive AV network to 248 learning environments in 2020. This enabled lectures on-campus, on-stream, and for archived use in the future.
Joe Way, USC Director of Learning Environments, said the system also facilitates classroom overflow. In the USC setup, faculty can present in class with a small number of students while other small groups participate in the same lecture, but from other rooms on campus. These “overflow” rooms are equipped with cameras, microphones, displays, and networked sound systems to enable interactive participation.
This setup accommodates social distancing in the short term, but may enable different uses – such as larger class size or satellite campus participation – in the long term. Further, it greatly improves the on-site AV capabilities across all 248 learning environments – giving the university a robust and flexible catalyst for creativity.
The great enabler
Again, this is all made possible by using AV-over-IP solutions. If your institution has yet to make the plunge into this space – or is looking to further upgrade such offerings – the most immediate step is to determine the appropriate platform for such a workflow. By working with a widely adopted networking technology that delivers uncompressed, multi-channel digital audio and video over standard Ethernet networks, you set your campus up for both near term and long term success.
Further, by working with the right provider, you can achieve high levels of observability and management through tools such as user authentication, role-based security, and audit capabilities.
Networked AV provides a truly limitless set of possibilities for educators. The ongoing pandemic has perhaps inadvertently alerted educators to the incredible potential of network-connected systems in both the short and long term.
Brad Price is the Senior Product Marketing Manager at Audinate.