The education sector has been hit hard by the global coronavirus pandemic. Colleges, universities, schools and training establishments sent students home. Lessons were delivered via online modules and virtual collaboration tools. Throughout the lockdown, teachers and lecturers used videoconferencing solutions more suited to social interaction than to delivering learning.
Now, as we are all at various stages of figuring out how to work in a post lockdown world, what next for a sector that aspires to empower learning, whether remotely or in the classroom?
First, let’s take a quick look back to the start of the pandemic. There was a notable pause in the procurement of higher education audiovisual (AV) technologies, with projects underway being shut down much more quickly than in other sectors.
Jim Schanz, Vice President of Global Sales, Integrated Systems at Shure, says: “Unfortunately, for many this resulted in the implementation of a patchwork of solutions intended to ‘just get the job done’ in the short-term without much focus on the student experience”.
Education and training providers are investing in technologies that help them adapt to new social distancing guidelines that require smaller groups of students spaced farther apart in large rooms and lecture theatres. In some cases, this has led to a realization that current streaming and distance learning scenarios may not be sufficient to deliver high-quality teaching, especially in a one-to-many-type of application.
It’s now clear to many institutions that they need to have dedicated tools to deliver this level of learning, something that many current AV setups simply can’t cope with.
At Shure, we anticipate seeing a proliferation of small rooms where teachers or instructors can present to remote groups in a space much more suitable to the delivery of information than a large, empty lecture hall or auditorium.
Jim Schanz continues, “We also expect to see these spaces kitted out on a par with a high-end boardroom in terms of both the audio and the visual set up.”
The focus will be on ensuring everyone can be heard, questions can be asked, and documents can be viewed and shared, all in a seamless way.
The speed at which education sector shifted to remote learning meant that many institutions had to adapt to a distance learning type scenario – and many were not completely prepared to do so.
Jim Schanz says: “Not all universities were really totally set up with a good distance learning program and a lot of their experiences have clearly highlighted how poorly situated those colleges have been when it comes to their audio system. End users have had the opportunity to identify shortcomings and see where equipment simply wasn’t up to standard, and many have identified the need for a good AV system to properly educate the one-to-many type of application.”
Today, schools are at different phases depending on where in the world they are. Some have decided to make the first half or entire year remote, while others are using a hybrid of remote learning and social distancing in the classroom. In either case, audio solutions tailored to socially distanced classrooms will be a feature in the near and in the longer term. For example, array microphones with adjustable coverage patterns, such as Shure’s Microflex Advance, both ensure instructors can be comfortably heard no matter the space and enable students to contribute to lessons without having to pass around physical microphones.
This technology also ensures that remote students can hear and understand the questions and discussions of fellow students and learning providers in the physical room. This audio clarity of the teacher and student’s speech is essential to this scenario. But we all know that not all lecturers, trainers or teachers have booming voices. So, we recommend voice lift technology. Voice lift is useful in a number of applications and environments, particularly where the conversation is interactive and multi-directional, for example involving socially distanced students in addition to a primary instructor at the front of the room. It eliminates the need for passing around a microphone to capture the student’s questions and discussions, ensuring that each student is part of the conversation whether they are in the room or at home.
The move to remote learning at scale was sudden and unexpected. It demonstrated the huge value of videoconferencing in a learning scenario, while also showing the shortcomings of many AV solutions. With this in mind, it is no surprise that attention in the education sector is now turning to more advanced hardware and integrated software designed to deliver consistent audio clarity and speech intelligibility in any teaching and learning environment.