Improve Your Higher Ed Disaster Collaboration Plan

We recently looked at items you should consider when evaluating your disaster plans for your collaboration environment. Higher education faces unique needs and challenges in collaboration and requires some additional thought and consideration when evaluating your current response and planning for the future.

When evaluating your current response, consider such questions as:

  • Were technology hand-out programs (such as laptops) adequate to meet demand? Did students utilize the devices they were given? Were there any hardware limitations or requirements for some programs?
    • While Chromebooks or other mini-notebooks may meet very basic requirements, students whose programs demand CPU-intensive programs may find it impossible to complete their coursework without a better-equipped device.
  • Which community resources were engaged by students?
    • Did local libraries provide internet access outdoors? Did ISP’s provide free home access or free Wi-Fi locations?  Consider coalition-building with local resources (both near your college or university, and across your state) to learn about their abilities to offer services during disasters, and design collaboration solutions that can cope with these bottlenecks.
  • Were standard university emergency notification channels used during the crisis? How can we expand visibility to these notifications via collaboration elements, such as digital signage?
    • Ensure your emergency notification system is set up to push content into your digital signage.

Accessibility for All

Each student comes to higher education with a unique background, needs, and goals. While many students are lucky enough to be able to move to a fully remote experience without much hassle, others face serious challenges in continuing their education. It is crucial that collaboration technology and resources be made available and utilized in ways that enable these students to continue their educations. 

ADA compliance should be more than a checkbox that is met with each project. Meet with your campus office of accessibility services to learn more about the unique needs and challenges that were met, and those that were not, during the recent crisis. Ensure features that are even more important as classes move remotely, such as captioning, are more than adequate for students to continue their education.

Tech developed for ADA compliance can be re-purposed to meet social distancing guidelines. Assisted listening systems can be re-purposed to meet current social distancing needs.  Rather than voice lift systems that could be complicated and expensive to retrofit to large spaces, products like the Biamp CrowdMics, Listen Tech’s ListenEVERYWHERE, and Williams Sound’s WaveCAST enable students to receive audio and communicate back to instructors and their classmates with questions. These systems are simple to deploy while utilizing a participant’s own devices – protecting them and simplifying your sanitizing requirements.

In many areas, broadband speed and cellular signal can be dramatically limited – if available at all.  Video streaming and conferencing can consume large amounts of bandwidth, making it impossible for students to participate fully. Consider making videos downloadable, and provide audio-only options, enabling students who may only be able to access the internet on a sporadic or limited basis the ability to receive material. 

Hybrids, Everywhere

While instructors scrambled to meet the challenge of quickly transitioning classes from in-person formats to online, courses for 2020/2021 are being developed with the understanding that a quick pivot back to fully remote courses may be necessary. 

While strategies vary as far as whether classes will be fully remote and led from a classroom or a home office, held in person in a socially-distanced manner or broadcast to classrooms on campus, it’s important to ensure your networks are ready for this traffic. While the Spring 2020 semester often relied on from-home recordings, hybrid models will bring new demands. 

With instructors back in classrooms, the recorded video may be of higher quality – and requiring more processing power and bandwidth – than those recorded from home. Comparing previous utilization of lecture capture and the amount of time for videos to be prepared with forecasted 100% utilization will enable you to provide realistic guidelines to instructors.

Streaming video can utilize a large amount of bandwidth. Look for options on your content platform to downscale simple videos of lectures to ensure you are not taxing your networks unnecessarily. Additional WAP’s (such as the Luxul XAP-810) may be required in areas with a heavy student presence. With students and parents already wary of online learning, sufficient bandwidth may be one of the easiest ways to ease the challenges of the Fall 2020 semester.

Define a Pivot Plan

While no one is looking forward to a second round of lockdowns and quarantines, it is crucial to be prepared to move back to fully online status within 24 hours.  Where businesses strive to maintain business continuity, higher education needs to maintain educational continuity while also maintaining channels of communication to anxious students, parents, and wider community.

Create a plan for utilizing existing tech, such as your digital signage platforms, to distribute information quickly and widely. AVI-SPL can work with you to develop a comprehensive digital signage strategy, ensuring your investment distributes information effectively. Your digital signage platform should tie in your emergency notification system, allowing emergency status information to be distributed quickly and widely.

Don’t Forget Your Standards

Many colleges and universities are currently scrambling to complete their usual summer technology upgrades while also equipping new spaces with video conferencing and content-sharing capabilities to aid in social distancing. While equipment can be in short supply, it’s important to ensure your dollars are still invested in ways that will be productive and compliant with your existing standards. 

Existing standards may need to be flexed, but they should not be completely abandoned. AVI-SPL is available as your trusted advisor to provide consulting and engineering teams to assist you in selecting equipment that is both available, high quality, and will be compatible with campus technology standards.

High quality is one of the most important aspects of online learning.  Poor video quality will contribute to the student impression that distance learning is lower quality (and thus, not of the quality deserving of their tuition). Maintaining the classroom-like experience will positively impact student satisfaction.

AVI-SPL has partnered with several manufacturers to design high quality, turn-key systems that can quickly be deployed anywhere around campus.  The All In One Classroom Bundle provides high quality from Newline Interactive’s display, Logitech’s MeetUp, and Bose speakers.  Without permanent installation, this bundle allows any space to be used for distance learning while being re-configurable to meet future needs post-crisis.

Use Your Community

While we can’t come together in person this summer, there are many virtual resources that will help you learn from colleagues about ideas that have been proven to work – and some that have been proven not to work. The Higher Education Technology Managers Alliance will be presenting their all-virtual (and free!) Technology Conference 2020 from June 8-10. This conference will include a variety of expert panels and sessions to exchange ideas with colleagues from a wide variety of geographic, socioeconomic, and institutional backgrounds.

This is also a great time to work on your own knowledge, utilizing free manufacturer trainings such as those from Crestron, Extron, Biamp, Shure, and more.

As always, your AVI-SPL team will be here to provide any support and products you may need to meet your developing requirements. If you run into a challenge, just contact us.