Category AV in Education

Updating Your Higher Ed Campus for the New Normal

For higher education — as with many organizations — the story of COVID-19 has been about disruption, quick thinking, and adaption. During the last few months, the pandemic and its responses have placed major obstacles to continuing the business of education.  Teachers, students, and administrators have adapted to long stretches of closed campuses, distance learning, and remote work for faculty and staff. As guidelines relax, they’re entering a new phase, one that can include a modified arrangement for classroom learning. 

Enrollment numbers are expected to decline as millions of people who’ve lost their jobs due to the pandemic may not have the resources to attend college. Fewer students are filling out the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid, a sign that they may be unwilling to take on loans in this economy or are forced to give up schooling for the time being to help out at home. Declining enrollments lead to declining revenue, forcing some schools to face the possibility that they may have to close permanently.  

Amidst this disruption, higher education institutions have been planning on ways to safely reopen their campuses. Even if your school already had the infrastructure and culture for remote work, teaching, and learning, you’ve seen firsthand just how much people rely on each other when they can’t be in the same physical spaces. Routines change and are challenged when you’re not just a few feet away from asking a question, giving an answer, or providing an update. 

Schools will figure out a lot over the coming months: how students are guided through the system and what role technology will play in those changes. How higher education will build a model that grows enrollment numbers while providing an experience that builds a positive reputation. 

The past few months have emphasized the value of collaboration tools that bring teachers and students together from remote locations. When campuses reopen, teachers may lead classes from the classroom while students are remote, they may gather together in the same classroom while practicing social distancing, and they may broadcast instruction to other classrooms. That means they’ll need the technology and guidance to safely conduct and participate in classes while providing a high-quality experience. 

The new normal on campus will be influenced by technology solutions and practices that include:

Video collaboration: Remote learning — whether it’s from home or a separate location on campus — requires a high-quality, engaging experience for students and instructors. For university staff to productively and efficiently work from home and on site, they need reliable, simple-to-use collaboration solutions that integrate with their school’s network and applications. Here are some areas to consider as you incorporate video collaboration into the teaching and administrative processes:

  • Look at which courses can be taught online. Some schools are already experimenting with online learning.
  • Use unified communications tools that support active learning and engage students in the material.
  • In situations where classroom teaching returns, focus on connecting on-site and off-site students through collaboration technology. 
  • Increase video conferencing among staff and reduce travel between campuses for in-person meetings. As collaboration takes on a more prominent role and is an opportunity for problem-solving, we can expect a greater reliance on video collaboration and unified communications solutions like Microsoft Teams. 

Well-being: Schools are in the process of addressing their campus safety: pushing back the opening of their fall semester, temperature screenings, quarantine facilities, requiring masks to be worn, and COVID-19 testing. Consider taking action in the following areas to promote the well-being of your students, staff, and faculty:

  • Create social distancing guidelines that extend into the classroom. Limit the number of students in classrooms. Social distancing may change the dynamic of classroom interaction: Instead of leaving her seat to address content on an interactive display, a student can interact with it from a personal device.
  • Equip rooms with collaboration technology to bring together learners from different locations. Expect the quality of that interaction to guide the value that universities can promise to students.

Automation: Across campuses, staff and instructors book common classrooms and use a variety of control and collaboration devices that are also being used by their colleagues. By automating functions like scheduling and room control, you can improve the collaboration experience while also minimizing health risks by reducing the number of touch points. Some ideas for incorporating automation technology in your workplace include:

  • Help your instructors become comfortable teaching classes that are interactive by way of technology. These interactive solutions will allow them to connect with those learning from their homes, as well as with those attending class from different areas on campus.
  • Include classroom solutions like lecture capture and interactive displays that respond via wireless connection to a student’s smart phone or laptop. Automating the functions of these devices will allow for a largely touch-free experience that supports the health of faculty, staff, and students. 
  • Bring together distance learners with in-class students. The technology that connects them and that records these sessions must be reliable and easy to use, and it must deliver a high-quality experience.

Intelligent buildings: Intelligent buildings can anticipate and respond to the ways that teachers and students use a variety of on-campus spaces: classrooms, labs, libraries, common areas. These systems give insight into how spaces are being used so that you can use the analytics to decide if your university or college needs to reconfigure spaces and/or build new ones.

  • See which devices are being used most often, by whom, and in what ways. That intelligence will shape how automation tools provide an efficient, sometimes touch-free experience for teachers and students.
  • Use intelligent building technology to schedule spaces and limit how many people can gather in one room at the same time.
  • Identify campus hot spots — those areas where too many people are congregating to abide by social distancing guidelines.

Security: Providing for the health and well-being of students and staff will affect the design and user experience of collaboration tools and meeting spaces. Even as the effects of COVID-19 are mitigated on campus, remote learning and remote work will continue.

  • Focus on the security of video collaboration and UC applications, which may share sensitive content. Look for UC solutions with built-in encryption, authentication, user permissions.
  • Review the security of the applications themselves, as well as the security of your ecosystem of solutions, including application interfaces, the network, hosting capacity, room and personal devices, and end-user protocols.
  • Collaborate with IT to plan and build secure access to the campus LAN for your staff. Even as campuses reopen, remote work will continue.
  • Provide for secure access to the network and applications.  Classes will bring together off-site learners with classroom-based teachers, and they’ll connect different rooms on campus for socially distanced learning. Schools will also work to limit campus visits with a shift to more online recruiting and admissions. Universities will need the technology, infrastructure, and support to do this on a much wider scale than they have.

AVI-SPL is helping schools like yours create the new normal by sharing the knowledge that will help your faculty, students, and staff collaborate across campuses, rooms, offices and remote locations. Contact AVI-SPL and let’s start the conversation about preparing your higher ed campus for a bold, flexible learning and operational experience.

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.

CARES Act Funding for Online Learning Solutions

Schools all over the world are scrambling to reopen this fall and will likely provide at least some virtual classes. Did you know that The CARES Act: Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund—Institutional Portion assists with any significant change in the delivery of instruction and allocates funds for distance learning projects? Funding may cover upgrading audio visual and online learning equipment to deliver virtual classes, interactive on-site sessions, or both.

Specifically, The CARES Act states, “Institutions may use the funds for Recipient’s Institutional Costs to purchase equipment or software, pay for online licensing fees, or pay for internet service to enable students to transition to distance learning as such costs are associated with a significant change in the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus.” (1) There is also dedicated funding for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund—Minority Institutions Program and other special school populations. (2)

Which schools qualify for CARES Act Funds?

Institutions that entered into the Funding Certification and Agreement for Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students under the CARES Act may receive funds for Recipient’s Institutional Costs. Visit this page to see if your school has allocated CARES Act funds.

AVI-SPL Online Learning Solutions

Through our network of suppliers, we developed ideas to help schools like yours prepare for the fall semester and beyond. No matter if you have standardized on Zoom, MS Teams, or other collaboration technology, we can help you deliver a positive student experience in the classroom, online, or design a hybrid solution for both options. Learn more about:

Barco weConnect Interactive Virtual Classroom

  • Teacher-friendly interface for classroom instruction while students learn and engage remotely.
  • Quickly deployable and no apps or extra configurations required for students.
  • Multiple built-in cameras allow students to customize their learning views while teachers engage with real-size views of students and large attendance capacity.

Newline All-in-One Classroom

  • Quickly pivot from face-to-face instruction to distance learning while instructors remain in the classroom.
  • Customizable product bundles are suited for every learning environment at a competitive price point.
  • Deliver highly interactive solutions, particularly for virtual labs.

SMART Podium and Interactive Pen Display

  • Ability to deliver lessons from anywhere and connect students in live remote learning sessions on 24” screens.
  • With a simple computer connection, instructors can present and use the interactive pen to add notes or illustrations on the touchscreen.
  • Podium comes with SMART ink™ and SMART Learning Suite, including SMART Notebook® or SMART Meeting Pro® software.

Panopto Lecture Capture

  • Integrates with all major learning management systems, and offers comprehensive recording tools, simple deployment, and top-rated support.
  • Flexible recording and uploading tools let teachers create video lessons anytime and anywhere.
  • Offers personalized learning experiences for students, including inside-video search and variable speed playback.

Helpful CARES Act links

For more information on the CARES act, and how to request funds, visit these helpful links.

The AVI-SPL team is here to help you deliver digital classes and interactive learning solutions. Contact us now or call your local office.

Higher Ed Collaboration Tech: Positive Effects of the COVID-19 Response

Now that educators and students have worked from home for a few months, the focus is shifting to planning for summer and fall semesters. Some colleges like Boston, Purdue, and Brown Universities, discussed plans to carefully reopen this fall, while others have delayed welcoming students back to campus until 2021. Many organizations are also taking a “wait and see” approach until at least June 2020 before choosing a back-to-campus date.

Regardless of the opening date, social distancing and full-time online learning will be long-term, if not permanent, solutions that began as responses to COVID-19. After making the best of a sudden, fully-remote learning experience, administrators can now reassess their digital classroom needs. You can evaluate technology for continued use to deliver effective online education. Here’s a look at how new and upgraded collaboration solutions launched during the COVID-19 response can produce positive long-term effects.

Summer bridging

Schools and students that had a learning curve, or still need to deliver interactive classes such as labs, may need to play catch-up. The summer semester could be used to bridge this gap to prepare students for the fall semester. Educators may return to campus over the summer months, using collaboration technology solutions such as lecture capture carts to deliver digital classes to remote students. Helping online learners stay current with coursework can help retain students into the fall semester. 

Remote collaboration solutions move on campus

The time spent learning to use new collaboration software at home can produce a return when your students are back on campus as well. Implemented solutions such as Microsoft Teams can:

  • Augment in-person classes by facilitating communication, group projects, and class assignments
  • Increase student participation beyond classroom hours
  • Save time for teachers and students with online delivery of assignments, class notes, and research papers
  • Allow students to work together anytime, anywhere, even when social distancing requirements keep them from gathering in groups

Here’s a video that shares Microsoft Teams best practices for educators:

Upgraded Collaboration Tech Cleaning and Sanitizing Processes

COVID-19 made us aware of how much we touch things like our phones, remote controls, and touch screens. Part of the pandemic response was for everyone to upgrade their cleaning habits. Deep cleaning and sanitizing routines should extend to shared collaboration tech in classrooms and conference spaces too. Check out detailed cleaning tips from AVI-SPL and device manufacturers in this blog.

Communicating your new cleaning regimen to new and returning students can help them feel more at ease when visiting or moving into dorms.

Enhance Existing Online Learning Programs

Many schools offered online learning programs before COVID-19. Lessons learned from suddenly delivering every class online can be used to enhance legacy virtual programs. Several solutions and apps may have been used to deliver courses immediately. Take the time now to review feedback from educators and students.

Discuss what worked well, and which solutions posed the most challenges. Create a list of technology best practices and roll them out across your online learning curriculum.

Boost fiscal recovery

COVID-19’s financial toll on higher ed organizations is estimated in millions of dollars per school. Consider that leveraging collaboration tech to offer additional virtual classes could play a role in colleges’ economic recovery. If your school hasn’t explored offering full-time online degree programs, consider doing it now. Online classes expand enrollment options for more students since:

  • Geography is no longer a barrier to attend classes
  • Online learning is often a more affordable option than living on campus
  • Virtual courses offer scheduling flexibility, which helps working students, and those with families, attend more classes

Accept international students now

International students can benefit from your virtual classrooms too. Students traveling from abroad to move on campuses this fall could face challenges if embassies and consulates remain closed for an extended period, or your school will not reopen this year.

Instead of losing these students and tuition revenue, open your virtual classrooms as a temporary solution. Online courses could bridge the gap between the start of the semester, and the point when students from other countries can safely join school populations.

Next Steps

While the financial toll is extensive, and students lost the intimate experience of living and attending classes on campus, online learning solutions have allowed colleges to deliver quality education during these unprecedented times. Leverage the investment your school made in online learning. Review ongoing virtual classroom opportunities to drive additional enrollment and revenue now.

Don’t forget, the AVI-SPL team is here to help if you need assistance evaluating or upgrading your online learning collaboration tech. Contact us online or call your local office.

Advice for Managing Your Remote Teaching Staff

As the school year draws to a close, AVI-SPL wants to help your teaching staff and administration stay connected and focused during this difficult time. Our Together We Are series about online learning from home offers helpful ideas and resources. Read all Together We Are posts.

By now, teachers across the country have been figuring out how to prepare and teach lessons, assign homework, grade it, and provide feedback — all while working from home. Add to this the effort it takes to understand the supporting collaboration technology, and it’s easy to imagine that nerves can quickly be rattled. In previous posts, we’ve tried to help by giving advice for online teaching from home and engaging with students.

Today, let’s look at ways principals can provide feedback, address performance issues, and resolve conflicts among their teachers and administrators. Here are a few tips for successfully managing and supporting your staff and ensuring that they are able to provide the high-quality learning experience that students deserve and their parents expect.

Be Transparent: By letting your teaching and administrative staff know what’s expected of them, you’ll be setting standards of performance. Those expectations can help ensure students are receiving the quality education they deserve, and they’ll form the basis for one-on-one evaluations and resolving areas of disagreement. For example, teachers and admins will want to know policies for taking attendance or how summer teaching may unfold for students that require additional help in order to advance to the next grade level. If they’re lacking in technology support, they will expect updates on when the situation will change. During your check-ins (which we cover below) and in emails, you can keep them apprised of the latest developments with status reports.

Check in daily:  Teachers across all levels of education are struggling with a situation that could be perceived as more stressful than managing students in the classroom. Classwork has become homework, and instead of being able to grade that homework by assigned due dates, teachers are facing the reality that the only due date that matters for students is the end of the school year.

In this remote situation, teachers and administrators may inadvertently deliver contradictory information to their students, which could upset the students and their parents, and cause rifts among your staff.

For these reasons, schedule daily video calls that recur at the same time each day and send meeting invites so that teachers and admins can save them to their calendars. During these team calls, you can deliver the transparency mentioned above by providing updates on policy changes. For their part, your staff can let you know what’s working, where they need help, and what questions they have. Microsoft Live Events is one option for delivering announcements to a large group while also being able to field individual questions. Upvotes on the questions will let you know which ones you should prioritize.

Have virtual office hours: Not every teacher is comfortable teaching virtual classes. Some may be unfamiliar with delivering what’s expected of them, or they may be unsure of the video conferencing and unified communications tools that the corporate world takes for granted. Send a meeting invite that lets your staff know that you will be available online throughout the day if they have questions, recommendations, or need to vent. Encourage teachers to reach out to you, and keep each appointment to a limited duration so that you can have face-to-face time over video with as many teachers as need to speak to you. Update your online status so they know if you are busy in a meeting or temporarily away from your desk.

Follow best practices for resolving conflict: In our post on resolving conflict during remote work, we include tips for planning and hosting video calls that address performance issues and conflicts that may arise among employees. That advice can also be applied to teachers, administrators, and other support staff. I recommend you read the post, but I can quickly summarize what you should do in your education setting: 

  • Gather facts about the conflict: Meet with each person involved in a dispute separately over video to get their side of the story. This may include parents and students who have a complaint or need to resolve an issue.
  • Set the ground rules for the meeting: At least a day before the meeting, send an email to the group and host one-on-ones with the involved parties where you explain how the conflict resolution meeting will run. You’ll also share your expectations of behavior and protocol. Explain that these rules are being administered in fairness to all involved.
  • Make sure all participants can see and hear each other: Seeing reactions and body language is important for you, and it’s important for those expressing themselves. Microsoft Teams will display up to four videos at one time. If you have more than four participants, you’ll see the video of the active speakers. In our post about online learning best practices for educators, you’ll find advice how to prepare yourself and your home office for a video experience.

Teaching can be a difficult, at times thankless profession. Having to perform its duties from home may add to the stress for some teachers, causing conflicts among them and perhaps a struggle to deliver the quality they are capable of in a live, in-person classroom. By following these tips, you can help mitigate issues and be proactive in addressing them.