Category AVI-SPL

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.

6 Ways to Keep Experience Environment Staff and Visitors Safe Post COVID-19

While businesses are reopening amid the post-COVID-19 reality, keeping staff, visitors, and customers safe in offices and collaboration spaces is essential. Experience environment and briefing center managers face an additional challenge — how to support social distancing and safety in areas designed to encourage people to explore, touch, and interact with exhibits and demos.

Briefing center managers must protect the well-being of visitors and employees while still providing a compelling user experience. Explore these six ways to promote health and safety in your customer experience centers.

Update Your Reception and Welcome Practices

You can show your commitment to safety and put visitors at ease as soon as they arrive in your experience center by adding layers of precautions.

mobile phone with chat to welcome experience environment visitor

  • Have virtual or video-enabled greeters and live chat options to limit direct contact with guests.
  • Provide hands-free check-in via mobile app or a kiosk with a QR code scanner. Avoid the use of touch screens or tablets, if possible.
  • Use thermal imaging to detect at-risk guests.
  • Post your updated cleaning and sanitizing procedures on your digital signage screens and mobile app notifications.
  • Prepare staff to answer visitor and employee questions regarding enhanced health and safety measures.

Implement digital wayfinding and automated scheduling

Once a guest completes your welcome process, deliver wayfinding instructions to a mobile device or via digital signage. Recorded audio tours must be delivered via mobile app as well. Eliminate the use of paper maps and schedules, and headphones, and other shared devices.

For 3D or other exhibits that require gear such as glasses or visors, consider single-use disposable options. Alternatively, use equipment once daily to allow for deep cleaning during off-hours.

Social distancing may be a prolonged or permanent way of life in experience environments. Automate staff schedules to limit how many people will work each shift. This will help ensure your employees can comply with social distancing requirements. Communicate guidelines to all employees and identify which managers will monitor compliance among employees and visitors.

Leverage intelligence from IoT applications

If your center hasn’t fully adopted IoT applications, now is the time to put this technology to work for you. Automated tasks that promote health and safety among staff and guests include:

  • Employing sensors to monitor visitor density and alert staff if areas are approaching capacity
  • Adjusting the experience center environment based on occupancy patterns (lighting, HVAC, on/off of technology)
  • Wrapping virtual concierge services into one workflow – invite, schedule, greet, preset experience content and technology, assign seating, deliver catering, etc.

Strengthen your cleaning regimen

Keeping public spaces “clean” has taken on new meaning amid COVID-19. Clean and sanitize your shared technology devices, demonstration areas, communal areas, and restrooms before you open your doors and several times each day. Pay extra attention to touch screens, and other devices visitors handle multiple times a day. You may need to alter your business hours to allow ample time for deep cleaning as needed.

Communicate with staff regularly

Maintain an open dialog with your teams to answer questions and listen to feedback and ideas. They are your eyes and ears on the floor and can identify potential problems or confirm that your new guidelines are working as expected. Offering anonymous employee surveys online can encourage open responses from your team.

Offer Virtual Experiences and Events

Consider if you can offer meaningful experiences to visitors in the comfort of their homes to keep staff and visitors safe. Ways to deliver virtual events include:

  • Deliver virtual reality simulations and exhibits for users online
  • Create virtual conferences, 360 tours, or product demonstrations

If you need assistance getting your experience environments and briefing centers ready to promote health and safety for employees and guests, the AVI-SPL team is here to help. We can also produce your virtual tours and conferences. Contact us online now or call your local office.

How IT/AV Teams Can Answer Common Remote User Questions

Despite all the rapid changes our clients have made to the way they collaborate, and an over 50% increase in daily calls, AVI-SPL support teams have never wavered.  Standing strong (in their remote workstations) to assist end users as well as their usual AV-support department contacts, our support teams are ensuring everyone is capable of collaborating from wherever they are quarantining. 

I checked in with Michael Coleman, AVI-SPL national help desk manager, to see how his team is handling the challenges of being fully remote while teaching users to also be remote. Many of those users may not have routinely engaged video or collaboration technology. Michael gave me the rundown on how questions from users have changed and the best strategies for companies to ensure all their users are collaborating to their full potential. Common questions include:

  • “Which platform is best for video conferencing? I have Skype, and Cisco, and Teams on my computer – which do I use?”
  • “Which platform is best for webinars?”
  • “How do I get my audio to work?”
  • “How do I handle recordings?”
  • And Michael’s favorite – “How do I do that potato thing?”

It’s clear that end users are trying hard to collaborate, but there are some basic questions and guidelines for your IT and AV departments to address to ensure your users are well educated on video collaboration and your chosen flavor of product. This drives user satisfaction and ensures security of communications and corporate files. Let’s take a look again at those FAQ’s and provide some answers.

“What platform is best for video conferencing? I have Skype, and Cisco, and Teams on my computer – which do I use?

UCC/AV management teams can help users by providing a user guide or other clear messaging, such as:

  • Teams is our preferred collaboration platform. We use this application for chat, file sharing, and availability.
  • Pexip is our preferred video meeting application.

The major collaboration providers have made a suite of resources available for end-user training and adoption.  Place these in an easily accessible location so users can begin with self-help and education.  We have created a listing of these resources on our AVI-SPL website. It’s also a good idea to identify platforms that your users may be asked to join in meetings with other companies – and provide basic help documentation – so they can better understand the differences and your corporate preferences.

User experience has a huge impact on the adoption, satisfaction, and usage of collaboration and video conferencing applications.  On the management side, ensuring meetings can be scheduled with one click in Outlook (or your preferred email application) serves to greatly reduce confusion and improves the user experience.

 

“Which platform is best for webinars”

Your preferred collaboration platform may be your preferred solution for webinars, but if you have an alternate solution, be sure to have additional instructions available for this platform, including when it should be used. As dozens of in-person events have moved to digital formats, it’s important to ensure you have a webinar platform that allows in only who have permission, and that its information can’t be grabbed by those not invited. As for which is best — that’s a question with a number of relative answers. A variety of platforms offer different benefits, drawbacks, and cost structures.

 

“How do I get my audio to work?”

The most common problem we’ve seen recently is users who know how to get started but quickly run into frustrating issues that may cause them to revert back to a phone or other less feature-rich methods that reduce the ability to collaborate, not just work. While some users may not understand the need to dial in with their phone when their computer is connected to a meeting, many users are running into poor audio quality due to equipment that was not designed for daily use.

Ensure your end users are equipped with proper technology to achieve a quality collaboration experience. With the variety of distractions that can exist in the home office when spouses, children, and pets are together all day, the basic webcam and microphone included in a computer, or the headphones included with their cell phone, may not cut it for a full work day on a regular basis. AVI-SPL has a variety of work-from-home bundles that can solve this challenge.

 

“How do I handle recordings?”

The answer to this question depends on the underlying recording solution selected by your organization. Many times, a recording may seem to “disappear” after it is completed, making it a challenge for the recording employee to find the file. Or the file may be too large to share easily. Add instructions to your corporate UCC/AV user guide on how to use recording, when to use recording, and how to access files.

 

“How do I do that potato thing?” / “How do I use a virtual background”

Luckily, these questions are very easily addressed. Zoom offers a tutorial. And AVI-SPL published a video walkthrough for Microsoft Teams. Branded corporate images are a great idea for custom backgrounds. Consider building yours today!

If you have any questions about ways to improve support for your users, contact us now or call your local AVI-SPL office

Clean and Assured: Getting Your Tech Ready for Back to Work

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing how we interact with each other and our surroundings, and the world of work will never be the same again. While some companies are declaring that they won’t reopen their doors until 2021, many will gradually begin the process of allowing staff back into the office when stay-at-home restrictions are lifted.

Employers need to start taking operational steps to promote the health and safety practices dictated by law and good sense – and provide assurance that their workplaces are clean. Touch screens and other audio-visual equipment are almost everywhere – work, home, schools, retail, public spaces, and government offices. Getting technology clean and ready will be an important part of this planning.

Here are a few recommendations to help you get your technology ready for when you reopen your doors – and beyond.

Schedule preventative maintenance before employees return to work

The first thing you can do is schedule service calls now, while your office is still empty to ensure your equipment is functional, clean, and safe. Network changes, equipment auto-updates, and systems repairs make a significant impact on the functionality of your systems. If equipment needs repair or replacement, extended lead times can seriously impact the productivity of your teams as they return.

AVI-SPL has several preventative maintenance options, so check one more thing off your list and schedule a service call today. While at your office, our team will adhere to any site-specific or client-specific requirements, in addition to CDC recommendations on social distancing, hygiene, and personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols.

Deep clean and sanitize

All businesses will certainly need to develop policies, standards, and schedules for the deep cleaning and disinfecting of common areas, surfaces, and individual spaces, and your technology should be a part of this plan. Refer to the Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting issued by the CDC to inform and develop your plan and best practices for preparing and maintaining your workspaces.

However, these guidelines don’t provide instructions on how to clean and sanitize technology according to the manufacturer’s best practices. Assure your workforce that the technology they are reliant on is safe, clean, and sanitized. Add our cleaning option to a new or existing preventative maintenance check to ensure your equipment is clean per manufacturer specification.

Routine cleaning

You’ll also want to set up guidelines and protocols for shared electronics—such as tablets, touchscreens, keyboards, and other accessories. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you clean and disinfect high-use devices and surfaces with a solution of 70% medicinal isopropyl alcohol and 30% water (70:30).

But be aware, most manufacturer’s recommendations for the medicinal isopropyl alcohol and water solution vary by product, depending on the materials that make up the product. Protect your investment and refer to the following guidelines for best practices from manufacturers:

Reference and post the guidelines established by the manufacturer to ensure that everyone uses the proper solutions for your devices. It’s also important to have all the recommended supplies readily and visibly available, so cleaning can occur after each use.

Personal devices and potential contamination

For phones (desk, conference, and smartphones), keyboards, and most other accessories, the cleaning part is relatively simple – it’s safe to use approved disinfectant wipes and cleaning solutions with microfiber cloths. Remember to spray the solution on the cloth, not directly on the device.

But here’s where things get tricky; we’re just not used to cleaning our devices, particularly our phones, as frequently as we should. As soon as we use a personal device and then touch a shared space or surface, the potential of contamination is there. So how often is enough? This is definitely unchartered territory, and you’ll need to figure out the best policy for your business and then over-communicate your established protocol with your employees.

Your health and safety are important to us, and keeping devices clean, especially those in high-traffic environments and high-use applications, is a crucial step in minimizing the spread of infections.

If you have any questions about getting your meeting room tech ready for everyone to return to work, contact us now or call your local AVI-SPL office. We’re here to help.

Time-Saving Tips for Online Teaching

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can online learning series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

Almost overnight, our teachers and professors became the students, many learning how to teach, connect, and collaborate online while working from home for the first time. Instead of carefully orchestrated schedules, educators now have much more freedom at their disposal. And a lot less structure.

Of course, online learning has been around for a while, but never delivered at scale, to every learner, with so little lead time. Pivoting from the classroom to the home office can result in poor time management, procrastination, and the overwhelming feeling of needing to be available 24/7.

If you – or a teacher friend – are still struggling to adjust to remote teaching, you might benefit from some time management lessons of your own.

Below are some tips that can help make your new online school environment a little more productive.

Set your space up for success

If you don’t already have one, create a quiet place where you can work with no distractions. Just like you tell your students, the more focused you can be, the less time it will take to get your work done. Organize your home office like your work environment – familiarity breeds efficiency. And make sure you have all the tech you need to be an effective remote instructor.

Do less

You’ll get a lot of cheers from your students for this one. Our world is changing, and our expectations need to change too. Off campus, your students may not have all the technology they need to engage in online learning. They may be responsible for taking care of siblings while their parents work. And they’re most likely dealing with feelings of shock, fear, and disappointment and cannot concentrate – or don’t care. So give everyone a break, including yourself, and lighten the load.

A little structure helps

Students still need a reliable weekly schedule as much as you do, just with lower expectations and fewer time commitments. They were used to regular class times, and you all will be more successful if you stick with a consistent flow and rhythm for the week. If you leave the schedule up to them, you probably won’t see positive results.

In uncertain times, predictability and structure help us all maintain some semblance of normalcy. With regular assignments, they’ll know when tasks are due and can plan their week accordingly. Of course, we’re also dealing with the emotional shock of a global pandemic, so empathy and flexibility are just as important as deadlines.

Manage your inbox

If you received a lot of emails before, your inbox is probably overflowing now. While email is a great way to stay connected with your students, it can quickly take over your waking hours. Establish email boundaries and communicate the specific times you’ll be checking and responding to emails each day.

Students also tend to email the same questions over and over. Instead of answering each email individually, send out group emails, or post Q&As to your online class discussion and chat boards. If it’s a complex question, answer it in your next video lesson.

Use the tools

Fortunately, we have technology and platform choices designed for this moment, making it easier for you to deliver quality online learning experiences while effectively managing your time. Learn and use the tools at your disposal. Get creative. In addition to live sessions, pre-record video lessons, share high-quality blogs, articles, and videos, or narrate your presentations and post those in advance. Our Online Learning Best Practices for Educators and Keeping Students Engaged in Online Learning blogs share tips and advice that can help make your online learning courses more successful.

Be a good host

Hosting regular and consistent virtual office hours adds more structure to your day and can lessen the number of emails you receive. You can also use this scheduled time to respond to emails and grade assignments or discussions if you have time before or after meeting with students.

Just say no

Don’t assign too much busywork. Your students don’t want to do it, and you don’t want to grade it.

Need more ideas?

We’re all struggling with this adjustment and the challenges, feelings, and limitations that come with it. Our Time Management Tips for Remote Workers blog has other ideas to help bring a little more balance to your day.

And finally…

Consider this a first draft

COVID-19 instantly created a paradigm shift for many industries, and it certainly illustrates the need for our education system to build new infrastructures and systems that can withstand the ebbs and flows of our changing world. As schools and universities adapt and develop their own digital competencies for the short-term response to the current crisis, we’re most likely witnessing an enduring digital transformation. So jump in head first, and while you are practicing the art of teaching, go easy on yourself and remember you are still learning, too.

We’d love to hear how you’re dealing with the transition, what tech tools are working best for you, and your thoughts about the fall semester, so share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.