Category Video Collaboration

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.

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.

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.

Work-From-Home Reality: Ideas to Stay Positive and Productive

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

If you’re one of the millions of people working from home for several weeks, you may find that the reality of full-time remote work is less than ideal. I reached out to coworkers and friends to chat about the work-from-home reality that’s setting in. This week in our Together We Can series, I’m sharing remote work challenges along with ideas to upgrade your workspace and stay positive and productive.

Homemade standing desks

One office item you may be missing is your standing desk. If you don’t want to invest in a standing desk for your at-home workspace, simply improvise. A sturdy box or crate top put your laptop on is one DIY solution that takes no time at all. Your kitchen counter may do the job too. Try that option during non-mealtimes when this family space (hopefully) isn’t crowded.

Have a second workspace

After weeks of working from home, you may need a change of scenery during the day, a different space due to natural lighting changes in the afternoon, or a quieter area for important calls. Finding an alternate workspace can be challenging if you’re sharing space with spouses and children who are also doing work and classes at home. While you don’t want to spend the day in your bedroom, that space may be a short-term option for essential calls. A large closet works in a pinch too for those times when privacy is a must. Just remember to turn your camera off.

Change the lighting

The lighting in your home is softer than the fluorescent bulbs used in the office. The warmer light from your lamps and overhead lighting could be a welcome change. If, however, you find your workplace light makes you too relaxed and unable to concentrate, switch to bright white LED bulbs to help stay focused and alert. For reading-intensive tasks, add a desk lamp with different hues and brightness levels.

Upgrade your work-from-home equipment

Most of us have mobile phone earbuds that work for video meetings. If they are comfortable to wear all day and provide quality sound, you’re all set. If you’re like me, earbuds are less than ideal since they tend to fall out of your ears, and you never get the mic in the perfect spot. In addition to earbud woes, your laptop’s built-in webcam may not work well, or perhaps the desktop in your home office doesn’t even have a webcam.

Crestron Remote Executive Zoom Bundle
Crestron Remote Executive Zoom Bundle

Those are signs that you’re ready for a work-from-home equipment upgrade to fully participate in virtual meetings. Try a quality headset with an attached microphone. Also, if your shared workspace is less than quiet, noise-canceling headphones can help you stay focused. Now you can shop for remote-work bundles that make finding the right equipment fast and simple. Managers and executives may need a more complete remote collaboration package to lead their virtual teams.  AVI-SPL Quick-Shop bundles include various headsets, cameras, and webcams for each team member’s needs.

Try to limit distractions and interruptions

Based on my conversations, distractions and interruptions are the most common work-from-home challenges. Working at different times of the day can help. Lately, I’ve been receiving emails and Microsoft Teams notifications rather early and late in the day. I’m guessing those are from parents who are making the best out of working from home with children who need attention and help with digital classes during traditional work hours.

Flexing your work schedule could be beneficial for you too. Since few of us are commuting, that gives us a little more time to work with each day. Tackle emails and project tasks before little ones are awake, while they nap, or after their bedtime. That leaves you time in the middle of the day to supervise your children’s online classes.

Of course, you can’t avoid all midday meetings, and some uninvited guests could wander into the home office looking for a snack or help with homework. It’s not feasible to constantly keep your finger at the ready to turn off your video feed during an online meeting. A virtual background is a better solution. When your virtual background is displayed, coworkers won’t see little ones peaking into the meeting until your visitors get close to you. That gives you a much-needed few seconds to turn off your webcam.

Avoid the potato syndrome

Take time to learn the nuances of how your video conferencing software works. If you do use a virtual background or other fun meeting tools, make sure you know how to turn those enhancements off. Otherwise, you could get stuck as a potato for the remainder of your work-from-home tenure. MS Teams rolled out virtual backgrounds, and you can upload your own photos and videos to Zoom. Make sure the image you choose is work appropriate or ask if your team can provide a virtual background with the company logo.

Banish procrastination

Even though business casual is the norm, you are still at work and have goals to reach and projects to get done. To stay on track, set a schedule, and monitor your daily tasks. Use collaboration software such as MS Teams to keep track of projects and steps.

If your team doesn’t utilize a shared project application, add tasks to your calendar, or try the free versions of Asana or Monday. List your daily goals, and stick to them. It can be satisfying and motivating to mark your items “complete.” If your mobile phone is a temptation, try an app that blocks access to social media channels and games during specific hours of the day.

Take physical and emotional breaks

Taking a walk and getting fresh air can revitalize your body and mind during a long workday. Don’t wait until you can take these long breaks to get out of your chair, though. Try taking microbreaks throughout the day to stretch and rest your brain for a few seconds. Microbreaks are a healthy habit you can take back to the office with you too. If the stress of social distancing and isolation is affecting your positive mindset, try a meditation app.

Be patient with yourself and others

Finally, cut yourself and your teammates some slack. We’re all in the same work-from-home boat making the best of it. Expect to hear the occasional dog barking or see children coming into the room during virtual meetings. We may miss those lighter moments once we’re back at the office. It’s a stressful time, but we’re all working on getting through this together.

What does your work-from-home reality look like? Do you have any tips to share? Share your thoughts in the comments.

If you need assistance outfitting your remote workspace, you can chat with us while you shop our work-from-home catalog, or call us at 888-881-0812. Remember to visit our Together We Can page for weekly updates and work-from-home resources. Follow us on social too. #TogetherWeCan

Online Learning Update With Jay Bosch: COVID-19 and Beyond

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.

This week in our Together We Can online learning series, AVI-SPL’s Jay Bosch shares feedback from educators on coping with a full-time virtual class schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bosch explores how organizations deliver online learning now, common challenges, and future classroom design trends. 

During my interview with Bosch, he covered how teachers are working from home and how they have adjusted to using virtual classroom tools. Our conversation also touched on digital classes extending into summer sessions and the fall semester for some organizations.

Additionally, digital learning and online collaboration may become a permanent part of delivering an interactive student experience. It’s possible that the online learning expertise gained during the pandemic may influence the design of the classroom of the future. 

Online Learning Trends With Jay Bosch

Class of 2020 Virtual Commencement

Insights include Bosch’s thoughts on what commencement could look like for the class of 2020. Some colleges are postponing ceremonies, while others are looking to deliver a memorable experience through virtual commencement ceremonies. For schools that don’t have in-house staff to set up and provide a live streaming commencement broadcast, AVI-SPL’s video production arm VideoLink is ready to help.

Virtual 2020 summer sessions

Jay explores possible summer session trends where teachers will return to campus, but still deliver digital classes to remote students. He talked about AVI-SPL’s lecture capture carts, a bundled solution designed to be shipped and installed quickly. 

AVI-SPL lecture capture carts provide schools and universities with an easy-to-use lecture capture system. This technology enables you to record, share, and manage all your video content for classes through your existing lecture capture software, which integrates seamlessly with popular Learning Management Systems.

Online learning beyond COVID-19

Bosch noted that at some schools, administrators are discussing extending their digital class curriculum into the fall semester, or even building permanent classrooms designed to host virtual classes. Solutions like Barco’s weConnect Virtual Classrooms include interactive whiteboards and large video walls that display each student. Using the video wall, teachers can see when students raise their hands and maintain personal connections while delivering classes online. 

Until next week, check our Together We Can online learning page for more resources and weekly updates.

Follow AVI-SPL on LinkedIn and Twitter. #TogetherWeCan