Posts tagged Together We Can

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.

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.

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.