30.01.17

Group learning at Leeds University

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In partnership with integrator Pure AV, The University of Leeds has transformed three lecture theatres in to true collaborative spaces. Paul Milligan finds out how it was done.

Named as University of the Year 2017 by the Times and The Sunday Times’ Good University Guide, The University of Leeds has already been recognised for its delivery of a leading student experience. The decision to transform three lecture theatres to create flexible spaces to enhance the student experience is part of a wider £2.8m (€3.3m) investment to upgrade the teaching spaces in support of the University’s Digital Strategy for Student Education.

As Andy Truswell, systems integration manager at Pure AV explains, “The University had a very clear vision for the pilot lecture theatres, so for us as the chosen integrator the priority was to deliver AV systems that created ease of use for room users and supported that vision in a straight forward and cost effective way”.

The new spaces replace traditional lecture theatre seating with Collaborative Booths. The Booths positioned on tiered levels and equipped with collaborative technology promote interaction between students in smaller groups and increased interaction between students and lecturer. Another benefit of the redesign is the ability for the University to extend room usage outside of scheduled lecture times and offer students additional areas for informal collaboration and project work.
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The AV project was awarded to Pure AV following a competitive tender and included the upgrade of three traditional style lecture theatres alongside the three pilot Collaborative Lecture Theatres.

The University of Leeds already has one of the most developed lecture capture systems in the UK, and this was a driver to encourage academic staff at the University to embrace the redesign says Professor Neil Morris, director of digital learning.  “There are lots of teachers who have now ‘seen’ (literally), just how passive didactic teaching is and want to do more flipped learning. They want to use media capture tools to create digital content for pre-session viewing and use contact time, namely the time spent in the lecture theatre, for active learning.”

The new design has created an adaptable space able to support both traditional didactic use and collaborative group based sessions.  “From the teachers’ perspective, these rooms are dual purpose; they can still be used for didactic delivery – the teacher could come in, load their PowerPoint on the lectern PC, fire up the projector and talk for 50 minutes. However, they also have a range of other options to enrich the learning experience for their students,” adds Morris.  

The lecturer experience has been carefully considered in the design and the user interface is consistent across all the new rooms and where possible uses the same control systems already in place across the campus.  

The physical design of the space created by Project Architects Burwell Deakins includes a number of booth designs dependent upon where in the theatres they are located and also to enable wheelchair users to fully participate. The largest theatre (Mechanical Engineering, Lecture Theatre B) has 28 collaborative booths, the smallest (Roger Stevens Lecture Theatre 8) 11 with 22 in the mid-sized Worsley Dental Lecture Theatre.

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Each Collaborative Booth seats 3, 4 or 5 students around a desk with all seats facing the front and the group. This arrangement facilitates group work but also allows focus on front of room activity.  Each desk is equipped with an internet-enabled touchscreen laptop, a touch-to-talk desk microphone, built-in speaker and spotlight controls.

An audio conferencing system supports communication between the Booths and the rest of the room. Each Booth is equipped with Beyerdynamic microphones and speakers and their own dedicated push-to-talk button.  When a Booth activates its microphone the audio is reproduced through the speakers in all of the Booths.  The lecturer’s audio is played out through the ceiling mounted PA system.  

As previously mentioned there is also a Mediasite lecture capture system in place at the University and the system captures audio feeds from the lecturer’s mic, the Booth mics and the presentation audio.  Lecture capture will also take the video from the projected images and a camera feed.

Each lecture theatre features the standard AV products you’d expect to see in a university; lectern based PC, control panel, lecture capture recording light and pause button, visualiser, blu-ray player, however, there is no whiteboard or black board and no pens/chalk. Instead, alongside the traditional lectern, in this case Top Tec Gemini Duet 2200s and Explorer 1 Duplexes in the smaller lecture theatre, there is a large format 46-in or 55-in height and tilt adjustable NEC interactive touchscreen.

There are two PC’s in the room, a standard lecturer’s PC and one for the digital whiteboard. The default arrangement is that the digital whiteboard will project via one projector and the room PC will project via the other. This enables the lecturer to display their presentation content and write and draw on the digital whiteboard simultaneously, displaying the digital whiteboard content on the second projected image.

Sources are selected using the 15-in Extron control panel on the lectern and these can be displayed on any of the projectors.  A plan of all the Booths on the touchscreen makes it easy for the room user to select an individual Booth and display the content from the laptop or device in that Booth on the in-room projectors.
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In order to further enhance the potential for collaborative working within the space, the University has also introduced DisplayNote software. This now opens up the opportunity for two-way collaboration between the student and lecturer either with the hardwired laptop or the students own device.  The software is run on the lecturer’s PC which acts as the server device. There are then a set of user licences which are allocated on a concurrent user basis.  The students download an app onto their own device or login on the dedicated laptop situated in the Booths.  This then allows two-way wireless collaboration, screen capture and personalised note taking.

Early feedback from one of the first academics to use the space, Dr Lee Edwards, associate professor, communication studies and PR, school of media and communication, suggests the AV project has achieved its goals; “The interactive technologies, intuitive control panels and touchscreen make integrating technology into teaching a more interesting and rewarding experience for everyone. Students can access the VLE at their desks, use the Booth laptops to write and share work as a group, and their input can easily be integrated into the teaching process through the dual display system. It means I can create a learning environment that is varied and engaging, using different tools to help students develop and reflect on knowledge in new ways.”

One potential challenge at the Collaborative Lecture theatre design is the inevitable reduction in room occupancy compared to more traditional layouts. The University estimates the loss between 10% and 30% of seats. However, as Professor Morris observes, this is considered an acceptable compromise for the benefits gained. “The combination of physical space changes and innovative use of digital technology gives the university a distinctive edge to support recruitment and student experience”.
This project is an example of a new kind that is starting to emerge says Truswell; “Up until recently the majority of the collaboration projects tended to focus on smaller teaching and tutorial spaces.  More recently, led by institutions like The University of Leeds, our customers are looking to extend that collaborative, active student experience into their larger teaching areas.

"This creates some interesting challenges for system design in terms of the management and sharing of content and audio across multiple devices in multiple ways on a much larger scale, but also in consideration of audio and ensuring clarity of sound regardless of where you are sitting and who is speaking. This is also where the skill of the integrator becomes extremely important, and the ability of the integrator to design a system that manages all of the complexity to deliver a solution that the lecturer and students can quickly and easily use and engage with”


Kit list

Audio

Ampetronic MLD5UK induction loop amp
Audio Technica U853AW ceiling mic
Beyerdynamic Revoluto MPR211 desktop mic
Beyer Dynamic CA-OL loudspeaker
Bose Panaray 402 loudspeaker
Community C4LP ceiling speaker
Crown XLS1502 amplifier
Sennheiser DW-3-UKC Speechline lapel mic     
Shure MX418C gooseneck mic

Control

Extron DMP 128 processor
Extron TLP Pro 1520MG 15-in touch panel
Extron XTP T USW 103 switcher    

Video

CTOUCH mobile trolley
Genee Vision GV 3100HD visualiser
Iiyama T2236MSC-B2 21.5-in touchscreen
NEC P463 46-in touchscreen
Panasonic PT-RZ570 laser projector
Top Tec Pluto Projector brackets