The technologies disrupting education

Technology progression can inspire new ways of working and learning. Anna Mitchell looks at five areas where AV product developments have transformed education.

Computing, the internet, mobile devices and the ubiquity of video have transformed education. Teaching staff and students now operate on digital platforms, opening the door for AV technologies to be deployed in vast quantities. 

Across the following five technology areas we’ll look at how changing the backbone of signal distribution can have a direct impact on active learning, explore how technology can bring sick children into the classroom and find out how AV can let people safely train in hazardous environments. 

Explore the world from the classroom
“VR enables a sense of presence, has the ability to bring someone into a virtual world with a unique perspective and provides a memorable experience,” says Chris Waldron, regional manager for the UK, Netherlands and Nordic regions at simulation and VR company Antycip Simulation.

chris Waldron BW for webIt’s fast becoming a popular tool in education with Waldron [pictured left] suggesting: “the student is more engaged and able to retain more data about the impact of the experience because so much of it is visual.

“They can look around naturally to where they are interested and explore content by obtaining views that are impossible in the real-world. They can learn from making mistakes in a non-hazardous and safe environment, they can experiment like never before. 

“You can fly through space and study planets and stars based on real astrometric data, visit geo-specific creations of the real-world, like positioning yourself on the top of Everest or on an ocean bed, the possibilities are endless.

“Today you cannot only see the virtual world, but you can touch it, hear it and feel it with haptic feedback devices. You can even smell it with emerging technologies that simulate more than just your visual sense, making everything more realistic and memorable.”

There’s really no limit to the subject areas that can take advantage of VR but Waldron notes geography and landscape focused disciplines, built environment, architecture, computer science, aerospace, transportation studies, medical studies, psychology and design as common users. He can see a huge potential in arts - where people could paint on a virtual 3D canvas for example - but has yet to see much uptake from those faculties. 

While low cost commodity display devices such as Oculus Rift have sparked a huge rise in the use of VR in education, Waldron points out that there are an increasing number of universities that have more demanding requirements. 

“CAVEs have become increasingly more desirable and [in 2019] we have installed three within academic environments,” he says. 

Waldron acknowledges the funding challenges that education clients face in implementing these systems but believes that VR will become more accepted in the sector. “[It will become] a must-have tool, like a PC and an internet connection,” he predicts. 

Turning learning on its head
Flipped learning and the flipped classroom describe an approach where students learn material before a class and contact time is dedicated to discussion and practical application of that knowledge. 

It’s not new but it’s become popular to develop problem solving and analytical skills. In a world where you can access endless information from a quick google search, competence in these areas is more important than memorising facts. It’s also become more widely applied as video has become easier to create, disseminate and access, with teachers able to record lectures that students then watch before the lesson.

Video technology has allowed the flipped learning approach to take off and now the flipped classroom is placing its own unique demands on technology. With more contact time dedicated to group discussion, traditional lecture theatres are less in demand. Universities and schools are increasingly looking for small group collaboration tools that include interactive displays and screen sharing technologies that support BYOD. Students are more likely to present to peers rather than listening to one lecturer and therefore more flexible audio technology, including beamforming microphones, is increasingly in demand. 

The teacher often becomes a moderator of discussion and advances in signal switching and control technology mean they can manage complex tasks through simple interfaces and preset commands, easily selecting different sources for large screen display and sending content to individual screens.

There are studies that demonstrate improved outcomes from flipped learning but expanding the ways in which students learn to achieve better results isn’t the only benefit on offer. The flipped classroom can save money by reaching more pupils with a single teacher and reducing the amount of expensive lecture halls a university requires. 

Signalling the future
The flipped classroom is also becoming easier with the rise of AV over IP, a development that is affecting the education market in myriad ways. 

Charlie Sullivan [pictured right], head of business development for the UK and Ireland Charlie Sullivan Head Shot Final for web at ZeeVee, an AV distribution company, says AV over IP is flexible, cost-effective and opens new possibilities for teaching. “Our ZyPer4K AVoIP encoders and decoders were recently integrated in a major US university’s AV system and provide USB/KVM support for students to easily connect their devices to share their work and collaborate on projects with the group,” he offers as an example. “In addition, these components drive the school’s new videowalls and enable the combining of multiple images across one or more displays without the need for expensive video processors for edge blending and collaboration.

“Budget and enrolment fluctuations are forcing higher education institutions to do more with less resources,” he continues. “This necessitates a high degree of flexibility to be employed for virtually all campus spaces. AVoIP is superior to traditional matrix switches that simply cannot offer the needed flexibility, scalability, future proofing and cost-effectiveness. For instance, today’s lecture and seminar rooms need to be multifaceted to host many different courses and events with varying content. They also need to be able to support distance learning. An AVoIP solution easily satisfies both scenarios.”

Education is the vertical market that has had to move most quickly in adopting BYOD and Sullivan says that AV over IP supports that approach. “Legacy systems are notoriously inflexible when it comes to connecting additional sources to a system,” he explains. “AV over IP supports the evolution of the modern campus – enabling delivery of video to any student with secure access to the university network. It easily accommodates organic growth as necessary.”

Finally, when it comes to speed of deployment AV over IP offers advantages too. Sullivan says that integrators that are trying to implement systems in the short windows that holidays provide will find it easy to leverage an existing network. “[This] allows for much more rapid deployment than traditional, proprietary and cumbersome video matrix installations,” he says. 

Can you hear me at the back?
Natural two-way communication between students and teaching staff can help concentration and avoid fatigue. Meyer Sound’s Constellation system digitally regulates parameters such as early reflections and reverberation time to offer unprecedented control over how a space sounds.

In practical terms for education this means in a large lecture hall a presenter can speak to the audience naturally and will be heard from every seat in the room. Students can also ask and answer questions from anywhere and be heard by the whole class. For multiple group discussions in large rooms, areas can be isolated so chatter from one group is less intrusive to another area. At the touch of a button, teachers can allow spokespeople from groups to talk to the entire class. 

Constellation is powerful but is a big investment and is often found in concert halls or top end restaurants and boardrooms keen to control the ambience of their space. That said around 30 educational institutions are using the technology according to Pierre Germain, Constellation design manager at Meyer Sound, who adds that it’s a market he expects to grow. 
duke_ellington_high_school_002 for web
“The bulk of the systems are installed in multipurpose auditoriums,” he explains. “The system allows the space to hold anything from theatre to dance, to lectures, to jazz, to classical symphony orchestras and everything in between including cinema.

“In a classroom setting it helps communication across the room and where that can be really beneficial is in a space that wasn’t designed to be a classroom,” he continues. “A good example is a room we did at Stanford University in California. It was an old library with a flat floor, low ceiling and a large rectangular space. It was gutted and transformed into a freeform classroom where there is no specific designated teacher area but screens all over the room. Students can present from any screen. Constellation really makes that work. It wouldn’t have been possible using just physical acoustics.”

pierre_germain for webAnecdotal evidence from the places where Constellation has been installed suggests it improves learning outcomes. Returning to the installation at Stanford, Germain [pictured left] says: “The room where Constellation is installed is the most in demand at the school. The teachers love it and it’s changed the whole mindset of the teacher/student experience.”

Holograms and robots
Videoconferencing and telepresence technologies were quickly taken up by the education market who immediately saw the opportunity of bringing in remote experts, sharing lecturers between larger groups, distance learning and allowing students to communicate with peers around the world. 

As a fast adopter of these communication technologies, education establishments are now pushing the boundaries. 

London university Imperial College employs ‘hologram lecturers’, using a projection-based technology to beam remote speakers into live events. Speakers appear life size and 3D and can engage with the audience. A camera link allows them to see the students and take questions.

In an article on the Imperial College website, Dr David Lefevre, director of the Edtech Lab at Imperial College Business School, said: “Introducing hologram technology to the classroom will break down the limitations of traditional teaching by creating an interactive experience that benefits both students and academics.

“Rather than replacing or reducing real-life lectures, the hologram technology will provide greater flexibility for academics by enabling them to continue teaching whilst travelling, ensuring consistency and quality for students. The technology will also widen the scope for Imperial to invite global leaders and influencers from industry to give talks to students, therefore enriching the learning experience.”

But what if it’s the student that can’t be present? One answer for students that are unable to attend regular classes for short periods seems to be through telepresence robots that offer compact and agile videoconferencing. 

Norwegian startup No Isolation describes its AV1 telepresence robot as a child’s eyes, ears and voice in a classroom. The robot is designed to sit on a classroom desk and allows the child at home to see and hear the teacher. The robot’s rotating head offers a 360-degree view of the class.

AV1’s head flashes blue when the child wants to ask a question and there is a whispering mode so the child can speak privately to a neighbouring classmate. The robot can display four emotions: happy, sad, confused and neutral. 

Digital technologies have completely transformed education and AV is clearly at the heart of many of the changes and driving some of the biggest revolutions in how teachers and students operate. As well as opening students’ eyes to experiences that would previously be beyond their reach, many of these technologies are providing clear returns on investment and helping budgets go further.