September 16, 2022

3 min

Bridging Remote and In-Person Instruction with AV Solutions

With the right mix of audiovisual tools, college students learning from home can have nearly the same experience as their peers on campus.

I finished an online degree a little over a year ago. While there were some interactive components — the university mailed me a science kit so I could participate in labs at home — much of the experience felt like sitting in a 500-person lecture hall. I watched prerecorded content, clicked through PowerPoint slides and then went off to do my assignments. 

However, we are seeing a significant shift toward discussion-based classes at many colleges and universities. Remote students are paying significant tuition and fees, and they expect an experience that parallels the in-person classroom experience.

Remote Learning Involves Different Hardware Considerations

Enabling a remote or hybrid learning environment that feels more like the classroom experience isn’t all that difficult, but it does require colleges and universities to invest in the right audiovisual solutions to help bridge the gap. For the best user experience, schools should consider the following tools: 

Tracking cameras: A static camera isn’t enough to convincingly replicate the classroom experience. Classrooms should be outfitted with cameras that track the instructor (and, possibly, secondary cameras that provide a view of students in the classroom), so that remote students can keep their attention focused on the person speaking. 

Ceiling microphones: Too often, the “audio” in “audiovisual” gets overlooked. If students at home can’t hear what’s going on, they will be less engaged in what the instructor is saying and may miss out on valuable peer discussions. While professors might wear lapel microphones, ceiling mics are a great way to make sure remote students can hear questions posed by their classmates as well. Focusing on the right solution for the space will lead to better experiences, improved accessibility and better outcomes for everyone.  

Room speakers: Just as online participants need to hear clearly what’s happening in the classroom, in-person students need to hear the contributions and questions of their remote peers. Collaboration requires two-way traffic.

Whiteboard cameras: We can get by with a regular camera at the back of a classroom zoomed in on a whiteboard, but that can sometimes be hard to read. Instead, consider dedicated whiteboard cameras that push out everything written on a whiteboard to remote students’ video feeds. Think of it as a document camera for the whiteboard, with AI that can “erase” the instructor’s arm and hand and increase marker contrast for improved legibility.

Annotation tablets: Through dedicated annotation tablets, or even software on tablets such as Apple iPad devices, instructors can mark up their PowerPoint slides in real time. This is a feature that affects in-person and remote students in exactly the same way, as students in the classroom will be seeing the same slides and annotations as students learning at home. 

Digital displays: Back-of-room displays are important because they allow instructors to see their online students in real time, rather than forcing at-home students to participate as disembodied voices. Wall displays are also great for allowing in-person students to see their remote peers. 

Control systems: Audiovisual control systems, typically located near a classroom’s teaching station, allow instructors to seamlessly switch between different video feeds with the touch of a button. A well-configured control system can reduce the amount of class time instructors spend struggling with technology.

Virtual reality: File this one under “emerging” tools, but there’s a lot of excitement around virtual reality in higher education — and for good reason. VR could soon reach a point where remote students can use headsets to feel like they’re really in the classroom. In the meantime, VR can offer students experiences they otherwise wouldn’t be able to access. For example, we’ve seen social work students use VR programs to make virtual home visits. That’s something that can enhance the experience for all students, whether they’re learning in the classroom or from their homes.

Story by Jimmie Singleton, CDW•G Higher Ed AV Field Solution Architect, has been in the AV industry for seven-plus years, most recently as the manager of learning environments at the University of Southern California, where he oversaw all classroom technology support services. In this role, he worked to improve customer experience by helping nontechnical audiences understand highly technical needs. In his time in higher education, he was named a member of Commercial Integrator’s “40 Influencers Under 40” list, as well as a winner of the AV Awards “AV Service Team of the Year” award. He is a Certified Technology Specialist and holds a wide variety of AV and IT industry certifications.