Aug 24 2021

AV Expert Q&A: How to Personalize Hybrid Learning Classrooms

When audiovisual technologies don’t satisfy faculty needs, student experience suffers. Chris Gaut, senior AV design engineer at Southern Methodist University, shares his advice.

When student success during hybrid learning is dependent on an individual faculty member’s comfort with given audiovisual technologies, a one-size-fits-all design isn’t necessarily the best approach.

According to Chris Gaut, senior AV design engineer at Southern Methodist University, the key is to understand which technologies are most suitable for certain professors. And why?

Here, Gaut shares his advice for personalizing technology with EdTech: Focus on Higher Education.

EDTECH: As a senior AV design engineer, what are some best practices you recommend for universities making the shift to permanent hybrid learning?

GAUT: Make sure everyone understands what’s going to be seen and heard. When we set up our classrooms for hybrid learning, we had a faculty user group test the technology. We thought we’d done our homework. We had cameras pointed at the presenter, cameras pointed at the whiteboard and microphones, but we didn’t have any audience or student cameras. The No. 1 feedback from remote students was, “I can’t see the students in the room.” They want to see the student asking the question and not just hear the question. That was a surprise to us. We didn’t do enough engagement testing to see what students wanted.

EDTECH: What are your key considerations when selecting education technology for a hybrid learning environment?

GAUT: Costs and lifespan of the equipment are huge considerations. For example, would the technology have uses beyond the pandemic? Prior to COVID-19, we were already adding lecture capture technology to our rooms, so we were able to pivot quickly when the pandemic hit. We already had some Epson BrightLink interactive projectors in rooms and were able to utilize those. In other rooms, we used Zoom-enabled TVs to allow both in-person and remote students to see each other.

MORE ON EDTECH: With hybrid learning on the rise, higher ed sees a Zoom Room boom.

The other thing I look for is whether the equipment has some sort of deployment management software. I want a software suite that will tell me how these things are doing. How much is the equipment being used? What is it being used for? Having analytics helps you get more out of your devices.

RELATED: Learn how to use software asset management to save money in higher education.

EDTECH: What technologies are you using, and why are they particularly appealing for hybrid learning?

GAUT: We use a variety of technologies. These include Epson projectorsVaddio cameras and ceiling mics. We also use the Meeting Owl 360 degree camera with mic for discussion-based classes, DTEN Zoom Room-enabled flat screen displays and Shure digital wireless lapel mics to capture instructor audio for those instructors who like to roam around the room.

A lot of our faculty members, particularly in the school of arts and humanities, really like to use the whiteboard to teach. For those instructors, we recommend they use the BrightLink and whiteboards. They can share their whiteboarding sessions with the instructor’s PC, and then share the PC’s screen to Zoom. This allows distance-learning students to see the whiteboard.

When we return to mostly in-person teaching, we plan to use the Zoom-enabled flat-screens in our conference rooms. We also like Meeting Owl’s videoconferencing products for discussion-based classes because they are super portable. We can lock the devices onto a table and feel comfortable, from a security-standpoint, that they won’t get stolen.

For cameras and microphones, we use Vaddio cameras and mics because they work well for us. We opted to purchase lapel mics with charging docks, so we don’t have to worry about constantly changing batteries.

EXPLORE: Click the banner below to check out CDW's white paper and roadmap for designing flexible learning environments.

EDTECH: Are there any technologies that are particularly helpful for student engagement?

GAUT: The Zoom-enabled displays had good microphones that could pick up student questions in all parts of the room. This was helpful for hybrid learning because students at home could easily hear what the students in the classroom were saying.

EDTECH: Southern Methodist University recently repurposed a new building for hybrid learning. Can you talk more about that?

GAUT: We were in the process of constructing a new building for our video game design program. But when the pandemic hit, we shifted to use those classrooms for hybrid learning. The building is equipped with more than a dozen Epson Pro L1750 laser projectors and a BrightLink 1480Fi display. Fortunately, we had already invested in cameras and microphones to equip the building for lecture capture. This allowed us to easily repurpose it for hybrid learning. We have one large classroom that’s equipped with an Epson 4K laser projector to help students see — even from the back of the room. We are planning to equip that room with ceiling mics for a better online experience.

We are also designing the next academic building, and those classrooms will have ceiling mics. What’s exciting about that project is that we can use the ceiling mics to not only improve online discussion but also improve the in-person experience. Since those classrooms are long and wide, the mics ensure student questions are heard throughout the space.

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