Oct 24 2023

Q&A: How Picking the Right Projector Can Take Hybrid Teaching to the Next Level

Gavin Downey, group project manager at Epson America, answers questions about the future of hybrid classrooms and the projector’s role in student success.

Hybrid learning technology is increasingly popular within higher education institutions, and educators are pushing for more innovation and advancement to support their needs. Their digital transformation initiatives call for more investment and prioritization of cutting-edge technology to help students learn whether they are in the room or not.

Gavin Downey, group project manager at Epson, spoke with EdTech about how to find a projector that meets your university’s needs in the classroom, in shared spaces and beyond.

EDTECH: Why are higher education institutions investing or reinvesting in projectors right now?

DOWNEY: People’s expectations for what constitutes a very large immersive image are changing. We’re seeing an increase in the popularity of ultra-short-throw projection at home, for entertainment. Many families have attended immersive experiences or museums; many are experiencing larger images as part of their faith. Expectations are changing, and modern laser projectors are helping meet and exceed those expectations.

The need for hybrid experiences coincided with a wave of innovation across audiovisual technologies. Capture technologies evolved quickly, and pan-tilt-zoom cameras became much more sophisticated, just as microphone arrays and digital signal processor technology evolved. Laser projection technology, sophisticated mic arrays and PTZ cameras enabled hybrid experiences in ways that simply weren’t possible five or six years ago.

LEARN MORE: Ensure your classroom has the technology it needs with Epson

EDTECH: How do projectors enhance hybrid learning?

DOWNEY: Rutgers University developed an innovative hybrid solution prior to the pandemic. The professor wanted to be able to see students who were assembled in a remote location as if they were in the same room. So, when the professor was at the front of the room, she could look toward the back of the room and the remote students were projected at the same size as the students who were in the room, sitting in their chairs. It was really cool. Then, for the students in the remote location, at the front of the room was a massive image of the professor as if the professor were real size.

It can be quite complicated to facilitate not only accurate visuals but audio as well. You don't want someone in a class of 200 to open a bag of potato chips and have the audio focus on the crinkling bag instead of the speaker.

DISCOVER: How to minimize common device-related risks in higher education.

EDTECH: How have projectors evolved to fulfill changing needs?

DOWNEY: The pandemic really accelerated technology innovation. Microsoft released Teams, and Zoom became quite popular. It was very similar to what we saw in 1989 when Microsoft announced PowerPoint. We sold a lot of projectors then because suddenly people wanted everyone in the room to see it. But now, with Teams and with Zoom, it's not just the presentation material.

Educators asked, “How can I get a giant image and then pull multiple sources?” It could be a YouTube channel, it could be classroom material, it could be a video feed from a remote. Educators wanted to know, “How can I get all of that at a size that is recognizable to both people who are in the room and people who are seeing it remotely?”

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EDTECH: What should an institution look for in a cutting-edge projector?

DOWNEY: We have done a lot of investment in laser projection, and you’ve seen projectors get much smaller. If you go back to lamp-driven projectors in auditoriums, they weighed 200 or 300 pounds. That same brightness can now be achieved with a projector that weighs less than 40 pounds.

In 2016, projection underwent this fundamental technology change. Where for years they were using incandescent lamps, the industry switched over to laser, enabling the projectors to get much brighter and smaller. So, as hybrid educators started to seek out solutions for larger images, it coincided with revolutionary laser technology in the projection world.

EDTECH: What Epson products are solving these dilemmas to support educators and students?

DOWNEY: Ultra-short throw provides you with the ability to actually mount a projector on a wall, like a picture or a painting, and then create large images that are very crisp and clean. 

The PowerLite 810E and 810 option, mounted on the wall, will create 80-inch to 160-inch images. It’s very lightweight, about 20 pounds, and it will throw a huge image. That's because of the combination of laser and ultra-short throw, and the image is really crisp. People are putting them right next to each other and creating large images.

Then, when you move up a little bit to a slightly larger classroom setting, there's been evolution there as well. We have a product called the PowerLite L770U, also only 20 pounds, and it's 7,000 lumens, which is incredibly bright. You can throw a 300-inch image in a room with quite a bit of ambient light, and the PowerLiteL770U will do that quite well, despite being very small. It has twice the resolution; the image will have 4 million pixels.

EXPLORE: How classroom modernization supports HyFlex learning.

EDTECH: What are the advantages of choosing these projectors for hybrid learning environments?

DOWNEY: It’s simple: one mount point, one projector, one image. They're very simple to design, install and maintain. Otherwise, you would have to build a structure, and then you’d have to put multiple panels on there, and you'd have to have a media server.

For auditoriums where, perhaps, the professor wants to bring in people from remote video feeds or different types of technology, we've launched a new 20,000-lumen projector called the EB-PU220B. It can throw an incredibly large image — 500 to 800 inches across. Remote participants can be visible to the folks who are in the auditorium, and vice versa. We've sold a lot of these, and it’s been very popular in theaters, auditoriums, even outdoor spaces where universities are projecting work on the outsides of buildings.

Higher ed staff are being asked to implement solutions that five years ago would have been on par with, say, a live rock concert. What's going on in theater in higher education is nothing short of stunning, and they're the ones who are leading these complex implementations.

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