AV Gets Interactive

Four strategies that schools should consider before choosing, upgrading, or installing new audiovisual technologies.

AV Gets Interactive

BUSINESS ORGANIZATIONS AREN’T the only ones relying more on audiovisual (AV) technologies to support remote collaboration—business schools, too, are adopting more sophisticated and integrated AV systems in their online and face-to-face classrooms to create more global, immersive learning experiences for their students.

At AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association, we have found that it’s not always easy for schools to narrow down their objectives for AV technology or to choose the right tools for each task. As they move through this process, they might find inspiration in the following four approaches:

Make online interactions more like face-to-face. With its HBX Live virtual classroom, opened in August 2015, Harvard Business School (HBS) in Boston, Massachusetts, wants to reproduce the intimacy and interaction of the physical classroom environment. Participants log in from around the globe to join real- time, case-based sessions with HBS faculty and business leaders. Equipped with a high-resolution video wall that simulates the amphitheater-style seating of a university lecture hall, the space allows up to 60 participants to be displayed simultaneously in a high-definition panoramic view.

Loudspeakers concealed in the video wall replicate face-to-face classroom interaction. If the professor is speaking with a student displayed on one screen and a student displayed on the opposite end of the wall interjects, a spatial audio cue mimics what it would be like if the individuals were in a physical classroom.

“Each student has one unique student- to-professor video feed to simulate the typical conversational perspective, with additional vantage points provided by multiple in-studio cameras,” says JoAnn Arcenal, formerly the director of public engagement at McCann Systems, the company that installed HBX Live technology. “From inside the studio, the professor’s experience is just as personal and interactive.”

Import expert voices from anywhere in the world. At Maryville University’s John E. Simon School of Business in St. Louis, Missouri, Erika Rasure, assistant professor of business and financial services, uses AV technology to support collaboration and bring subject- matter experts into her classroom.

For example, Rasure uses platforms such as Google Hangouts and Skype to interview industry experts from around the world—she recently connected with a financial psychologist living in Singapore. She records each interview in her school’s AV studio and works with AV staff to professionally edit each interaction; she then makes the interviews available to students in her online and face-to-face classes. So far, she has eight interviews completed, and she plans to create a database of interviews with experts on topics spanning a wider range of disciplines.

“This technology offers a way for us to rethink how we bring guest speakers to our students,” says Rasure, “and it helps us expose our students to perspectives they otherwise would not come across.”

Enable face-to-face and virtual peer-to-peer collaboration. In the fall of 2019, the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University in East Lansing will open the Minskoff Pavilion, its new building designed to focus on distance learning and collaboration among globally dispersed students. Integral to the building’s function will be its Real Engaged and Active Learning (REAL) rooms, where students will be able to work on group projects with other students in the room, with students located in other REAL rooms on campus, or with students elsewhere in the world.

Large flat-panel displays at the front of each REAL room will enable group sharing and team collaboration. The rooms also will feature several breakout pods, each with its own flat-panel display, where smaller groups of students will work and collaborate on individual projects. The students will use Crestron AirMedia, a wireless presentation system, to share content with all members of the team. The college has two specialists on staff who will help faculty with everything from instructional design to effective use of classroom technology.

“What the technology is ultimately doing is sharpening the presentation and teaching process and greatly improving collaboration between the actual and virtual classrooms,” says John Wagner, professor and director of building and facilities. “Collaboration is key to educational success, and connectivity is at its core.”

Create a fluid learning experience. Looking beyond business schools, the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering offers more than 37 master’s degree programs open to both on-campus and distance learning students. Viterbi leverages AV technology to capture and stream the in-classroom learning environment to students around the world.

Viterbi classrooms are outfitted with high-performance projectors, as well as multiple cameras—one at the rear of the classroom to show professors or their presentations, one overhead to display notes and props, and one positioned to capture the students and their interactions. The footage is streamed live to distance learners.

“You want to ensure that the remote students don’t feel like they are in a tech platform, and that the learning experience is free-flowing—that’s first and foremost,” says Joseph Fusaro, vice president at McCann Systems.

No matter what an educator’s goals might be, the most successful AV-powered global classrooms result when schools take these factors into account:

Ease of use. If it is too difficult for educators and students to use the technology, they won’t—and the institution won’t benefit from its investment. Before considering an AV solution, faculty and students should meet with AV designers to share how they like to teach and learn, how comfortable they are with technology, and how they typically use technology outside the classroom.

Ability to upgrade. Schools should invest in networks that can handle large amounts of data, so that they can more easily upgrade to higher-definition displays, more responsive touch interfaces, and more sophisticated voice controls as new technology becomes available. For example, before installing its technology, Broad College at MSU installed additional channels behind walls to accommodate additional wiring as needed.

The right balance between tech and tradition. The technology complements what is happening in the physical classroom, says Fusaro. It’s important “to maintain that balance where the global classroom is an enhancement of the traditional college experience, not a replacement.”

The challenge is to choose AV solutions that are flexible enough to fit a wide range of teaching methods and philosophies, without obscuring or overshadowing the learning process. The technology should fall into the background as the professor teaches, the students learn, and the global classroom collaborates.

Brad Grimes is senior director of communications for AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association, which represents the global commercial AV industry.


Editor’s Note (6-14-2019): This article has been corrected to note that the Minskoff Pavilion at Michigan State University will open in the fall of 2019. The building had not recently opened, as of this article’s publication date, as was originally stated.