How Tech Managers Can Accommodate Students of All Ages

Forbes recently released its annual list of the 25 best places to retire Eight are college towns such as Athens, Georgia, and Austin, Texas. That’s not coincidence. Instead, it’s one indication of a trend that affects campus AV requirements now and over the long term.

Colleges are responding to the influx of retirees by offering continuing-education programs. Take Columbia, Missouri, where the University of Missouri created the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to cater to the “the interests, concerns and lifestyles of the over-50 adult.”

Meanwhile, a second trend is playing out: Millions of middle-age people lost their job in the Great Recession, and many of them have headed to college to retool. These two trends are among the reasons why the average age of a college student keeps increasing.

I think the thing to look for in the coming years is whether the demand for induction loops for hearing aids increases,” said Mark McCallister, University of Florida Office of Academic Technology associate director. “Induction loop technology wirelessly broadcasts system audio directly to hearing aids by installing a wire loop transmitter under the seating rather than utilizing RF or IR portable units as is more common in the U.S.”

The technology of hearing loop is actually quite simple, said Steven Woolley, the wireless listening product group leader at Listen Technologies Corporation. To be done properly, however, there are various factors on the installation site that must be taken into consideration. “Even coverage, the correct standardized levels to match hearing aids, and flat frequency response across the desired bandwidth are critically important in providing a fulfilling and engaging experience,” he said.

Woolley believes that taking the time to research and plan is rewarding since a properly designed, installed, and operating hearing loop delivers tangible benefits to the end-user. “It is hard to communicate in words, the profoundly emotional reaction the user has when experiencing a properly operating system for the first time," he said.

Who's in the loop?
Mark McCallister noted that in England induction loops seem to have a wide appeal. “In a recent trip to the U.K.," he said, "I was amazed to see how [much] more invested they are in this technology than we are in the U.S. I've been told that the higher level of interest in induction loops overseas is due to a higher percentage of hearing aid users and hearing aids equipped with the T-coil receivers. If the technology catches on or becomes required, it could make things interesting for classroom managers, as the induction wire loop installation is a bit more complicated than the standard RF or IR transmitter.”

Steve Woolley concurs that awareness of this solution is greater overseas, but he domestic momentum is growing. “The US has lagged behind the UK and the rest of the world, but recent grassroots efforts by the hard-of-hearing community have significantly stimulated the demand for the benefits that this technology can deliver,” he said.

Woolley opines that we should not be surprised by the influx of older students attending college. Statistical patterns suggest it. The post World War II birth rate increased significantly between 1945 and 1965 and this bulge in the “snake” is moving along and being seen as more than 20 percent rise in retirees in the last 18 years.

Although the bump that is referred to as the "baby boom" will pass after 25 or so years, the baby boomers themselves are expected to live longer than any generation hitherto. They also are a generation that wants to lead active lives in the later years. And this generation’s version of “an active life” naturally includes music. “Who invented rock-and-roll, and the explosion of popular music and music technology, after all?” he said. “Currently 17 percent — 53 million people — in the US have some degree of hearing loss; the reality is this number will grow as our population ages. It is anticipated that the 'boomers' will be more aware and actively demand that their needs for sound enhancement are [met].”

Supporting multi-generational users
When a room’s acoustic design, technologies, or both make it easier for students—of any age—to hear, faculty also benefit. For example, they’re not wearing out their voices by basically shouting for 50 minutes straight.

In the end, Woolley says, it's key to make assistive listening as “ambient” as possible, requiring minimal actions from the user. When the guesswork is eliminated, more students (of all ages), clients, and participants can engage in society, with equal access to media, information, and entertainment.

Since 1998, Tim Kridel has covered the tech and telecom industries for a variety of publications and websites, including AV Technology, Carrier Ethernet News, Digital Innovation Gazette, Pro AV, and InAVate. Margot Douaihy is the editor of AV Technology.