Designing a Practical Classroom Collaboration System

Designing a Practical Classroom Collaboration System

Let's be practical. There are a lot of great collaboration solutions out there that can greatly enhance the educational pedagogy and student workflow, but many higher-ed institutions don't necessarily have the budget or immediate desire for such implementation. So we need to explore solutions that fit the direct needs of the end user: the instructor and student. For this, I will classify classroom collaboration into three categories: instructor centric, instructor centric with student interaction, and student centric.

Instructor Centric: In order to determine a collaboration solution, we first need to identify the end-user workflow and pedagogy. The majority of instructors just want a modern way to display and share information to their students. This includes being able to mirror their mobile devices, as well as using cloud-based platforms for distributing content. As an adjunct college instructor myself, this is the first solution I researched for my own professional use.

The instructor-centric method offers some options that instructors can procure themselves. Software options are available that allow users to mirror their devices to a central computer. The instructor just needs to purchase the software license, and install the host software on the school’s room PC or their own personal laptop. Once launched, the software will allow instructors to wirelessly present content from their devices using the school’s Wi-Fi. This is a great low-cost solution for basic wireless presentation without having to overhaul the entire room AV system. Solutions include Airserver, AirParrot, and Doceri, to name a few.

Instructor Centric with Student Interaction: This method expands to allow students the ability to view or participate in the educational session from their own personal devices. These solutions often require a bit of a technology refresh to implement effectively, but do not necessarily require the entire room to be renovated. For this I will use the Kramer Via and Mersive Solstice products as examples. These technologies offer the perfect example for workflow driving collaboration technology choices. This type of solution allows students and instructors to connect to a central device to share and collaborate on content.

Allowing students to wirelessly present content from their own devices opens up another dimension in the classroom: It turns the traditional lecture into an open discussion forum. Using either built-in Wi-Fi within the appliance, or enterprise Wi-Fi, the lecture becomes much more interactive while giving the instructor some real-time feedback to the success or failure of the lesson they are teaching.

Student Centric: Last, we have the student-centric model of classroom collaboration. This is when all the walls of a traditional classroom are torn down and a true roundtable collaboration environment is constructed. I speak, of course, of active-learning classroom scenarios. The desire for students to feel engaged in the content they are learning has cultivated a breeding ground for active-learning classrooms. The use of wireless collaboration technology with IP video stream management will allow more efficient active-learning environments to take shape.

This new type of active learning environment will feature a wireless collaboration device at each group table. Student groups will work together from their personal devices. Each wireless appliance canvas will then be monitored and managed by the instructor through the IP network. The network becomes the matrix switch, the streaming platform, and the control system. The instructor then has the ability to use a tablet to route and manage the network streams from each wireless appliance. By using wireless collaboration technology with a robust network, the active-learning classroom can evolve and begin to increase in efficiency and user workflow, while reducing the cost.

Not all classroom environments need the latest and greatest technology to be fully functional and serve their purpose. Some might just need the ability to mirror a tablet, while others may need a revamp of the network and technology within. So while it’s tempting to want to design a system around the best technology on the market, we need to take a step back and design solutions around the most important aspect that ultimately defines the success of a system: the end user.

Jonathan Owens is a multi-disciplinary Consultant at Shen Milsom & Wilke, LLC. Owens has more than 10 years of experience in audio and audiovisual design, engineering, acoustics for a wide variety of projects including corporate, commercial, fine arts performance centers, entertainment facilities, higher education, K-12 schools, and healthcare facilities. Owens is also a professional recording/mixing engineer and sound designer.