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Future-Proofing the Classroom with Touchless Audio

There is no denying that the last several months have been difficult for the education industry, particularly for students and educators who have had to adapt to remote learning environments on a dime, without compromising the quality of schooling—all while grappling with multiple global crises. It was not always an easy or smooth transition, but there are some silver linings and bright spots that came from these tough circumstances. This is especially true in the case of educational technology.

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Noted AV experts will share their thoughts on the future of learning at  AV³ on June 17. Click here to learn more.

Until now, classroom AV equipment has been largely much of the same—often clunky, outdated, and far from intuitive. It worked fine, so there was rarely ever budget made available to do more than incremental upgrades. While bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trends and software solutions brought some innovation, there was nothing driving a shift on a mass scale. COVID-19 disrupted this dormancy.

As the pandemic forced the higher education industry to quickly overhaul and modernize their AV and IT infrastructures, the question now is, what’s next?

Many AV and IT teams are finding themselves in the rare position of needing to implement long-lasting solutions for hybrid learning, fast, with minimal disruption to their current setup. On the bright side, in many cases, administrations finally recognize the need to innovate quickly and are supplying these teams with flexible budgets to do so. But this doesn’t make the task at hand any less daunting.

Here are some key technology trends and capabilities higher ed AV and IT decision makers should consider to set themselves up for long-term success on the back of the pandemic.

Bring Your Own Device

The trend toward bring-your-own-device (BYOD) in educational settings has become an indispensable part of hybrid learning as it not only minimizes the sharing of devices, but also encourages social distancing during classes in large lecture halls. Schools in particular can benefit from high-quality audio streaming via secure apps on students’ personal smartphones.

With this, higher ed IT and AV teams must make sure that they have enterprise-grade solutions in place to enable continued collaboration over Wi-Fi for the long haul.

Mobile apps and other software solutions that allow students to join lectures securely from remote locations are crucial as online learning will continue to remain commonplace. This is also a great solve for in-person lectures as social distancing continues to be top of mind. Schools are likely no longer going to max out the capacity of lecture halls, and rooms that were once used for 100-person classes may only host 50 now for safety reasons. BYOD solutions can help students and professors achieve an intimate learning experience despite physical space between them. These types of apps can also be great for ensuring inclusivity and speech intelligibility for hearing impaired students.

Keep It Simple

Many of us have not seen our colleagues in person since early 2020. For IT and AV teams, this means that troubleshooting hardware and software issues has been much more complicated. As remote learning environments are here to stay, and seeing one another in person is no longer always feasible, IT and AV departments must make sure that they are deploying solutions that are user friendly, simple, and, ideally, plug-and-play for the end user.

With this, they should also ensure that the new software or hardware is compatible with existing solutions. For instance, if a professor exclusively teaches a class to remote and in-person participants via Microsoft Teams’ meeting functions, the classroom’s microphone solution should integrate with this automatically. This not only reduces valuable time lost to fixing technical AV issues, but also ensures smooth hybrid learning experiences with clear audio across the board.

Touchless Audio

Cleanliness and social distancing protocols have been top of mind for educational facilities for some time and will remain a concern well into the future. As classrooms have always been high-touch, close-contact environments where equipment like clip-on and handheld microphones are regularly shared between students and professors, AV and IT pros must prioritize touchless audio as a key component of their collaboration strategy in the post-COVID-19 world.

Beamforming microphone technology is one of the latest touchless audio innovations that has proven its value over the last year as a hygienic and effective AV solution. The technology is beneficial for capturing audio from multiple socially distanced in-person participants in large rooms, simultaneously ensuring that remote students hear exactly what’s going on while being able to make their voices heard. Beamforming microphones, often installed as ceiling mics, automatically track whoever is speaking within the space, no matter their distance from others, to clearly capture the speech while diminishing background noise.

As higher education institutions set themselves up for the post-pandemic era, it is important to realize that audio will remain the primary interface for hybrid learning. AV and IT pros must embrace new innovations and technologies like mobile apps and ceiling mics now to future-proof their organizations with high-quality, touchless audio solutions going forward.

Andrew Kornstein  is speaking at AV³ on the "What’s Next for Learning?" panel on June 17. Click here to learn more about the virtual event.