In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no secret that the entire education industry is shifting its approach to the engagement and education of students. In the middle of the spring 2020 semester, campuses were shut down and students and faculty alike had to adapt to a fully remote model and a new mindset for learning. No matter the platform used for these virtual experiences, challenges were abundant, and the variable of human connection was beginning to feel lost in the shuffle.
Administrators at Pepperdine University, a private research university with five locations across Southern California, knew they had to do something to prepare for the fall semester and sought to update their technology systems to accommodate this new normal. Most importantly, they sought to create environments that were easy to use, consistent across all campuses, and flexible enough to accommodate both synchronous and asynchronous learning. They knew it would take a lot of research and ingenuity to get it right, so the university’s on-site AV team dug in as early as April to figure out what the classroom of the future would look like and what technology it would require.
“We have a very talented AV team, and we pride ourselves on staying one step ahead, with frequent improvements to classroom technology,” said Jared Mukai, Ph.D., and manager of AV technologies and special projects at Pepperdine. “Still, this unprecedented reality left us with the need to rethink the ‘old school’ way of facilitating meaningful classroom discussion. We had to adapt, and we had to do it quickly.”
Many universities like Pepperdine are implementing more permanent remote or hybrid learning solutions across their classrooms and looking for ways to provide a semblance of the on-campus experience from a distance. As a result, the equipment needed to create such environments is in high demand and short supply. Anticipating this demand, Mukai’s team worked diligently to figure out what they would need to build hybrid distance learning classrooms and purchased that equipment as quickly as possible. By the end of June, the university had successfully procured cameras, microphones, and computers for their new distance learning classrooms and the AV team was ready to install and deploy them.
In a typical year, Pepperdine practices a room refresh cycle at a rate of 20 percent, meaning about 40 classrooms receive new technology solutions. This year, however, the team was challenged with multiplying that refresh fivefold and overhauling every single classroom across all locations in the span of just six weeks.
Having worked before with Diversified, number two on the 2019 SCN Top 50 list, Mukai and his team were confident in engaging them again to help bring their efforts to fruition. Diversified would install the new equipment and integrate new portable rack-based systems into existing classroom environments.
“With a project much larger than we’re used to and on such a short timeline, the team at Diversified made us feel comfortable that it could not only be done, but that it would also be done right,” said Mukai.
The installation covered 166 rooms: 74 undergraduate and 92 graduate classrooms. Each undergraduate room at Pepperdine University is equipped with a Panasonic 22x PTZ camera, Shure QLX-D wireless microphone system, Shure IntelliMix P300 digital signal processor, and a PC preconfigured by Pepperdine’s AV team to include Zoom and Panopto videoconferencing solutions.
The graduate classrooms are equipped with the same hardware, plus freestanding mobile equipment racks that accommodate the new equipment for distance learning. Each rack was fabricated in Diversified’s Anaheim, CA, facility, then delivered to the university and wired to connect with the equipment in the existing wall rack. In the graduate rooms where a PC did not exist, Diversified provided AV system programming to add a PC input button for functionality with Extron TLP, MLC, or similar controllers.
“Our goal for the fall semester is to provide a simple, flexible, turnkey solution to connect our students to one another and to their professors,” Mukai said. “We will continue to look for ways to improve the teaching and learning experience for those students who are unable to attend classes in person.”
“As schools prepare themselves for educating in a socially-distanced world, we are seeing higher education institutions evolve to a distance or hybrid learning model,” added Marc Nutter, account executive at Diversified. “As they say, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ Diversified and its partners are pivoting to solve today’s problems by leveraging new and existing technologies.”
Mukai concluded, “We are doing the best we can with what we know today, but what we know could change tomorrow. The technology solutions provided are giving us the flexibility to adapt as things evolve and deliver the best learning experiences possible for our student body.”