Challenged with a year like no other, University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) needed to accommodate an intuitive and immersive HyFlex model of teaching and learning. Through monetary support enabled by the CARES relief fund, UNCG installed 16 of Sony’s MAS-A100 beamforming ceiling microphones across its campus, with plans underway to implement 40 additional units for the college’s new nursing building.
The pandemic made UNCG accelerate their plans to update their learning environments and make them hybrid friendly. All 250 of the school’s classrooms were evaluated throughout the summer of 2020 and Larry Darling, classroom technology manager at UNCG, was tasked with ensuring each room met a basic level of standard and leveraged UCC technology to ensure better outcomes for students and educators. His primary object was to outfit at least one room in every building with transformational technology to enhance the in-person and remote educational experience.
Related: The Technology Manager's Guide to Audio in the New Era of UC (opens in new tab)
Darling started out by addressing classrooms’ lecture capture capabilities, which is when he honed in on Sony’s touchless MAS-A100 microphone, which is optimized for lecture and presentation environments. “As we sought a more conversation-driven pedagogy, we recognized our lecture capture rooms just weren’t equipped for that type of teaching style,” he said. “I recalled a demonstration I’d seen of Sony’s beamforming microphone during InfoComm and quickly knew that it was just what UNCG needed. Since it would be difficult to virtually test technology and with a universal need for more accommodating equipment at the forefront, I knew time was of the essence and we placed an order for 16 microphones right away.”
The flexible MAS-A100 microphones feature clear audio for speech reinforcement and the ability to suppress unwanted feedback. As professors adapt to the new educational paradigm and fewer in-person classes, Darling has found that the rooms with the beamforming microphones are the most requested among faculty. He said, “Despite remote learning, many professors are coming into the classroom to teach and take advantage of the tools and technology in place. With the MAS-A100, the sound quality is so much better than a standard ceiling microphone or any other type of in-classroom audio system. With the changeover to a HyFlex model, you need to account for conversations among students at home and in class. Using this solution, we’re easily able to pick up both sides of a conversation, so that students at home can hear what’s going on in the classroom and partake in the conversation via Zoom and vice versa. The beamforming microphones have really enabled that interactive, conversation-based pedagogy.”
Speaking to the benefits of the microphones, Darling noted, “When we first selected them, it was primarily focused on the value. When you factored together their cost with their coverage range, it was a hard microphone to beat. Another reason we found these mics to be cost-effective is due to the built-in processing. We can put a Dante USB connection on the computer and there’s enough EQ and noise reduction in the mic itself, which has eliminated the need for DSPs. In using the MAS-A100, we've been really impressed with the sound quality and the built-in features of the mics, especially for the price.”
Another key reason UNCG standardized on the MAS-A100 is due to Darling and the school’s relationship with the Sony brand. “Due to the challenges of the pandemic, I had to go with a company I trusted,” Darling said. “I had already built a relationship with Sony and I knew they would support me if there were any issues. It was a pretty quick decision to go with Sony and I was thrilled that the product worked as well as I expected it to, considering it's not the way I typically like to try a new product on campus!”