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‘Our industry is the glue holding society together’

James Jepson, solutions director at ViewSonic Europe, looks at AV’s changing role since the COVID-19 outbreak, exploring the ways businesses and schools are relying on AV tech more than ever before...

James Jepson, solutions director at ViewSonic Europe, looks at AV’s changing role since the COVID-19 outbreak, exploring the ways businesses and schools are relying on AV tech more than ever before…

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we live our lives. In a matter of weeks, society has shifted and we are more fragmented than ever before. Schools and universities across the country are closed, exams are cancelled and there are now an estimated 1.3 billion children missing school globally. The knock-on effect of the outbreak on the wider UK economy will be even more profound, with many financial experts predicting it will cause a global recession on a scale not seen since the great depression of the 1930s.

With lockdown enforced and millions of people now working remotely from home, businesses and schools are turning to AV technology to stay connected. Our industry is the glue holding society together and we are now at the forefront of a nationwide effort to keep education and the economy running.

Engaging education
In light of mass school closures, many educators and parents (who are now home schooling children) are seeking the most effective way to continue engaging students with the curriculum and minimise the impact on their academic development. This distance learning approach, which has been used successfully for many years at higher education and for SEND pupils, is vital when you consider there is no consensus on when schools will reopen; it could be six months or more before pupils return to the traditional classroom environment.

Simple video-conferencing tools do not provide the depth of functionality teachers need to effectively deliver and integrate lesson content while interacting with pupils in real-time. There are also some major security concerns when it comes to using software of this nature, which severely limits its usefulness given the duty of care schools have to safeguard students online.

Instead, there has been a sharp increase in educational institutions adopting cloud-based education platforms capable of creating collaborative learning environments. These replicate the traditional classroom environment and bridge the physical gap between teachers and pupils. There are four main reasons why this type of AV software is so effective for distance learning:

1. Content is king

With more pressure on teaching resources, cloud-based platforms have ready-made, age-appropriate educational content (video and text based) to support academic development. Research has shown video is one of the core components of the learning process in modern classrooms, especially for visual learners. The fact teachers can drag and drop content from various resources means lessons can develop organically with the needs of the class, without technology interrupting.

2. Reaching for the clouds

Schools can upload documents and learning tools to the cloud, which students and parents can access remotely at home, at a time that suits them. This is a two-way process that also allows students to upload their work and receive feedback from their teachers – a fundamental element of the traditional classroom environment and one that AV technology is replicating. Any lessons which have been recorded and annotated in real-time can also be saved and shared, even with students who were unable to attend.

3. Time to go live

Education is at its best when teachers can interact with their pupils in real-time – answering questions and offering direct and immediate academic support. For those institutions with limited staffing resources, being able to live-stream lessons via major social platforms like YouTube and Facebook is a big plus. Not only does live-streaming offer mass audience exposure but it also allows for that real-time interaction – via both the virtual hand-raise function (which allows specific students to be unmuted and ask questions) but also in the comments section, where pupils can interact with one another. By going live, teachers can see facial expressions and tune into their student’s body language to monitor how engaged they are with the learning objective. It can also help to inform future lesson and content planning.

4. Open and accessible

The biggest drawback to using enterprise-grade technology for education is the software often restricts the use of certain files, programs or devices. For the AV industry to be as effective as possible during this challenging time, these platforms need to be free, open and device-agnostic.

The Department for Education has announced it will be providing free laptops and 4G internet connections to those most disadvantaged pupils during the outbreak; so it makes sense that once these arrive they also have intuitive and easy-to-use software to continue their education from home.

Taking the digital leap
The ‘Impact of coronavirus on schools’ 2020 study from the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) explored the immediate impact of coronavirus on 650 UK schools and found 24 percent admitted they do not have enough guidance or information to deliver teaching in the event of school closures. This is where the AV industry can lead from the front by offering additional guidance and support to schools and their staff, so this knowledge gap is closed and learning can continue.

Getting down to business
Collaboration and teamwork are equally important for UK businesses – many of which will have staff located across offices, regions and even borders. According to a survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) only five per cent of people in the UK routinely worked from home during 2019 – out of a total workforce of 32.6 million people. The coronavirus outbreak will have significantly increased these figures in the first quarter of 2020 as lockdown measures came into force.

Organisations of all sizes and across multiple sectors are now relying on AV technology to keep their businesses running with a degree of efficiency. From internal communications such as training webinars and team brainstorms to external interactions like client presentations, the same principles we apply to education can have a positive impact on businesses.

Using AV technology to prepare, present content and participate (using live-streams or video-on-demand) means businesses can continue to network and interact with customers and staff, as well as actively encourage their involvement. With screen-sharing and real-time annotation, meetings that would have otherwise been very static and dictatorial become more collaborative and dynamic.

Pre-recorded content is particularly helpful for staff training as it can be accessed multiple times from the cloud and used to upskill while working from home; improving the mental well-being of employees (which is something that should not be underestimated during this time).

Unlike educational institutions, businesses require greater integration with existing enterprise software. For example, platforms which are able to incorporate the Microsoft suite (Word, PowerPoint, OneDrive etc.) are instinctively more intuitive for professionals to pick up quickly.

While the needs of organisations fluctuate between sectors, it is clear without AV technology allowing us to stay connected and work remotely, the economy would not have been able to sustain itself in the way it has.

Times are tough right now but we all have to believe a brighter future lays on the horizon. In the meantime, AV technology will continue to help make learning accessible and support businesses as they juggle working from home with maintaining customer relationships and revenue. The vital work our industry does now will lay the foundations for its success in the years to come.