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Education: Digital academic journey

“Distance learning is often driven by student demand with students preferring to undertake professional qualifications as they work”

In part one of this education feature we new digital learning landscape in HE, part two looked at how AV is facilitating this, and in this final part, Ian McMurray reveals the increasing demand for distance learning and opportunities this presents for integrators.

Somewhat related to BYOD, and a key element of digital learning, is distance learning. “There has been a shift towards this for a number of years, as universities strive to generate additional income beyond the physical environment,” says Lee Denton, education specialist at Visavvi. “Distance learning, however, is often driven by student demand with students preferring to undertake professional qualifications as they work – the so-called ‘earn and learn’.”

More familiar

For Nick Mawer, marketing manager at Kramer Electronics, distance learning is both an opportunity and a challenge for integrators. “AV companies need to get more and more familiar with IP streaming services in order to offer real-time lecturing remotely,” he believes. “We’re seeing interest in Microsoft Teams- and  Zoom-enabled rooms, which is handy for Kramer as Zoom and similar videoconferencing apps are available on VIA Connect Plus and VIA Campus2.”

Dana Corey, GM/VP of sales at Avocor, also sees demand for Zoom. “AV is a critical support tool for remote learning,” he says. “As more students choose flexibility in their higher education experience, AV, such as conferencing tools like Zoom, can help bring them together for group projects or study sessions, or even one-on-one learning with teachers or other students. And with interactive whiteboard displays, this is made even easier because instructors can teach as they would in an in-person setting – with the benefit of remote students seeing exactly what they’re showing and being able to communicate directly with questions. This level of integration can truly change the way that remote students can learn and feel a sense of connection to their studies.” 

Corey talks about making things easier. That’s a challenge as universities and colleges invest not just in more AV solutions, but more AV solutions of a range of types – with the potential for greater complexity. It does, however, create opportunities for the integrator community.

“It’s very easy for an integrator to put all this kit into spaces,” says Spiros Andreou, service delivery manager at CDEC. “The issue seems to be gaining buy-in from academics and teaching staff. This is especially a problem for subjects taught by visiting lecturers who are not able to attend training sessions to use new equipment. The art of the system design is that no matter how complex the back-end, the front-end needs to remain as simple as possible. There is a lot of evidence that seems to show control surfaces designed around square app-type buttons work well as that mirrors day-to-day life on phones and tablets.”

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Working together seamlessly

Vizavvi’s Denton sees a similar opportunity. “It’s true that technology in isolation is becoming easier to use – but when combining the number of devices needed to equip a modern teaching space, it could potentially become more difficult if not integrated professionally,” he believes. “In fact, as technology becomes more accessible, there has never been a greater need for integrators to ensure that systems work together seamlessly to allow for the new focus on the enhanced digital academic journey that the market currently supports.”

Andy Truswell, systems integration manager at Pure AV, sees the role of the integrator as a complementary – and vital – one. 

“I think there is significant pressure on the AV teams within universities,” he says. “Team sizes can be small and have to cover vast estates. While they often have excellent technical knowledge, they don’t necessarily have the resources for full self-sufficiency.”

“There is potential for integrators with the right skill set to add significant value,” he concludes. “Integrators like Pure AV can bring a great deal to the in house-teams and have a hugely positive impact on project outcomes.” 

It becomes clear that the market for AV solutions in further education continues to be a vibrant one – and one that very much reflects what’s going on in the commercial world.  Lecture theatres and classrooms haven’t gone away, just as boardrooms and meeting rooms are still with us. Projectors and IWBs continue to have a role to play. But: digital learning is all about embracing what technology can bring – collaboration spaces, BYOD, remote participation – and adding it to the existing mix. If the goal of higher education is to better equip students for the world of work, it’s vital that colleges and universities reflect how technology is being deployed in the outside world. That, they are unquestionably doing.