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Moving quickly to mitigate

We caught up with Chris Merrick, global marketing director, integrated systems at Shure, about the impact Covid-19 has had on the education sector

How would you say Covid has impacted the education sector, both in terms of business and also changes to working practices?

I think it’s fair to say that the pandemic and speed of the subsequent lockdown took the education sector by surprise, just as it did in the corporate world. However, the big difference was the subsequent health regulations that were put in place for schools, the social distancing measures, plus the need to make the learning environment as safe as possible for both student and faculty in order for classrooms to reopen, quickly and effectively, on a national
and international level.

During the summer months, faculty heads and administrators moved quickly to migrate lectures online ahead of the classrooms reopening and lessons taking place again. The education facilities that had already invested in new AV technology before the pandemic were obviously in a better position to deal with the challenges. However, many had to basically start from scratch, investing
in new AV systems fit for purpose, redesigning classroom layouts and thinking about AV systems that not only offered better audio clarity within the classroom, but also for students collaborating remotely and working to online modules.

Viable means of communication were also needed, away from the initial short-term ‘fix’ of social media platforms. The word ‘Zoom’ has now become a verb in the English language, although just over 12 months ago the platform would have been relatively unknown outside the corporate world, along with Teams, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting and others.

It’s critical that students collaborating in lessons remotely are able to pick up every nuance of a lecture, whether it’s being delivered from a classroom, or in the ‘physical’ classroom environment. Every student needs to be part of the lesson – part of the conversation.

In some regions we have seen stimulus packages granted to colleges and universities that has helped them expedite upgrades that enable them to offer remote learning and to meet social distancing guidelines, as well as other Government initiatives around the world that have helped with this transition.

How do you see the future of AV within the education sector?

The emphasis on clear, concise communication has never been more important than now within the education sector. Education and training providers have recognised the value of this, especially for prospective students. Investing in the technology needed to offer students the best possible environment for them to progress with their learning journey, designing and creating larger classrooms and lecture theatre environments with smaller groups of students, and utilising AV systems that can meet and exceed requirements, voice lift, lecture capture and effective remote learning capabilities are key objectives for these institutions.

There are many considerations to make which will have a direct impact on the final system solution and quality of the audio. These considerations are shaping the conversations that Shure’s customers are currently holding with Heads of AV at Higher Educational establishments across the world.

Ultimately, the main focus for the education sector is enabling an inclusive audio experience, effortlessly connecting both faculty and students with each other and their classes with high-quality audio – from anywhere.

What technologies are likely to impact most on the sector moving forward. How has Covid affected the tech choices stakeholders are likely to make?

We’re currently in a situation where schools are at different phases, depending on where they are geographically located. Some have decided to make the first half or entire year remote, while others are using a hybrid solution of remote learning and social distancing in the classroom. In either case, audio solutions tailored to socially distanced classrooms will be a feature in the current and in the longer-term education calendar.

For example, array microphones with adjustable coverage patterns, such as our Microflex® Advance™ Array Microphones ensure instructors can be comfortably heard within the learning environment, while offering students the ability to contribute to lessons without having to pass around physical microphones. This technology also ensures that remote students can hear and understand the questions and discussions of fellow students and learning providers in the physical room.

The audio clarity of the academic, along with the student’s speech, is essential within this scenario – but we also appreciate that not all lecturers, trainers or teachers have ‘booming’ voices, or good microphone technique. With this in mind, we recommend voice lift technology with ceiling array microphones.

Voice lift is useful in a number of applications and environments, particularly where the conversation is interactive and multi-directional, for example involving socially distanced students in addition to a primary instructor at the front of the room. It eliminates the need for passing around a microphone to capture the student’s questions and discussions, ensuring that each student is part of the conversation, whether they are in the room or at home.

What has Shure been doing during the pandemic, in terms of education sector tech? Any key developments?

We have been working alongside our partners to provide assistance and support for the audio needs of new learning styles – in many cases, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic – to ensure that both academics and students are not inhibited by the technology.

Collaboration and discussion is an essential part of the learning experience and we want to make sure that our customers have the best support possible, so that in turn they can support the needs and requirements of the education sector efficiently and effectively.

Shure’s Conferencing Audio Ecosystem has been developed to provide solutions to these challenges; a product portfolio that includes the complete audio signal chain, from microphone to DSP to loudspeaker, with unmatched ease of deployment, less complexity and remote management – a perfect audio partner for the education sector!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Recent innovation within the Higher Education sector has been, and continues to be, both amazing and encouraging, with our partners adapting these new technologies to provide the sector with the best learning environments possible.

The education sector has previously been slower to adapt than the corporate sector, mostly down to budget, time and workload constraints. However, because of the fantastic talent, dedication and perseverance in our industry we have seen the integration of exciting new solutions that have enhanced the remote learning experience, as well as giving all students – whether learning in the classroom environment or learning remotely from their homes – the feeling of being connected.