The University of Central Missouri (UCM), located in Warrensburg, has transformed its educational environment using the latest technology integrated by AVI-SPL, including Sony’s customisable artificial intelligence (AI) enabled Edge Analytics solution (REA-C1000) and SRG-X120 pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras.
As Covid changed the educational model, the need for more dynamic and flexible presentation solutions became apparent. Paired with additional funding support from the CARES Act, creating an innovative new classroom setup that leverages the latest technology came at just the right time for UCM.
AVI-SPL installed more than 30 Edge devices – with presenter tracking and handwriting extraction enabled – connected with Sony’s PTZs as UCM’s new classroom standard across campus. Based on a positive experience, UCM plans to implement 14 additional systems.
Highlights of the Edge smart video analytics solution include the adoption of AI and augmented reality (AR) technology to enhance the quality of communication and collaboration and empower engaging presentations. When used alongside Sony’s powerful PTZ cameras, Edge serves as a virtual camera operator that can elevate and capture a presentation. Additional licenses can be incorporated for a range of different features and benefits, including the previously mentioned handwriting extraction and PTZ auto tracking, as well as close-up by gesture, chroma key-less CG overlay and focus area cropping.
David Gantz, account executive at AVI-SPL, helped consult, spec and support this ongoing installation and has helped transform the university’s predominantly in-person learning experience. He knew the school needed to update its facilities to account for new methods of instruction and learning and sought a flexible and easy to use solution that would enhance engagement and foster collaboration in any setup or type of classroom.
During the pandemic, Gantz, with the support of AVI-SPL’s engineers including John Stuhlman, virtually demonstrated Edge to UCM’s manager of multimedia Ray Walters and his team, who support the office of technology at the school. Walters explained: “Prior to the pandemic, UCM was seeing a shift in how it was delivering classroom content. At the same time, I was receiving numerous requests from academic Deans and educators to enable hybrid classrooms where lectures could be recorded and presented in an asynchronous format.”
After the demo, Gantz said they were “wowed” and immediately “saw the value.” He continued, “From a financial standpoint, the camera is priced equal or better than competitors and the performance and quality are equal or better. Additionally, Sony and their staff have proven to be reliable for us.
“It’s very rare that I get surprised or impressed by a product release. When I was introduced to Sony’s forward-thinking Edge Analytics device, it was a breath of fresh air. It solves several different needs for my classrooms as we pursue a hybrid teaching experience. The reasonable price and simple operation reduce the friction on users in the room. Sony had nailed everything I needed in one small package.”
But those weren’t the only reasons UCM chose the Edge solution. UCM’s team began to use the Edge Analytics and PTZ camera solution with instructors, who immediately recognised the benefits of this straightforward technology. “It’s a box with licenses that enhance the capabilities of your room, based on your needs and budget,” said Gantz. “Instructors love the presenter tracking feature for whiteboarding and presenting. The tracking is very smooth and accurate and easy to teach someone to use. Adoption has gone really well because we’ve taken extra care not to make the room complex, because complexity deters instructors from wanting to use technology.”
Gantz also spoke of the beneficial features and accommodating pricing. He explained: “It’s also a very big win that the tracking license was included for free with our purchase and is not a recurring cost. It’s nice to pay only for the extra features you need. If the licenses for Edge were yearly subscriptions, that would’ve been a deal breaker for an educational institute like University of Central Missouri.”
UCM also uses Edge’s handwriting extraction license, which leverages AR to ensure words, notes, sketches and diagrams on a white or blackboard remain in full view of the audience, regardless of the presenter’s location. In select classrooms, the University is exploring the chroma key-less CG overlay license which uses Sony’s advanced motion detection technology to extract and overlay the presenter onto any background image, animation or video for an instant backdrop without the need for dedicated equipment or resources.
“When I saw the handwriting extraction demonstration in action, it honestly caused me to clap and I quickly realised how this device would bring value to my classrooms and enhance the quality of our lecture capture,” said Walters.
And it’s not just the instructors who appreciate the upgraded innovations. Gantz further noted that new state-of-the-art technology provides schools like University of Central Missouri with a competitive advantage and can help with recruitment. He maintains that students demand technology. “In order to attract students to a school, you need to offer collaboration and interactivity,” he said. “Technology is something students were born with and use every day. They expect it to infiltrate every part of their life and education is no exception. By offering a new level of engagement, new capabilities and a digital mindset, students can overcome some of the traditional classroom concerns and distractions and ensure they have a good view of the instructor and their notes – no matter where they’re sitting.”
Gantz is excited for the future of technology and sees AI and AR as a logical avenue for enrichment, enhancement and engagement. “In addition to being cool, technology and especially AI and AR serve a real purpose in education,” he enthused. “They make an experience more interesting, which means people tend to pay more attention to it and retain the information being relayed.”
Walters concluded: “Throughout the global pandemic, remote learning became a requirement. I can honestly say that because we had Sony’s Edge Analytics devices as our standard, we were ready for the unique way education adapted.”