Space to be heard – giving a voice to students and tutors

As university work spaces evolve, Jon Knight looks at a much-overlooked aspect of technology systems

Things are changing in HE workspaces. There’s an increasing focus on creating the ‘right’ workspace for educating. This has resulted in an increase in demand for group collaboration rooms to nurture student-led and active learning, alongside more conventional lecture theatres.

Simultaneously universities want simple solutions to offer distance learning and effectively record and stream lectures, offering the flexibility for remote or absent students’ classes.

Maybe you have suitable spaces, but often the pressure is on IT and communications departments to equip existing environments with effective technology, in many cases integrating to platforms such as Skype, Microsoft Teams or Zoom.

Can you hear me?

When a student pays for a distance learning experience, the university must deliver a great, connected remote experience, as well as supporting those physically present.

This is not easy as the most commonly overlooked element in the design of learning spaces is the acoustics. While students in the room can probably hear well enough, this doesn’t lend itself to good quality audio for recording and streaming lectures. All background noise must be eliminated, to make sure the tutor’s and students’ voices are the only things captured.

A typical classroom generates many challenges for clear audio. Elements that affect sound quality include everything from the shape of the room, to the surfaces and electrical equipment.

An irregularly configured or L-shaped space will impact on the audio. Carpets and upholstered walls will affect the audibility of voices. Glass walls cause sounds to reflect and allow “noise bleed” from sources outside the room. Even surfaces such as tabletops, blinds and cabinets will make the sound bounce around the room.

This results in frustrating, time-wasting disruption that hampers learning and prevents everyone from communicating and collaborating effectively.

Chargeable virtual learning has to be better than this.

How can IT departments overcome these issues?

Any problem can be overcome given enough budget. But when unlimited money is not a luxury you have, you need scalable, plug and play audio solutions that deliver results at an affordable price.

Look for systems that give consistent audio coverage, with no dead zones, no matter who’s talking, wherever they are in the room. Whether you’re a lecturer who needs to be heard when working at the front on a whiteboard or students at the back, you’ll need a set up that also delivers superb clarity for remote participants, so they stay engaged.

If you plan to record or stream lectures, the lecturer should be able to easily select ‘pick up’ zones so that only their voice is recorded. As rooms are used more flexibly, you need a system that self-calibrates as the layout of the space is changed. And ideally, this should all be achievable without any need for technical expertise.

There’s no question that rooms in universities need to be optimised to make the best use of space for both students and tutors. Introducing scalable audio technology that works in different layouts and meets the evolving requirements of students is crucial. Now that learning is no longer confined to the walls of a lecture theatre, the right technology can ensure that students learn, participate and collaborate more effectively.

By Jon Knight, commercial director at Ascentae

For more information contact the team at Ascentae on 0800 368 8074 and if you haven’t already, be sure to check out our website: https://ascentae.com/products/nureva-hdl300

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