How AV developments are transforming universities

By Ross McLee, Senior AV Consultant, Harmonia Consulting Ltd., an independent acoustic, audio and AV consultancy

Audio-visual is one of those terms that is bandied around a lot with no real definition. For some it is a dry wipe board or a flip chart; to others it is a big screen with a projector and possibly the odd microphone thrown in.

In comparison to other consumer technologies such as smartphones, tablets, and TVs – AV development looks like it has been plodding along at a much slower pace. This is understandable when you consider that it is not unreasonable for people to get a new phone or tablet every few years. Universities are lucky if their AV systems are refreshed every 5–10 years. There are still systems out there that have been in place for more than 20!

AV and IT – a match made in heaven?

While hardware has been developing within the AV world, the software and infrastructure in the IT world has taken even greater leaps. This convergence of AV and IT technologies has created an amazing platform on which to enhance our pedagogies.

The move to an all-digital environment has been a huge game changer. In most universities and colleges we are now fully digital. Gone are the days of analogue devices. Well, nearly. There are still a few VHS video players and the odd composite video microscope. 

Thanks to digital we have been able to do so much more in the classroom. Online learning platforms – the likes of Moodle – have changed the way students access course material beyond comparison to the old days of searching for books in the library. This goes hand-in-hand with the development of lecture capture systems. Lecturers are able to record their lessons and post them for students to watch whenever and wherever they like. Universities are now able to enhance their distance learning courses with recorded and live-streamed lectures.

Wi-Fi connected devices are commonplace these days and in universities this has become a huge enabler. No longer are classes purely tutor-led. Students are now able to actively take part in lectures by wirelessly connecting their phones and tablets to the main display and discussing their thoughts and ideas. Tutors are no longer tied to the lectern; they are able to move amongst their students carrying their tablets.

Many faculties now provide a large number of small booths where small groups of students can work around a large LCD to share their content with those around the table and (with web video conferencing) anyone connected remotely. This (for some) is a significant improvement to meeting in the pub!

Leading universities, like Cardiff, have acknowledged the need to improve speech intelligibility in the classroom and lecture theatres and have made significant investments to improve teaching spaces both old and new. 

They are installing professional sound reinforcement systems and acoustically treating the spaces to achieve the best student experience possible. Improved audio for hearing students has subsequently led to the improved performance of assisted listening systems for those with a hearing impairment. Better microphones, better loudspeaker coverage, better signal processing and better designed induction loops have made lectures accessible to more people.

Coventry University’s new Health Science building, which opens in 2017, features a 220-bench teaching laboratory. Students are able to watch an experiment being conducted in great detail simultaneously thanks to the multi-camera/multi-screen system. Something that would be impossible to achieve without the AV system.

The new building also features simulation suites creating ‘Big Brother’-style recording for student review and tutor assessments. The University has developed its courses, content and assessment based around the AV systems.

Universities continue to invest in AV systems throughout their teaching spaces. This, combined with new IT technologies, is creating an amazing platform for enhanced teaching methods. 

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