Saturday 26 November 2022

Championing education in the Phygital world

, October 6, 2022

By Ryan Burr, Head of Technical Sales & Application Engineering, Professional Audio at Sennheiser Middle East
Online education or hybrid learning has been offering newer realms of education globally. What seemed like a distant dream a few years back, has turned into a global reality in no time.
Advanced technological interventions and tech gadgets at play have ensured this incredible feat remains sustained for life now. In these changing times, providing quality audio can enhance the hybrid learning environment for students and teachers on campus and at home.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought with it surmounting challenges on both personal and professional levels. While people slowly started adopting the new normal, physical education was the worst hit globally. The knee-jerk effect had soon translated into online education for one and all. But the challenge just doesn’t end here… there were technological shortcomings that universities across the globe were facing.
Forward-looking companies quickly worked on their strategies and started revolutionizing the global education sector by way of tech-enabled tools such as AV systems, hi-end microphones, and the list is endless. From high-definition cameras and automation technology for classrooms, audio remains one of the most essential parts in providing a seamless online education experience. 
Even before the pandemic, the demand for up-to-date learning methods was constantly on the rise. That’s why more and more institutions are selecting solutions that allow them to transform lecture halls into remote digital classrooms. From reflective surfaces to spotty Wi-Fi, the challenges for physical classrooms and online channels are far and wide. While a lot of attention is being paid to the visual aspects of meetings, audio is often overlooked until the last minute. To avoid a last-minute scramble caused by poor audio, institutes need to ensure that the room is equipped with enough high-quality microphones so remote participants can hear. With an aim to empower intelligibility for all students, even those in the virtual back row, companies are working towards providing consistent audio reinforcement because audio signals from -- and to -- remote learners must be immaculate to promote a sense of class cohesion.
For instance, the American University of Beirut (AUB) was looking for a microphone solution for hybrid learning that allows both students and instructors to communicate effortlessly with a remote party over a web conferencing platform such as WebEx. With the lavalier microphones used until then, instructors had to repeat every student question so that the remote party could hear them properly. With the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hygiene concern also warranted a touchless solution where users do not need to share microphones. The need of AUB narrowed down to a ceiling microphone solution that does not need a complicated re-configuration when the room layout changes.
AUB decided to use TeamConnect Ceiling 2 (TCC2) for online meetings and lecture recording in hybrid learning settings because of its patented automatic dynamic beamforming technology. It allows the flexible usage of the complete teaching space and efficient collaboration with remote participants. Instructors using the mic solution can be sure that the audio is transmitted perfectly without worrying about setting up or configuring a microphone. 
“Sometimes they would ask about the microphone that is doing all the work and I’d point to that square in the ceiling. Being satisfied about a solution without knowing that it is even there is a huge sign of success”, says Joseph Azar, IT Manager Audio Video & Multimedia at American University of Beirut. Like former Sennheiser installations at AUB, the integration of TCC2 was smooth. Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) makes integration of the ceiling microphone super easy. An open media control protocol (API) allows to make individual adjustments.
The best part of this tech tool is that it does not need a complicated re-configuration when the room layout changes. The microphone blends flawlessly into the existing ceiling design. The unobtrusive status LED lights indicate its presence and operation without distracting teachers and students.
Becoming the Trend
The trend towards beamforming technology is now revolutionizing the microphone market. What makes this technology particularly attractive is that it localizes and evaluates sound sources and suppresses interference. For both installation and use, beamforming products perform better than conventional microphones. The benefits range from low installation costs, invisible cabling and a wide-ranging recording area, to freedom for the speaker to move around the room, and enhanced audio quality for listeners. The TeamConnect Ceiling 2 is the only ceiling microphone array with a patented combination of real-time recognition of the person speaking and automatic, dynamic beamforming technology. It first detects the position of the person speaking and then aligns its directivity to this position in real-time. This means that every word spoken in the meeting room can be heard by the off-site attendees.
Audio Matters!
As part of the global digital transformation, the digitalization of AV equipment influences universities in particular because of their need for best tools to exchange thoughts and words. Colleges and universities will need to change the way they think to remain attractive in the future. With hybrid and remote learning fast becoming a norm, it’s time for institutions to invest in effective audio ecosystems, which not only link virtual attendees with presenters, but also ensure good quality audio in the room between all physical members, as well as connecting in-room members with virtual participants. In such scenarios, array technology has been a boon in delivering better audio in classrooms by, paradoxically, becoming invisible. These systems deliver a very natural and seamless communication experience between all members of the discussion, whether situated in the same room or participating remotely, which ultimately empower educational institutions to not address pandemic-related challenges, and effectively adapt to new paradigms in education. With the breed of new technologies and modes of implementation fast capturing the market, there’s no longer an excuse for ‘I couldn’t hear’.
* Views expressed here are those of the author and not of TradeArabia



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