How enhancing the AV in teaching spaces can create a more seamless student experience
One of the many challenges faced by educators over the last year is delivering teaching concurrently to both students present in the room and also joining online through Teams or Zoom.
Teaching rooms are rarely equipped to enable this concurrent teaching effectively, with limited camera and audio coverage meaning that online students often feel excluded from classroom discussion, leading to a poor experience for both educator and student. But this style of teaching is becoming more common, first through COVID-19 restrictions and now, as we emerge from the pandemic, when there are still challenges for students joining classes on campus. To address this, the University has invested in enhancing the audio visual (AV) capabilities of its teaching spaces to provide a seamless experience for both students and teaching staff, regardless of whether they are in the room or online.
In these enhanced AV spaces, a large screen is placed at the back of the room to show online students. This means the educator can easily see all the students in their class. This also allows students in the room to see their online colleagues more easily, as well as the educator. Additional camera capability allows the online students to see a similar view to if they were sitting in the classroom, and the educator can control that view to zoom in on particular features, such as the whiteboard.
Microphones and loudspeakers are also enhanced, so students in the teaching space can be heard by those joining online, and remote learners can be heard clearly by everyone in the room without the usual interference caused by open mics. This means conversation can flow seamlessly between those in the room and those online.
Dr Simon Rennie, a senior lecturer in English, was one of the first educators to try out the new rooms on the Streatham campus. “The main advantage of AV enhancement,” he says, “is that you can bring the students into the room effectively, and that you don’t have to adjust your manner and your teaching ethos to be able to do that.
“You don’t have to be worrying about different ways that you need to teach to include different groups, because the room is effectively being brought together.
“One of the most important things is that I don’t have to look behind me to see the students anymore. I can look up and make eye contact with the student, and eye contact is very important in teaching.”
“It’s surprising how quickly the students on the screen at the back of the room become part of the room. You’re looking up and including them in the conversation, and that makes a big difference.”
Eloise Norris is a first year Politics student who dialled into one of the pilot sessions. “It was amazing to be able to see my ‘in person’ student colleagues, and it was also really good to be able to see the teacher in full which I found a lot better, and a lot easier to be engaged with what I was doing.”
According to Dr Rennie, the AV enhanced rooms are just as easy to use as the previous AV systems. “You’re just pressing three or four buttons to get where you want to go. Once you know which three or four buttons they are, it’s very simple.”
To date, 10 spaces have been enhanced on our Streatham campus, with a further 13 scheduled for refurbishment over the summer across all three campuses.
For Dr Rennie, the enhanced rooms create intriguing new possibilities for teaching. “I think these AV enhancements will have a lot of advantages for inclusivity for various different groups of students,” he says. “They will also help with collaboration between institutions internationally and nationally, and within the University between the different campuses.
“I’m excited to use the new enhancements in hybrid teaching because it gives you a sense of a new pedagogy when everybody gets used to teaching online and on campus. It’s a new area to explore, which we’ve only just started with.”
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