Reply To: Audio and video solutions for the classroom

Nicholas YnamiNicholas Ynami

Hello Dr. Beatty,

I worked as a Classroom Technology Technician helping set up learning spaces for a private urban university. What I learned was that the HyFlex classrooms were designed to follow almost a similar format as the Zoom Rooms or video conferencing rooms. In small video conferencing rooms, there is usually a camera, a screen, a speaker, a microphone and steady internet connection. Much like these video conferencing rooms, a HyFlex classroom has the same audio visual components, with varying amounts of each of those components (for example, multiple cameras and microphones).

The HyFlex classrooms with the most sophisticated audio visual equipment that I have helped set up usually have multiple echo 360 cameras that follow the speaker, a 5k lumen projector with automatic drop down screen, as well as multiple built-in ceiling microphones and speakers throughout the room. In these sophisticated and expensive classrooms, everything is turned on and off, controlled, and regulated through a control panel in the front of the classroom (usually on the professor’s podium or lectern). These classrooms do not fall short of output quality, where the class recordings and live remote sessions are clear in terms of video and sound. Usually the bad quality could be a result of the campus network or on the equipment of the endpoint user (the remote learner), who may have unsteady internet or a device that can not receive high definition content.

Some classrooms are not equipped to handle HyFlex, so the university has provided the professors with a zoom kit, which consists of an external usb webcam, a tripod, a usb microphone, and a computer headset. These kits are portable and included in a bag, so they can be used in any classroom. However, unlike the sophisticated HyFlex classrooms, the HyFlex kits do not have such high resolution or quality, which is dependent on practically portable equipment. Other recommended but optional equipment that can be included in the HyFlex kits is a lapel or lavaliere microphone for better sound and a document camera or a usb tablet to annotate.

To maximize or better the quality due to the shortcomings of provided audio visual equipment, the university has provided recommendations. On the topic of low quality sound output, the professor can use a battery powered voice amplifier that is a lapel microphone or headset microphone connected to a mini speaker that the professor can wear on the hip or belt. This is especially recommended in places where masks are required indoors, because the masks tend to mute or muffle the voice. A voice amplifier can communicate to the video microphone more clearly than not having one if a mask is worn. On the topic of low video quality, most departments have invested in better higher quality webcams for their professors since the webcams provided by the Classroom Technology division were not sufficient for some professors. Unfortunately, video and sound quality can mainly be alleviated with more spending and investment.

In my opinion, the underlying issue is not the audio visual equipment but the training of using the equipment. If a professor is equipped with the most expensive and highest quality HyFlex classroom and does not know how to properly use the equipment, technical issues will put off students from attending and paying attention regardless. To better the training, the university has offered a trial period at the beginning of the semester, where HyFlex classroom navigators can show the professors how to use the equipment and support them until they can manage on their own. Therefore, training and support are crucial to the usage of successfully and optimally using audio visual equipment in a HyFlex classroom.