Ritsumeikan University Equips 600 Classrooms In 30 Days To Address Urgent Need For Virtual Classes
Ritsumeikan Academy is an integrated educational institution with a proud history and traditions. Its origins can be traced back to the private school Ritsumeikan which was founded in 1869 on the premises of Kyoto Gyoen National Garden by Kinmochi Saionji, one of the most prominent politicians in modern Japanese history. Today, the Academy encompasses two universities (Ritsumeikan University and Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University), as well as five affiliated schools, including primary schools, junior and senior high schools.
Ritsumeikan University is located in the Kansai Region (the southern part of Japan’s main island of Honshu), with campuses in Kyoto, Shiga, and Osaka. This long-established university has 35,000 students, 16 faculties, and 21 research institutes.
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University is situated in Beppu (on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu), including two faculties and two research institutes. With 2,700 students from 90 countries and regions, approximately 50% of its students are international students. The university is known as Japan’s most international university.
When the Japanese government declared a state of emergency in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, travel restrictions made it difficult for students to attend classes, and for international students to even enter Japan. The universities had to be temporarily closed. For the remainder of the semester, through to July, classes were mainly held remotely. For the fall semester, which began in September 2020, the goal was to introduce a new hybrid style with simultaneous in-person and virtual attendance.
For the teachers who were suddenly forced to conduct virtual classes, a straightforward plug-and-play solution was required allowing them to connect their personal computers, with installed cloud conferencing tools (Microsoft Teams / Zoom) to the in-room AV systems. Through a simple USB connection, local audio should be sent to remote students, and remote students’ audio routed back to the room sound system.
Considering that each class is 90 minutes long, one of the priorities was also to ensure high-quality audio so students would be able to listen for a long period of time without getting fatigued. New safety and health measures however contributed to serious audio challenges, including muffled sound from wearing facemasks and ambient noise coming from air conditioners and windows kept open for ventilation.
The audiovisual equipment already in the classrooms was varied, as were the system refresh timings. Considering the short timeframe to implement an upgrade for the fall semester, the Information Systems Department decided to keep the initial update to a minimum and simply add new supporting devices to the existing AV systems.
Throughout the 30-day summer vacation, the Academy updated approximately 620 classrooms on the four campuses of Ritsumeikan University and Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. Web conferencing systems were deployed in all classrooms along with an on-demand live streaming system, and support systems for teachers. 120 large classrooms were equipped with remotely controlled cameras and updated audio systems, while 500 smaller classrooms required audio capture devices and interfaces.
In the majority of classrooms, exiting wired microphones such as Shure SM58s were connected to Shure MOTIV MVi Digital Audio Interfaces to provide the required USB plug-and-play connectivity with web conferencing and streaming systems like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, the addition of the MVi allowed teachers to leverage their own computers and connect to the in-room audio systems without having to install drivers or other software.
Additionally, the Shure IntelliMix P300 Audio Conferencing Processor was introduced in selected, larger classrooms to enhance the performance of existing microphones, provide noise reduction and other critical DSP functions in order to enable engaging two-way communication between on-site and remote learners. The P300 also provided the needed USB connectivity to support teachers’ BYOD needs.
For simple volume adjustments and microphone mute/unmute, the Academy also prepared dedicated adjustment panels on the teachers’ desks, along with easy-to-understand, illustrated user guides. The guide provides instructions for different tasks (e.g., streaming only the microphone sound clearly as opposed to streaming the sound of the entire classroom) to train and support teachers in adopting these new solutions.
The greatest benefit of this equipment update, besides achieving the original purpose of livestreaming classes, was that it now provides the universities with a wide range of options to flexibly respond to various social situations. The adaptable system design has also overcome some long-standing limitations of in-person learning and a growing number of teachers have expressed interest in live streaming classes.
"Thanks to the deployment of the web technologies, students and teachers are interacting more than ever in classes. It has also become easier to incorporate group work. Furthermore, people who had previously been unable to attend the classes have opportunities to do so while the collaborative relationships among teachers and staff have been reinforced—and the list goes on," says Mr. Kengo Kurashina, Assistant Director, Office of Information Infrastructure, Information System Department, Ritsumeikan University.
Not only do we have more options for responding to crises, we are also hopeful that we will be able to take a progressive step towards further transformation.
Since completion of this project in 2020, Ritsumeikan Academy has installed MXA910 and MXA710 Array Microphones in many classrooms to further enhance the audio quality in hybrid learning setups.
|MVi||545||Digital audio interface connects a professional XLR microphone or 6.3mm instrument output to a computer or mobile device.|
|IntelliMix P300||18||Audio conferencing processor offers IntelliMix DSP algorithms optimized for audio/video conferencing applications.|