Audio Takes on Higher Learning

Audio Takes on Higher Learning

John Ellis | September 12, 2019

In recent years, classrooms and teaching spaces have evolved from a one-to-many style of teaching to varied setups that foster collaboration and interaction in order to promote learning. This is especially true at the higher education level where students actively engage with fellow students and professors - regardless of the class format - to make the most of their educational experiences.

This change has fueled the development of new technologies over the past 20 years. Students now arrive at colleges and universities armed with a range of devices - smartphones, tablets and laptops - and expect to be connected wherever they go. This has precipitated a move to a much more interactive way of learning, with apps that enable students to learn, share and view content.

Institutions of higher learning have had to keep pace with these demands in order to attract new applicants. Many have recognized the need for competitive technologies that satisfy growing user expectations. The result is a huge rise in the utilization of AV technology across the campus landscape worldwide.

Integrated Installations and the Role of Audio in Learning

Universities understand the value of an integrated AV installation and the central role that audio plays in learning. Studies have shown that high-quality audio with low distortion and a wide frequency response helps people to listen and concentrate for longer periods of time compared with listening to distorted, noisy or reverberant audio. The ability for lecturers to be heard clearly has a significant impact on students’ ability to learn.

There’s no guarantee that a teaching space will have good acoustics, so it’s important to tailor the audio installation to the room. For example, to facilitate interaction between lecturer and student in a reverberant room, microphone placement close to the primary sound source is necessary. In this application, a wireless gooseneck microphone or a bodypack from Shure’s Microflex Wireless Dect (License free) range is ideal for the lecturer.

However, in many teaching spaces, a ceiling array microphone like the Microflex® Advance™ MXA910 is the ideal solution. This microphone is discreet, out of camera shots and frees lecturers from wearing bodypacks, or standing in front of a gooseneck which can help to create a more natural setting for speakers and students.

Remote Monitoring

There is also a time factor to consider. With many lecture spaces in near-constant use, the ability to avoid delays caused by malfunctioning or poor audio is a significant advantage. The ability to remotely monitor devices boost efficiency even further.

As university campuses are often situated across large sites and AV teams are in constant demand, being able to remotely monitor equipment is a huge time saver. Using Shure SystemOn Audio Asset Management Software, for example, allows the AV team to carry out remote checks every morning to confirm that all mics are on site and fully charged. This ensures that students don’t suffer from mics losing power midway through a lecture and saves lecturers from plugging in devices and testing microphones when schedules are tight. 

Lecture Capture

It's also important to remember that not every student will be listening to lectures onsite. With the rise in remote learning and the importance of archiving lessons so they can be revisited and reused, lecture capture and streaming are now mission-critical. This presents a whole new audio imperative for the AV team: great sound. 

With lecture capture, audio is often stored in the cloud. There are multiple points of compression within that process, so it’s important to start with a very high-quality feed. These recordings are often used by students as revision aids or to catch up on missed lectures, so it’s essential that they are clear and intelligible.

Choosing the appropriate polar pattern is also a critical consideration. If background noise is an issue, directional microphones will capture the desired sound with maximum coverage without picking up too much room noise. This level of coverage is important as interaction with the audience is key to today’s student experience.

Collaboration and Voice Lift Systems

To encourage collaboration in learning spaces, voice lift systems can be of enormous benefit to students on and off site. 

Voice lift amplifies the voice of presenters in multiple positions so that they can move around the room and be heard clearly by the audience. In addition, voice lift amplifies the voices of people in one part of the room so those in other parts of the room can hear them. Unlike a conventional sound reinforcement system, a voice lift system boosts only those frequency ranges that are most critical for intelligibility, and only enough to restore the loss caused by the distance between the farthest talker and listener in the room.

Discussions can simply flow. With voice lift, students are able to simply raise their hands and speak. There’s no need to wait for a handheld mic or for the lecturer to repeat questions so that everyone can hear. There’s a lot less interaction with the microphone – students no longer have to stand up and hold a mic - and their voices are attenuated slightly so they don’t come across as too loud in their local loudspeaker. The result is a more natural, conversational interaction that isn’t impacted by room size.

The Way Forward

Integrating natural high-quality audio that is already available with video, control and monitoring creates the ultimate package – every element is important to deliver the best experience for teaching and learning so every voice is heard.

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John Ellis

John Ellis is a Regional Sales Manager for the Shure UK Systems Group. When he is not out meeting with London's top AV integrators and consultants, you will find him demonstrating the finest modern jive dance steps this side of the Thames.