In old-school lecture halls, the rooms would be outfitted with a single projector in the back and a single screen in the front, while large numbers of students quietly listened as the professor spoke. But as the standard lecture experience has become dated, the audiovisual needs of classrooms have evolved to support group study and collaborative, team-based learning. Mark Valenti, president and CEO of The Sextant Group, an audiovisual consulting firm, puts it this way: “We’re basically seeing the beginning of the end of the lecture hall.”
The variety of AV technology and a drop in the price of related hardware and software are transforming classrooms, Valenti says. “Before, schools may have only been able to afford to put a projector and screen in a classroom. Now schools can afford the technology that allows for students to work on material together.”
AV technology includes software that allows students to share laptop screens and documents, work on them simultaneously, and to return to projects at a later date. This software—combined with hardware such as flat panels, cameras, and audiovisual ports along with modern furniture to pull it all together—can create these smaller, collaborative work spaces, Valenti says.
Collaborative, technology-enriched spaces have been enhancing learning environments at many colleges and universities.
Shane Long, an audiovisual project manager and associate principal at Waveguide Consulting, says the need to prepare students for their future careers is driving the shift from large lecture halls to small, project-based learning spaces.
That was the goal for officials at the University of New Hampshire when they worked with Waveguide to build a new business school in 2008. Marshall White, the IT manager for student and infrastructure support, and David Scannell, manager of audiovisual services, say the new Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, which opened in April, has technology elements that make the university more competitive and give business students real-world work experience.
“The department wanted to help students become great business leaders, and a more collaborative work environment is the way the business world is headed,” White says. “Places like Google, for example, are forming a more team-based structure to produce their products.”
Plans for the business school included two classrooms built for problem-based learning. “Instead of a projection screen at the front of the classroom, there are five to six monitors around each classroom with tables for smaller groups,” White explains. “Students can work collaboratively at each table, but at the push of a button, the software allows the teacher to change the students’ screens to teach the whole class or show a specific group what another group is working on. Basically, instructors can share content with who and how many people they want.”
The building also has nearly 30 breakout rooms sized to hold four to five people at a time. Each room has a monitor on the wall, and a tabletop that allows students to plug in their laptops and share content with the class. Cameras beneath the large monitor and on the opposite wall allow students to record presentations, Skype, or use other video-conferencing programs.
“There are also lots of spaces for collaboration outside these rooms, in nooks and crannies along the hallways, as well as an eatery, so they can stay in the building longer.” says Scannell. “We also made sure to implement a strong wireless connection throughout the building. All of the tech elements in the Paul Business School are aimed to make sure that, after four years, our students turn into business leaders and transition into the corporate world more easily.”
Audiovisual Outside the Classroom
Audiovisual tools not traditionally seen in classrooms are being used to reconceive campus libraries, says Valenti. Most recently, The Sextant Group worked on North Carolina State University’s James B. Hunt Library, which also had its grand opening this past April. Valenti describes the library as “heavily audiovisual intensive.” Inside, there are nearly 100 small study rooms where groups of students can display laptops and collaborate on larger screens.
The Hunt Library also has five larger research labs, including the unique 400-square-foot Game Lab that serves as a learning space for NCSU’s Digital Games Research Center. Available to all students, the Game Lab is a video game room, as wel, where students can use modern or “vintage” games consoles. The room has a 21-foot-wide screen, surround sound, and a touch-panel command console. Nearly 500 tile-styled, digital signs were installed throughout the library, many of which were hooked together to create five large units, including the display found in the Game Lab.
Tile displays, also found in other labs and above the library’s welcome desk as digital signage, can showcase images and information across a single panorama or use them in smaller increments to display multiple images. Student and faculty work is showcased in the library’s iPearl Immersion Theater, where a curved, 7-foot by 16-foot tile video wall can display content from an individual computer or from the library’s server room. The theater has also been used for classes and presentations seating up to 30 people.
“It’s not just about a creating a storehouse for books, it’s a gateway into the digital world,” Valenti says. “The Hunt Library is an
outstanding example of where the future of audiovisual technology is going.”