Hybrid Classrooms and the Future of Ed Tech

Christian Young

By Christian Young, Pro AV product manager, ATEN Technology.

The adaptation to the “new normal” in education pushed schools and other learning facilities to evolve and transform their classrooms into hybrid environments. This allowed faculty to instruct students on campus and online at the same time to meet their curriculum and complete their teaching calendar periods on time.

The main benefit of virtual classroom solutions is that by facilitating collaboration and synchronous learning – allowing active participation and interaction with the teacher in real-time – they create a learning environment that is most analogous to a physical classroom.

However, teachers were exposed to technology and methodologies that were not part of their daily routine or that they may not have experienced before, so their learning curve to comply with this adaptation had to be rapidly enforced. In addition, more online content creation spaces were needed, and physical lab spaces were compelled to be virtualized. At the same time, education providers needed to balance these hybrid learning setups with new forms of live or asynchronous learning and content delivery methods to avoid hybrid fatigue.

These opportunities for smart classrooms presented challenges that solution providers needed to overcome as well. For example, solutions must integrate and work seamlessly with diverse Professional AV (Pro AV) equipment, multimedia devices, and control systems in existing classrooms. These solutions must be easily implementable yet scalable and present protection against cyber threats as more classes move to an online platform. Also, the delivery of content should be dependable and accurate. These solutions should focus on the student experience, offering collaborative functions so interactivity can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes.

Schools have started to look at technology that may have been only seen just for corporate or even government applications only. As interactive multimedia classrooms become more popular, there is an increase in the kinds of devices being used in these hybrid environments. More content needs to be displayed, and this will see both more displays in total and an increase in the ways that displays are utilized. Livestreaming and broadcasting are now essential elements of the hybrid classroom, especially in PBL (project-based learning) scenarios. Video signal transmissions need to be bidirectional for fully interactive learning.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is also becoming a valuable resource in education, not only for students but amongst faculty as well. AI algorithms allow access to teachers and material anytime from anywhere – providing feedback on homework, allowing transcript of lectures, enhancing online discussion boards, etc. AI could alert teachers of problems students may have and help them to get back on track faster by analyzing and improving a student’s success metrics. AI could also help with tedious tasks such as record keeping or grading multiple-choice tests.

Recently, virtual reality (VR) technology has become extremely popular with immersive experiences. These are scenarios that allow users to interact with their environment as if they were there. Imagine the Holodeck from the Star Trek science fiction show. Using this technology, students could take a virtual visit to the Louvre Museum in Paris or explore the Amazon rainforest.

There are already many private companies that utilize VR technology with educational content, calling it “edutainment.” Examples of these types of experiences include Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience or the Claude Monet: The Immersive Experience

where guests are transported into renowned paintings – or back to the Jurassic period at the Dinos Alive! Immersive Experience.

Another technology being implemented in higher education facilities is augmented reality (AR). AR is a computer-generated technology that superimposes sounds, videos, and graphics onto existing environments with the use of the camera on mobile devices or tablets. Faculty utilize this technology to present abstract concepts that may be difficult to understand through textbooks or printed materials. AR helps students to visualize content in the real world, gain “hands-on” experience, reinforce the information while motivating the student on the topic. In the medical field, AR could be employed to demonstrate and study the human anatomy as if an actual human body is on the table in front of the student.

One positive aspect of augmented reality is that it does not need expensive equipment to work, such as headsets or expensive projectors. Augmented reality can be applied in any classroom using the camera from smart devices.

Finally, smart buildings offer interfaces to allow users to manage and improve facility operations. They also create a safe and comfortable environment and enable resource efficiency. For example, smart buildings can have occupancy sensors that can control air-conditioning through a room booking platform. This helps save costs when rooms are not occupied, especially as people are transitioning to less physical presence in the building. Another way smart buildings can enhance a learning environment is by adjusting the color temperature of lighting to help students focus. To promote safety, lights can also turn red to alert people in the school if a threat is on campus.

In summary, the educational field has been transforming in the last few years in every aspect and at an extremely fast pace. From the way classes are being imparted, such as in-person, online, or a combination of both in a hybrid mode, to how those classes are being taught through the use of artificial intelligence and virtual and augmented reality technologies, and how IoT (internet of things) can help with the control and efficacy of places of learning.

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