Higher and further education technology: a question of degree?

Are the universities still spending to the best educational experience for their students and to appeal to the best and biggest numbers of students. And will this spending pattern continue in the face of renewed government interest in vocational, further education?

In recent years, spending by universities has been conspicuous as they compete for student numbers and academic prestige. Jon Garaway, education account manager at NEC Display Solutions, has found that: “Investment in the HE sector continues to be significant as they are seeking a competitive advantage with state-of-the-art kit; in the FE sector however, they tend to purchase lower end technology with the key criteria being price. Further education tends to act almost as an extension to the school environment and their technology purchasing follows this trend.”

There are differences in the pattern of demand for solutions between the sectors. “Technology employed in schools compared to higher education is different. This follows because the teaching delivery is different: in school, pupils are taught, the material is delivered to them making interactive white boards and touchscreens a useful medium to aid knowledge transfer. In higher education however, students are expected to find the learning material themselves and to be self-motivated to learn outside of the classroom. This is where online services become so crucial in higher education.”


Sector comparison

Opportunities in the HE and FE sectors seem to offer a much wider range of opportunities and a more open marketplace. The main driver for technology is student expectation. Garaway explains:

“Students arrive at university with 3 or even 4 digital devices – smart phone, tablet, laptop and maybe a PC – and expect instant online access to resources. Informal collaborative learning is becoming standard in many universities, because it meets the way students want to learn. They want social interactions to become part of their learning process, at a time and place that suits them. It’s all about enhancing the student experience and the provision of more online services gives universities a competitive advantage in attracting fee-paying students. Investment in technology is therefore a business decision in HE.”

This has led many vendors to treat the Higher Education sector as a similar marketplace to the corporates. “Both Higher Education and the workplace are looking for technology which will increase engagement, to facilitate talent or knowledge sharing – and ultimately achieve productivity in the workplace, and best learning outcomes in educational environments. The tools to achieve this are similar. State-of-the-art technology in HE is ‘business critical’, it provides a competitive advantage in attracting fee-paying students. Conversely, in the workplace, technology provides the medium to improve communications, but the ROI needs to be convincing to justify the cost.”


Student-led solutions

The new technologies being employed by Higher Education are student-led – but it’s not just about the technology, it’s the whole offering which is being redefined to fit today’s student lifestyle.

The university is a business and the students are its customers, in order to attract customers, the university must offer a compelling value-add. Students are looking for a more flexible way of learning. Universities need to acknowledge this with services which adapt to this need. Libraries, for instance, are often now accessible 24/7, meaning the technology must also be capable of 24/7 performance. A preference for informal small group learning, has led to universities providing adaptable learning ‘pods’ which can be reconfigured to suit each group, often with a large format screen or touch screen providing the visual interface.


Integrated solutions

Technologies which bring about a more connected online environment are now at the forefront for investment in today’s Higher Education. Many Universities are moving to a completely digitised infrastructure, using AV over IP to network resources – and enable real time access. There are enormous benefits to be enjoyed by making digital assets easier to manage, control and maintain remotely. With one central pool of resources, students and staff can obtain access any time, from anywhere which ultimately meets the students’ needs and helps Universities to maintain operational efficiency. (See, for example, the University of Hertfordshire case study below)

Lecture capture is another very popular tool for resource sharing in higher education. Garaway believes that; “Again, it’s all about being connected”. Students can access the lecture material at a time which suits their schedule, 24/7.

And here we have the essential dilemma with technology investments in the Higher Education sector. In the long-term, these investments lead to both efficiencies and enhancements to the learning experience. In the short-term, the cuts to the state funding of University spending initiated in 2012 will see the burden passed to students or their hard-pressed parents. Good luck with that one!

NEC Display Solutions at the University of Hertfordshire

Investing in homegrown academic talent whilst widening international reputation is all the more crucial in todays’ post Brexit Britain. The University of Hertfordshire’s ambitions to raise its profile have resulted in a magnificent new science building with cutting-edge technology including a range of NEC displays and projection solutions to support mainly undergraduate scientific research.

With a proud heritage in aerospace engineering, the once Hatfield Technical College has taken off to become the UK’s “leading business-facing university”with ambitions for international renown. The University of Hertfordshire is working towards its 2020 Estates Vision, a ground-breaking plan to create an inspirational space in which to live and learn, to attract the best teaching and research talent and to dramatically raise the university’s profile.

One element of this ambitious transformation has been realised at the recent opening of a landmark new science building at its College Lane campus. Bringing all its science facilities under one roof, the 9,000 sqm, five storey building houses laboratories, cutting-edge research technologyand areas for informal learning and socialising. The £50 m building, plus the flexible, future focused teaching and work spaces it houses, are designed to be highly sustainable achieving a BREEAM Excellent rating.

Following a user consultation process which involved academic and technical staff regarding which activities took place in the spaces and how they were delivered, an AV design was developed that took into account the university’s agreed AV specification. Adam Harvey, solution architect, AV and digital media, at the University of Hertfordshire, explained: “As these are not general teaching spaces we had to develop the delivery of the AV in each different environment. These are not bespoke systems per room but more variations on a theme. We’ve developed standardised AV systems over many years and this has served us well in supporting our users.”

Following a tendering process, integrator Reflex provided an innovative solution that comprised video and audio distribution using an AV-over-IP delivery solution based around a WyreStorm Network HD. In the science labs, NEC 46” V463 displays are installed at the end of every bench, controlled over IP: “We have found NEC displays to be very reliable having worked with the brand for several years. The specification of the screens fell within the usage parameters for the lab spaces and are now delivering bright HD content, easily readable in the sun lit lab spaces,” said Harvey.

Projection is used for the traditional teaching wall for large display purposes. Projectors were needed in every teaching lab, classroom, and computer lab as the focal point of the room. NEC’s PA552U projectors were chosen due to their excellent performance and brightness. “It’s all about standardisation across the building – it’s helped for the past 10 years. We have about 2,500 staff at the university and a lot of people come into the rooms to present so it needs to be consistent in every room. By standardizing on NEC for our display and projection needs we are assured of an excellent quality product delivering reliable performance whilst simplifying operation and maintenance.”

Elsewhere, NEC P553SST displays act as digital signage screens on each floor landing to display internal communications to staff and students. In the future, these will function as touchscreen displays as the university embarks on developments in wayfinding and rolling out the ‘Ask Herts’ service which answers students’ questions about the university.

In the meeting rooms, NEC V553 displays deliver content from any source from around the building and a pair of NEC PA522U projectors and two NEC V463 repeater screens were the products of choice for the IT suites. These all exist as part of the WyreStorm Network HD system, meaning all local devices can be switched via the local Crestron touch panel to each display, but they can also have any source in the building routed to them. All meetings are then booked through the university timetabling system. Innovation continues in the simulation suites, with two replicating hospital set-ups, and another mimicking a pharmacy consultation environment where NEC E243WMi displays comprise the visual interface.

Moving forward, room linking and collaboration around the building are planned additions for phase two. “The functionality is there, it’s just getting it into a state where a user can operate it easily,” explains Harvey. “We’ll probably roll out the AV-over-IP to more buildings because it’s proving successful and the university network can easily cope with it. There are also more diagnostic tools on the network than you have for a traditional AV system.”

NovoPro integrated collaborative learning at UCL

Vivitek NovoPro is the way to go for University College London (UCL) is described as London’s leading multidisciplinary university, with a well-deserved reputation globally as one of the finest seats of learning in the UK. Since 1826, it has championed independent thought by attracting and nurturing the world’s best minds. Today it is the second largest physical University in the UK, home to 38,000 students and 12,000 staff.

As a leading university at the forefront of teaching, UCL is a pioneer in the way it uses modern teaching methods and technology to ensure it delivers a world class learning experience for its students. Vivitek’s NovoPro – a powerful, wireless collaboration tool – is playing a fundamental role in helping to invigorate lectures while bringing students’ work and projects to life.

Paul Burt, Spaces & AV Service Owner at UCL’s Information Services Division, is responsible for the technical facilities in 700 teaching spaces across the institution He explains: “We had a requirement for a wireless presentation solution that was simple to use but could easily scale to an enterprise-grade level. I was aware that there were some complex solutions already available on the market, but they were very expensive. I then came across the NovoPro on Vivitek’s booth at ISE 2016.”

Impressed by its rich feature-set and attractive price point they were soon pressed into service, with the first project they were used for marking a significant moment in the university’s history – the opening of a world-class business school, located on the 38th floor of the prestigious One Canada Square tower in Canary Wharf.

The next project was even more ambitious, with a subsequent 15 NovoPros installed in teaching spaces at the Bartlett School of Architecture on Gordon Street.

In that application, multiple connections to the NovoPros are being used to enable architecture students to connect up to display and discuss their work with other students and their lecturers. This new, interactive and collaborative method for sharing work and ideas replaces cabled display connections and to some extent, the paper-based display of designs and concepts.

NovoPro is said to be ideal for education applications, as the platform is designed to ensure a top quality wireless experience, yet at a price-performance point that makes it easily affordable for any classroom, meeting room, boardroom or huddle space. With NovoPro as the hub, contributing digital content onto the projection screen is fast and simple and the additional features such as on-screen annotation and capture open up a vast array of creative possibilities in any meeting. Participants can instantly connect their device via a Wi-Fi connection to NovoPro and start sharing immediately once the meeting host assigns them one of the four (split screen) projection connections.

Featuring a powerful Quad-Core processor, NovoPro is a fast-operating wireless hub for any learning space, class room or meeting room. Multiple devices (up to 64 in client mode) can be connected at any one time, while four can be actively projecting in a split screen. This empowers users to share content with the group on the main display through its full mirroring capabilities. Its cross-OS platform compatibility ensures NovoPro supports all types of Wi-Fi enabled devices including iPads, iPhones, as well as their Android equivalents, alongside Chromebooks, laptops and all types of desktop PC.

Given the value that NovoPro adds to the learning experience, it is often in use from 9.00 am to 10.00 pm at UCL, with no failed units or problems reported, which illustrates its inherent robustness and suitability for a large scale, high-usage deployments as Burt confirms: “It does everything we need it to, and it’s cost effective. We also like the fact that given this is a reasonably new market that’s evolving quite quickly, the attractive price point of the NovoPro means we’re not financially committed to one product route, which gives us more flexibility over our future AV needs and how we can accommodate them.” Paul estimates that circa 1,000 students are using the current NovoPro units which are linked into the University’s EduRoam wi-fi network.

Solid-state projection at the University of Hertfordshire

In terms of visual technology, laser projection offers compelling benefits to universities especially for lecture theatres and auditoria where ceiling mounted projection is difficult to access. Maintenance of solid-state projectors is virtually zero throughout their long lamp-free life, and projection demonstrates a clear cost advantage over flat screens at sizes above 84 inches diagonal. Below this size, Higher Education buyers are showing a marked preference for LFDs for informal small group learning, for example, mounted at the end of a lab bench (see the University of Hertfordshire Learning Lab below). or at the end of a table in social areas for students to gather round and interact.

The collaborative learning model has seen a move to iFPDs for those endowed with adequate budgets. NEC’s InfinityBoard is an ideal tool to share and collaborate with outside stakeholders. With videoconferencing facilities, talent and expertise can be accessed regardless of geographical location.

tvONE CORIOmaster drives University digital

AV technology is now instrumental in conveying the high-tech learning image of many modern Universities. For example, tvONE has announced that a CORIOmaster mini video wall processor is driving a spectacular 16K video wall in the foyer of The Oculus, a new £19 million flagship teaching and learning building at the University of Warwick.

Entering The Oculus, visitors are greeted by a stunning four-screen 16K resolution video wall with a range of art displays, timetables of upcoming activity in the building and live-streams of lectures and other events in the main lecture theatres, as well as acting as the ‘building dashboard’. Installed by GV Multimedia, the video wall consists of four NEC X981UHD 4K panels arranged in portrait orientation, with content supplied by five ONELAN 4K players via the tvONE CORIOmaster C3-540 video wall processor.

Commenting, Ian Mason, AV Analyst at the University of Warwick, said: “The video wall in the entrance area is our showcase for what is happening in the University. It can be used for anything from promoting departmental events and sporting successes to streaming graduation ceremonies and the annual Coventry v Warwick Varsity match. The tvONE CORIOmaster has given us unique flexibility – we can use each screen as an individual display, or combine all four into one massive, and hugely impressive, 16K resolution show screen.”

As the flagship teaching building, The Oculus at University of Warwick is an impressive sight. It was designed exclusively for its purpose as the university’s first completely dedicated teaching structure. It boasts two auditoriums, 12 state-of-the-art flexible teaching spaces and a number of social learning and network spaces.

Digital signage at City, University of London

While bright sunlight is energising and motivating, it does pose some challenges for digital visualisation. City, University of London has chosen to use NEC’s high bright signage and laser projection to deliver perfect readability whilst enjoying an uplifting environment steeped in natural light.

City, University of London’s estate is a valuable asset in the heart of London. In the coming years it will respond to a combination of legacy issues, such as loss of leased premises and a lack of student amenity provided, against a context of rising expectations. City’s student population is set to grow along with academic aspirations and a need to offer a student experience in line with competing higher education institutions.

In an ongoing strategy to meet City’s needs for the future, a number of projects have been initiated with the aim of providing high quality academic space and creating a sense of community and place. One such project is the creation of a new main entrance complex to improve circulation and expand student facilities at the Northampton Square main campus.

The main entrance and lecture theatre project began in summer 2015. Work involved the remodelling, refurbishment and extension of the ground floor and level 1 of the University Building, and the introduction of a new 240-seat lecture theatre. The primary objectives of the main entrance project were to improve the entrance experience, functionality and visual appearance of the institution, to enhance access and circulation, and to provide a space to meet and share ideas.

The Pavilion is a brand-new glass wall space, which links the new entrance to the lower ground classrooms. Used for events, exhibitions and for students to relax and socialise, two NEC High Bright X754HB displays are located here screening television and other streamed content. With Direct LED backlights and a high brightness level of 2,500 cd/m², NEC’s new HB displays are designed to deliver perfect readability even in the brightest environments.

Ricci Fothergill, media systems developer at City University London, explained: “The glass structure of the Pavilion space has greatly improved the entrance area with a more modern appearance, however, the inevitable issues of bright ambient light does have its challenges! The new NEC HB displays have a much higher brightness compared to standard displays and content is perfectly readable even when we are blessed with bright sunlight.”

The reception desk in the entrance area has 5 x X401S screens wall mounted behind it, driven by a 4K OneLan player with two Datapath video wall processors. “Mounted in a long landscape configuration, the video wall behind reception really helps to create an ambience in the entrance space, we can be very creative with the content,” added Fothergill.

In the brand new 240-seat lecture theatre which is directly accessible from the main entrance, 3 x PX602UL NEC laser projectors are ceiling mounted projecting content in three directions. With advanced network, multi-media and professional installation features, the PX602UL provides superior projection performance at 6,000 ANSI lumen brightness for a superb visual experience even in brightly lit environments.

“The lecture space is well lit with natural light, but the laser projection really is very impressive with rich colours and high-resolution imagery. By projecting onto three sides of the lecture space, wherever the students are in the tiered seating they have a clear view of the teaching material,’ explains Fothergill. ‘Since the projectors are installed high up, with laser technology, we don’t need to worry about access for maintenance since they don’t need lamp or filter replacements.’

City, University of London’s ‘Vision & Strategy 2026’ sets out its plans for the future stating ‘We must enhance student life and student satisfaction through relevant curricula, stimulating learning environments and the use of cuttingedge educational technologies.’ Fothergill explains that this ambition is already some way towards realisation: “By redeveloping our main entrance we are improving the university’s position within its surroundings and making the best use of our spaces. The Pavilion development has fulfilled our vision and is a major step toward fitting our needs for the future.”

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