All you’ll ever need to convert your teaching space into an interactive, streaming hub
by Bruce Genricks
In this blog, I would like to talk about the interactive, streaming hub during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. I will explore the possibility of using technology in order to reach your students in a way that both the educators as well as the students are comfortable with.
The goal is to have a system that is simple to setup and use with a minimum requirement for additional people in order to record and stream the sessions. Everything should be as automated as possible and simple to use. The idea is to enable educators to utilise familiar tools such as whiteboards, document cameras and other technology that they have been using over the years.
As a start, have a good Internet connection. This will allow both the streaming and recording of the lesson, as well as access to teaching materials from the web. Once this is in place, you’ll also need at least one camera, a microphone, as well a teaching aid such as an Interactive Whiteboard. You’ll also need a media station in order to capture these different sources and compile them together as a single stream and then be able to stream it out to different platforms such as YouTube.
I envisage that the actual classroom or lecture hall will be used as well as some of the existing teaching aids. The room could be empty, or there could be a few students in attendance observing social distancing. In this room one or two cameras would be set up. The interactive display would either be procured or an existing one would be utilised. A standard whiteboard could even be used provided a fixed camera is supplied in order to capture the image for the live stream. These devices together with audio from a microphone will be fed into a media station and it would then be connected to the web.
Once the system is set up, it should simply be a case of preparing a lesson as an educator normally would, then pressing record on the media station in order to start both the livestream as well as recording the lesson, so that those who could not attend the live session, could log in at a later date and view the lesson.
It is important to have good intelligible audio and there are a number of options available to achieve this. These include a lavalier microphone which would clip on the front of your shirt or hang around your neck. They are usually wireless and provide excellent pickup and freedom of movement. Another option is to use array microphones which can pick up the audio across a wide field while rejecting background noise. As there is no requirement for sound reinforcement within the room, feedback is not a problem and therefore expensive sound processing equipment is not required.
A tracking camera has the ability to pan, tilt and zoom. Therefore, it can move around and zoom in and out, all the while maintaining focus. This camera would then be linked to a tracking device which could be a lanyard around the presenter's neck. The camera would stay focused on the lecturer as he moves around the room. A built-in algorithm would allow it to zoom in and zoom out as the presenter moves towards or away from the camera. All this would be done automatically without the need of a cameraman. An additional feature of the lanyard is that it incorporates a wireless microphone.
PTZ stands for pan, tilt and zoom. This means that the camera is motorised and is able to move left, right, up and down and to zoom in and out of the target. In this scenario the PTZ camera would be preset with certain buttons which are available on the remote control. The lecturer or teacher would be required to select a preset depending on what they're doing. One of the presets may be on a standard whiteboard, so that when the lecturer is working on it, he presses a certain preset and the camera will automatically frame the whiteboard. He may then move to a different area of the classroom and he would simply press the preset button on the remote to frame that area.
EPTZ stands for an electronic pan, tilt and zoom camera. As opposed to the standard PTZ camera, there are no mechanical moving parts to this camera. An EPTZ camera is usually a high resolution camera and the pan tilt and zoom is achieved by electronically moving the image across the image sensor. This can be an alternative to a standard PTZ camera as it is a lot more cost effective, but it does not have the same flexibility and range of a PTZ camera.
Fixed cameras are exactly as the name suggests. They are installed in a certain place and preset to frame a certain object or area in the room. They can be very useful when used in conjunction with the other cameras mentioned above. For example, a fixed camera can be focused on a standard whiteboard so that remote participants can view it.
Document cameras have been around for a long time and are still very popular with lecturers. They are most commonly used to show 3D objects or other documents as the name suggests.
The Media Station
The media station is the heart of the system. It would accept one or more video inputs as well as audio inputs and combines these different sources into a predetermined video layout. This combined layout would then be streamed to the Internet through a streaming service such as YouTube. This system allows for different templates or presets to be selected, which could have other information about the stream such as the lesson, the school, etc.
The interactive display
The interactive display can be anything from a simple Interactive Whiteboard to an extremely sophisticated communications hub. An interactive display is great as it allows lecturers and teachers to interact with the material as they are used to doing in a classroom environment. These interactive displays are available in a variety of sizes; anything from 43 inches, right up to 86 inches. Obviously during COVID-19, it is not necessary to use the larger screens although if you were to abide by social distancing measures and have an audience in the classroom, then some students may be at the furthest reaches of the room. In which case a larger display would be appropriate. The better and ultimately more expensive interactive displays usually incorporate many other features and teaching aids and tools within the display. They can include both built-in cameras, microphone arrays and wireless connectivity for connecting laptops, tablets and even smart phones.
There is no better time than now to convert your classroom or lecture hall into an interactive, streaming hub. The technology that you invest in now will not be wasted once the pandemic is over. The entire system will be extremely useful for in-class teaching, recording, archiving and streaming. Those pupils and students who are not able to make the lecture for any reason will simply log into a live stream or recording.