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How to build the next generation of Virtual Learning Environments?
Posted on Monday, December 2, 2019
How to build the next generation of Virtual Learning Environments?

University Business organized an interesting live webinar on June 26th, 2019. Chaired by Kurt Eisele-Dyrli, with an introduction by John Copeland of Barco, three leading experts shared their experience of building the Virtual Learning Environments in their institutions. This is a summary of their conversation and advice they shared.



Seven weeks to deliver "something never seen before"

Joe Way of California Baptist University explained how he was set the task of creating a new program for the School of Music that included a residency module plus both synchronous and asynchronous online options. His brief was to help create a one-year Masters' program that was "something never seen before," incorporating distance learning with high-quality audio and extremely low latency.

It took four months to find someone to help and seven weeks to deliver. The first contact with Barco was on May 6th, and final commissioning of a custom solution took place on June 25th – just in time for the program's launch on July 1st.

Distance learning with a difference – 3x the quality of an audio CD

And did Joe and his colleagues deliver? You bet!
With a little help from Barco, the final result was a near-zero latency, 128 kHZ audio stream (equivalent to 3x the audio quality of a CD). A weConnect-based solution with great two-way communication tools that is equally effective for distance learning or in the classroom. Feedback has been fantastic from both on-site and remote attendees. Installed with the help of student workers, it's a solution that has helped transform a space formerly used for a call center to an area for the effective delivery of both the residency and virtual classroom elements of the program.

Mobile first strategy beats budget restrictions at King's College

Ray Prior of King's College (Pennsylvania) shared how adopting a mobile-first approach helped overcome financial challenges and create a springboard for future collaboration in virtual classrooms. King's College was faced with outdated labs and limited budgets, leaving IT with the challenge of helping faculty members deliver their programs without replacing hundreds of aging computers. How could they improve facilities in the high-profile McGowen Business School, for instance?
The answer? Equip faculty members with a mobile device and put weConnect in the classrooms. It is an app-based solution and extremely easy to use. Lab content is streamed through a web browser, and it helped IT overcome budget constraints. 70 classrooms are now equipped with weConnect, which is now the strategic solution for all future classrooms.

"I have never had an accounting class this engaged or this loud"

In the collaboration rooms, pods have been built around the faculty member, increasing engagement and improving test scores. One faculty member commented that she had "never had an accounting class this engaged or this loud", a class that outperformed a similar class taught in a more traditional classroom. This project's success has provided the foundation for the future. King's College faces fierce competition, with 17 other colleges and universities within a 25-mile radius. Competition, which will only increase as "the demographic slide," reduces the number of available students. They plan to use weConnect as a platform for distance learning and aim to create a virtual classroom for sharing courses with Notre Dame University and thereby expand their offering.

It's time to flip the University

Many people in Higher Education talk about "flipping the classroom", but at Oral Roberts University, Mike Mathews talks about "flipping the university."
Oral Roberts has seen rapid growth, particularly in distance learning, and would like to educate people all over the world. They have created five virtual spaces:

  1. A global learning center, which "flips the University" and provides a virtual learning environment for educating students across the world, including Pakistan, India, and Africa
  2. Collaboration classrooms, with pods to encourage teamwork and development of skills
  3. Smart spaces/mirrors to address anxiety and other issues of students on campus
  4. Immersive learning - VR and AR environments that can improve test scores by five percentage points
  5. Spatial computing

More plasma screens and touch panels won't change anything

Mike's view is that providing more plasma screens and touch panels do not improve learning outcomes. Transformation needs a more radical approach. It is time to flip the University and educate the world.

From 300 to 3 calls to the Helpdesk each month

"To a degree, but far fewer than you would expect," was Mike Mathews' answer. Students don't expect helpdesk support for app-based solutions, and calls to their helpdesk have reduced from 300 to 3 requests per month now they moved to an app. Joe Way thought it was all about the solution. If it's simple enough to use, with all the complexity "under the hood," support can be kept to a minimum. An intimate experience can be delivered at a distance with only a few clicks. Ray Prior said for King's the helpdesk needs to be responsive, and they can get someone out to help within a few minutes if they need to. They foresee few issues though with the deployment of a new virtual wall for distance learning, except perhaps bandwidth problems at a remote institution or home. 

Transformation without changing the way we teach

Mike Mathews thinks that no additional training is necessary for VR or AR environments. Students eagerly explore different scenarios for themselves. The teaching is the same, but the outcomes are different, "seeing inside an engine can really improve a test score." In general, the more equipment in the classroom, the more training required. Joe Way said that California Baptist does not want faculty members to be technologists. Solutions have to be very simple. In their flexible classrooms, pushing one button sets up space as a virtual classroom (with the right lighting, etc.), and another configures it as a standard classroom. People start to adapt their teaching methods naturally as they begin using the technology. Ray Prior believes the technology is not intimidating; it just works. Peer pressure and probing from students encourages faculty members to adopt the technology. It's been successfully taken by faculty members from all generations.

Their stories in their words

To find out more and to hear our experts' stories in their own words, watch the recording of the webinar on University Business or YouTube.