Queen's University Belfast - Creating an inclusive environment for students whether learning remotely, in-person or through a hybrid approach.
Queen’s University Belfast is a distinguished Russell Group university that combines excellence in research with a student-centred ethos.
“Before the Pandemic, the University had the vision to see that we needed to update our teaching venues and a programme was underway that would offer enhanced collaboration and lecture capture facilities, when the Pandemic hit, we realised we needed to go further and turn our spaces into connected learning and collaboration venues that offer an inclusive experience to all our users across every setting. Whether a student is attending a venue physically or virtually, they must have an equal opportunity to engage with academics and fellow students and the solution that we came up with is a fantastic step forward and offers us so many possibilities to enhance our student learning experience.”
- Patrick Daly, Assistant Director for Learning and Teaching Support, Queen’s University Belfast
The project team within the Learning & Teaching Support division of Information Services developed a concept to enable the capture of the entire teaching and learning experience within a classroom environment, allowing real-time participation and seamless bidirectional engagement between lecturers, in-class students, and remote students.
The subsequent pilot project covered the upgrade of seven teaching spaces, divided into small, medium and large categories.
The spaces needed to create parity between the experience of remote and local learners and make sure that no student is disadvantaged due to location or when they access the learning content. This included a complete integration of traditional AV content sources, physical whiteboards and demonstration areas with lecture capture and collaboration platforms.
The user interface also needed to be straightforward and evolve naturally from the experiences during the pandemic when teaching was delivered primarily over the Microsoft Teams platform. Overall, the objective was to create a connected and flexible learning space where the academic and students can fully engage, whether blended/hybrid, face-to-face, or used as a studio to pre-record content.
The solution implemented by Pure AV (appointed following a competitive tender) and the University’s Learning & Teaching Support Division ensures that the traditional, familiar tools of the lecture theatre: whiteboards, visualisers, and presentation slides, are captured and remain a fully accessible part of the teaching experience, whether running in-person, pre-recording or live hybrid classes over a range of lecture capture and live collaboration platforms.
In addition, the system adds the ability to capture and live stream interactions between the lecturer and audience, including audience voice and video, dramatically enhancing the remote and recorded experience.
A critical differentiator of the solution is the use of automated camera tracking, not only of the presenter but also to capture audience contributions. Presenter tracking is managed using the built-in features of the Aver PTZ camera, the dual-lens and powerful optical zoom providing clear and accurate visuals.
To manage the audience capture, the design by Pure AV uses the impressive coverage and clarity of the Sennheiser TeamConnect 2 microphone arrays combined with the built-in control processing of a QSC digital sound processor. A dedicated software plug-in, developed in partnership by the two brands, processes directional information from the microphones. It uses this data to automatically point the audience facing camera to the student posing the question and contributing to the lecture or learning event.
This automated audience tracking process works alongside the main Extron AV control system. Taking the best control elements from different brands, Pure AV has created an accurate and responsive system. It delivers a high-quality feed that can be combined with any of the traditional in-room presentation sources, including the physical whiteboard (via Kaptivo) to be shared in real-time to remote participants and captured for later sharing and review.
The user interface is critical to the success of this solution. Pure AV worked with the university team to design a user experience free of technical jargon and straightforward for room users to understand. A 10” touch screen (push-button control in the smaller spaces), combined with dual preview monitors, allows the academic to manage and monitor the content going out to students.
The lecturer can use the lectern-based PC or connect their device via HDMI, USB-C, or wirelessly via the Mersive Solstice system.
The control is designed around teaching modes rather than “AV options”. The user selects between three scenarios: Hybrid with lecture capture, face-to-face teaching, or recording only for distribution over the VLE. Each mode enables and prioritises the equipment relevant to that teaching scenario.
The same design principles are applied across the small, medium, and large spaces, keeping the room experience as consistent as possible. Each area equipped to create a quality learning experience for students regardless of the location or timing of access.
The upgrade to the lecture theatres has given the University the technology to overcome the challenges of the pandemic and created a model for future learning space deployment. The seamless joining of the traditional, familiar tools of the lecture theatre with the virtual teaching environment drawing universal praise.
The design of the teaching spaces improves how academics can interact with students locally and online. It enables the creation of high-quality recordings for on-demand access that accurately reflects the in-room experience.
Mock teaching sessions with lecturers using the hybrid learning mode have proven the system’s ease of use, as staff members adapted their teaching content smoothly to the new system. The results of evaluation forms have been consistently high, never dropping below a 70% approval rating.
The system behind the solution is complex and feature-rich, yet also easy to understand and operate. As a room user, you only have to know how you want to use the room, and with a simple touch of the screen or push button press, the system takes care of the rest.
Students attending the previews have welcomed the technology. The knowledge that there will be a complete and accurate capture of the session incentivises attendance. Students feel able to shift their focus from note-taking to more active engagement, knowing that they can access a recording post-lecture.
The pilot has reached stakeholders from across the University, reinforcing the benefits of investment in well thought out technology. The University’s senior management have witnessed first-hand academic and student enthusiasm and have recognised it as a model to take forward into future developments.