Five Ways Audiovisual Experiences Can Benefit Higher Education

Rapid advances in AV technologies over the past decade have created new opportunities to improve education. Let’s dive into five different ways that colleges and universities can put this new generation of AV solutions to work.

Audiovisual equipment has aided educators for generations, with videotapes, vinyl records, and overhead projectors characterizing many mid-20th-century classrooms. As education tactics evolved, AV solutions quickly became invaluable teaching tools that are now prominently featured in today’s colleges, universities, and graduate schools.

Rapid advances in AV technologies over the past decade have created new opportunities to improve education. For example, not only have display screens become lighter, brighter, and larger, but they also provide interactivity, increased resolution, and improved energy-efficiency. Audio playback has evolved from one or two speakers to virtual three-dimensional spatial sound. These technologies are more accessible than ever for higher education institutions, since manufacturing and installation costs continue to decrease.

These new benefits for education providers reflect changes in the consumer electronics and entertainment world. Where professional sports arenas, amusement parks and corporate marketing campaigns have used cutting-edge AV solutions to sell tickets or products, higher learning institutions are leveraging them to improve in-class instruction, provide new tools for research and communication, promote community engagement, entertain students and guests, and assist recruitment efforts.

Let’s dive into five different ways that colleges and universities can put this new generation of AV solutions to work.

#1: Interactive learning and collaboration. Thanks to fast WiFi and the ubiquity of mobile devices among learners, the modern classroom offers greater instructional flexibility and collaboration through AV integration. New organizational concepts such as “huddle spaces” de-clutter classrooms and allow learners in smaller groups to share documents, images, and videos by simply “casting” them to a digital display over a secure wireless link. Instructors can archive content and retrieve it from cloud servers, eliminating the need for printed texts and handwritten notes.

Oregon’s Portland State University uses AV to bridge the gap between university researchers, local governments, and businesses with its new “Decision Theater,” a meeting and collaboration space that uses 80-inch and 70-inch interactive displays to provide a large-scale, 360-degree view of data and images. The goal is to accelerate research and learning in areas such as forest fire prediction and prevention, where large-scale data visualization permits people to see patterns they otherwise could not determine. Participants can work in groups on a single unit of study and then pair all groups together to view content on a larger three-panel video wall.

#2: Engaging both current and prospective students. Large video displays are increasingly replacing universities’ static signage everywhere from cafeterias to athletic arenas. Modern AV technologies that utilize high-resolution imagery, seamless multi-screen presentations, and scheduling automation enable schools to create captivating interactive experiences and ensure the highest level of user engagement and information retention.

In addition to providing news and up-to-the-minute information, these attractive AV installations directly benefit schools’ recruitment efforts. When renovating and expanding its Adams Administration Building to act as a welcome center for prospective students and families, Troy University in Troy, AL, installed a 6x2 video wall to promote the university’s modernity and integration of technology.

The video wall displays event information and promotional content about the university, and upon being touched transforms into three distinct interactive 2x2 regions. Visitors can then navigate the interactive content to learn about the university, or select a mode that allows them to take a “selfie” photo with a Troy-themed backdrop on the video wall and tag their pictures on Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms.

#3: Provide a more instructor-friendly way to display large images. For several decades, projection systems have dominated classrooms and lecture halls where large displays are required to reach large audiences. While functional, these solutions can present issues such as distracting fan noise, intense projector light directed at instructors, and the need to dim the lights with every use. Additionally, the largest rooms may require two or more projectors to produce a large enough image, which adds to system cost, complexity and maintenance for color and position matching.

The University of Idaho in Moscow, ID, decided to take a different tack when upgrading an older auditorium. The school’s Life Sciences South 277 lecture hall holds 120 students and is used primarily for critical biology, engineering, and science classes where class materials often include highly detailed and colorful images of cells, organisms, CAD drawings, diagrams, and charts. Professors expressed dissatisfaction with the room, even requesting not to use it because of the extremely bright projector light that often shone directly in their eyes. Rear projection was considered, but would have required the removal of a large number of seats in the room.

The university decided to install nine 55-inch thin-bezel LCD displays to create an 11-foot-wide, 6-foot-tall, 3x3 video wall that can be controlled and managed entirely through the lectern. The individual displays have thin bezels that combine to form a nearly seamless image resolution far in excess of 4K. Rated at 500 nits of brightness, the video wall holds up well under normal room lighting and eliminates any visibility or glare problems for instructors. The University Classroom Strategic Planning committee also wanted to ensure the new displays possessed a modern and inviting aesthetic to complement the room’s recently re-tiered, collaborative layout, and Life Sciences South 277 is now showcased to prospective students on campus tours.

#4: Use powerful imaging tools to model class studies and experiments. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are hot topics in popular culture, but there’s more to VR and AR than single-user headsets for viewing movies or playing games. In fact, an advanced AV solution called projection mapping can turn just about any physical space or object into an immersive virtual environment. Using cutting-edge software, projection mapping allows content creators to project images onto almost any surface, no matter how it’s shaped or what it’s made of. Basically, a classroom floor can become an ocean or a lava field, or a blank cube could become a 360-degree model with moving visualizations on every side.

For example, Louisiana State University (LSU) worked with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and LSU’s Center for River Studies to design and build a huge projection-mapped mobile model of a 190-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in order to show real-world simulations of upcoming CPRA projects. Stretching 90-feet by 120-feet, the model is mapped using 20 projectors that vividly illustrate CPRA’s computer models. A core demonstration focuses on plans to build levees that will divert water and sediment from the Mississippi River back into the surrounding basins to rebuild and sustain struggling wetlands.

Since the model’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in early 2018, CPRA and LSU have demonstrated the model to more than 500 students from around the state, attracting the attention of the Secretary of the Interior and officials from the Environmental Protection Agency.

#5: Provide an enhanced entertainment experience at sporting events. Just as AV significantly evolved over the last six decades, so has the popularity and financial significance of intercollegiate athletics. Modern fans expect a high level of entertainment comparable to professional sports arenas, and that equates to plenty of video and bright, colorful graphics before the game, during the game, and at halftime.

In light of fans’ expectations, the University of Nevada–Las Vegas (UNLV) Runnin’ Rebels basketball team wanted to take their pregame and halftime shows to another level. They opted for projection mapping, following a trend that is becoming popular with NBA teams. Mapping such a large area requires very long projection throw distances, extreme brightness to overcome high ambient light levels, and the latest laser-based instant-on projectors that can function in any orientation, even while rotating.

To achieve the brightness and mounting requirements, UNLV installed eight 25,000-lumen laser projectors to power UNLV’s immersive pregame experience across Tarkanian Court at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The eight laser projectors are installed above the court and work together to display one large mapped image over the entire court. Utilizing a pixel mapping technique that accurately traces all lines on the court and masks for pinpoint accuracy, the UNLV pregame show includes 3D modeling, motion graphics, video and text overlays. The resulting experience is unlike that produced by any other AV technology, turning the entire arena into a visual medium for fan entertainment.

These examples represent a sea of change in higher education that builds on the lessons learned by other industries. Colleges, universities, and graduate schools that adopt the latest AV technologies and tactics can offer learners more engaging lessons, greater collaborative opportunities and interactive entertainment while providing educators with new tools to reach today’s tech-obsessed student body.

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