Old school learning gets an upgrade

“Active learning is all about creating an environment in which students become directly involved in their own educational development,” explains Alexandra Parlour, corporate and education manager at Sony Professional Solutions Europe. “The technology used in learning and teaching spaces needs to actively facilitate collaboration, interaction and autonomy.”

There’s no single blueprint for an active learning space but it is, depending on its size and use, likely to include a combination of large main displays for whole class use, multiple smaller displays for small group working and mobile devices for individual use, some or all of which may provide touch interactivity. It will probably have internet connectivity, typically via a network, to provide access to content and Wi-Fi to enable content to be displayed on and shared between devices.

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This technology-rich learning style speaks to Gen Z, says Ellen Van de Woestijne, education segment marketing director at Barco: “They’ve grown up with a very high-powered computer in their pocket. They’re all connected with each other, and the internet, constantly. They are accustomed to social media and all the modalities that are available of them – being part of the dialogue.”

It’s not only more enjoyable for students and teachers. Influential research studies such as the one carried out by Scott Freeman and Colleagues, prove active learning has a statistically valid impact on learning outcomes, according to Van de Woestjine.

Leeds City College, one of the UK’s largest further education colleges with 24,000 students and 1,900 staff operating out of three main campuses, has invested in multiple Google Jamboards to enable students to think differently, learn independently and have the freedom to collaborate with others.

Steven Hope, head of campus operations and technology enhanced learning manager, explains: “The board basically acts as a giant Post-it note that can have 50 different collaborators at one time. It’s not just a device to write on, you can do so many other things.

“In mechanics, all of the information regarding the cars can be put on the board, cars can be demonstrated, diagrams can be displayed or reviewed, completion of work can be evaluated and analysed, photos can be added, as well as notes – it really does wonders for engagement and participation.

“The Jamboards are also used in hairdressing courses. Teachers can evaluate student work, and students can work together to curate images of make-up, new hair styles and colours, using different websites to assist in their work.”

Going global
The Jamboards are replacing Leeds College’s whiteboards, the first generation interactive displays for schools, adoption of which was funded by the UK Government. The ability to drive learning outcomes, modernise the curriculum and equip children with the skills they will need for the workplace of the future is tempting other Governments to fund the provision of interactive flat panel displays (IFPD) for their schools.

Government funding can see a country adopt active learning technology almost overnight, explains Colin Messenger, senior market analyst at Futuresource. Germany, for instance, where the previously technology-free classrooms that have changed little since the 50s are now being transformed with Government-funded interactive displays and China, where new vendors are emerging in large numbers, not only to meet local demand but also looking to export.

Competitive edge is another factor. Mig Cardamone, director of sales and marketing at Sennheiser, says in the Middle East nearly all schools are privately funded and the competitive nature of the educational sector means that there is a very high level of technology integration at all levels, as this is imperative to ensure the offering is attractive to paying students.

Higher Education
Universities also need to attract fee-paying students in the face of fierce competition and this is proving a significant driver for active learning worldwide, including in the UK.

While primary and secondary are more likely to experiment with new technologies, even though the benefits may take time to materialise, Higher Education (HE) is being more methodical in its adoption, according to Rainer Stiehl, Extron’s vice-president of marketing, Europe.

Many universities are exploring active learning, conducting research, trials and pilots to assess how it can be utilised strategically – to enhance their reputation and aid student recruitment in a fiercely competitive sector, being top of the list.

Universities are extensive operations, typically with multiple buildings across various sites so they face the challenge of rolling out at scale. Most opt to introduce active learning into new buildings, as at the University of Hertfordshire, or carry out a rolling refurbishment as the University of Bath is doing.

Few have incorporated it wholesale across all faculties and all departments in the campus as at the University of Northampton where 168 classrooms, 24 huddle spaces, 81 interactive classrooms, 35 connected classrooms, 23 collaboration rooms and five lecture halls have been equipped with Barco’s cloud-based weConnect solution.

It has created an “environment that facilitates the discussion and elaboration of ideas, which is key for our students,” says Professor Alejandro Armellini, dean of learning and teaching at the University. It has also impacted teaching method, reports Associate Professor Dr Holger Siemons: “(It) helps me to renovate my teaching approaches, to be more curious about new topics and it gives me immediate feedback from students. You can really build a culture of participation.”

The construction of a new science building at The University of Hertfordshire provided the opportunity to introduce active learning. The £50 million building houses science labs with 43in NEC displays at the end of every bench as well as NEC projection for the main display. There are also simulation suites, replicating hospital set-ups and pharmacy consultation environments, digital signage screens in the floor landings and areas for informal learning and socialising.

The whole building is equipped with AV-over-IP to enable any source to be routed to any display or other endpoint, which is “proving successful and the university network can easily cope with it,” says Adam Harvey, solution architect, AV and digital media at the University. “There are also more diagnostic tools on the network than you have for a traditional AV system.”

“Many universities are moving to a completely digitised infrastructure using AV-over-IP to network resources and enable realtime access,” says Jon Garaway, education account manager at NEC Display Solutions Technologies. “There are enormous benefits to be enjoyed by making digital assets easier to manage, control and maintain remotely.”

Driving adoption
Ensuring the new technology is used can be a challenge. While some universities require a commitment to active learning from a department before allowing them to use new buildings to ensure usage, emerging best practice is to first involve academics and students in the process, exploring a room’s use and what is to be achieved.

At London Metropolitan University (LMU), the IT team, led by information & technology services director, Oliver Holmes, put together a team, including integrator Reflex, to identify the best way of equipping facilities for different styles of active learning in the refurbishment of its Roding Building.

LMU piloted a number of technical solutions and through user feedback improved the designs and settled on particular technologies, explains Holmes: “We found that users do things with technology that we don’t necessarily expect so getting them into spaces and hands‐on with new technology as early as possible is really helpful.”

The result was three types of room including standard seminar spaces with interactive displays and repeater screens as well as ideation and collaboration rooms.

In the Ideation room, a 12m wide interactive wall using Nureva Span is flanked each side by a pair of Avocor interactive screens, enabling brainstorming and creative thinking-style working by in-room and remote participants over what is effectively a 20m interactive canvas, or, with the flick of a switch, standard presentation mode, with the content on the main projected wall repeated on the screens.

In the Collaboration room, lecturer and student content can be shown on 55in displays, front and back of the room and on 43in UHD screens built into the room’s six collaborative tables, all of which support BYOD, seminar rooms with motorised height adjustable interactive displays and repeater screens.

LMU says it’s too early to measure an improvement in student learning but 89 per cent of students surveyed rated Roding’s technology as excellent in an initial study. People want to use these rooms, says LMU. They provide templates for LMU facilities as well as an invaluable recruitment tool at future student open days.

Seen and heard
All LMU spaces include voice reinforcement and audio is another essential element in the active learning mix. “Good sound also helps foster engagement,” explains senior applications engineer at Autologic, Ben Spurgeon: “A voice reinforcement system can increase levels of engagement by limiting strenuous and fatiguing listening environments. It’s much harder for students to engage when they struggle to hear the lecturer.”

This is especially true of large spaces, like lecture theatres, which are inherently transmissive not active learning spaces, with a disconnect between student and lecturer. Does this spell the end of the lecture-format?

“We think millennials only want digital,” says Mark Dunlop, workspace product group manager at University of Dundee, “but they want their university experience to be different from school. They want big lectures – they’re all intrinsic to the student experience.”

It’s more a case of adding to the lecture style: facilitating use of students’ personal devices – typically three to four, all of which they’re likely to log-in according to studies by Anglia Ruskin University – break-out spaces added to enable small group discussion and the widescale use of lecture capture is providing a layer of engagement but there is plenty of room to further develop the collaborative learning experience.

Meyer Sounds’ Constellation system is addressing the imbalance through audio. In use in a number of universities including Uppsala University, Sweden, Constellation enables one-touch switching between modes.

Presentation mode carries the lecturer’s voice through the room without podium or headset mic, while Q&A ensures lecturers and students hear each other without passing around mics, providing conversational quality regardless of a student’s location. A Group Discussion mode allows students in small groups to hear each other clearly while masking distracting sounds from groups further away.

Inexorable trend
The shift to active learning is global, and inexorable. It represents a significant shift in pedagogy, transforming all aspects, the method and practice of teaching, the interaction between academic staff, students and their learning environment.

It’s easy to see it as technology changing education, but, explains Marcus Saunders, head of digital learning resources at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, it’s “the learning and teaching piece that’s driving the shift in technology.”



Ask an academic what they want and it’s usually Wi-Fi and screens – basic, easy to use systems. How do we enrich learning spaces with technology without making it too complex? How do we ensure academics and students alike are onboard with any new technology?

There is naturally a disparity between the technology teachers assume students would like to see in modern classrooms, and the technology students are actually expecting to have access to. The role of AV and IT managers in higher education is to bridge this gap and ensure the technology at hand enriches the teaching and learning spaces while everyone – so both teachers and students – is comfortable using those solutions.

A good example of how these different expectations can be met is a recent project Sony worked on with University of Swansea, UK. Sony worked closely with GV Multimedia, the university IT team and leadership to discuss the needs of students and teachers alike, implementing a solution that worked for all stakeholders.

By creating bespoke collaborative learning environments, powered by Vision Exchange from Sony, University of Swansea built a space that provided a wow-factor for new and prospective students, while allowing lecturers to experiment with new pedagogies, without the need to rewrite their curriculum.

Following the installation, University of Swansea has been overwhelmed by positive feedback – students find it an improvement on other learning spaces, while teachers have embraced ongoing training to make the most of the space and implement active learning in a practical setting.


The faculty staff of McWhorter School of Building Science (MWSBS) at Auburn University in Alabama, US, were looking for a solution to transform teaching.

They needed technology to support and illustrate projects at scale and required a new way to enhance and improve collaborative problem solving. Providing an immersive and at-scale environment was critical for students who haven’t had the opportunity to work in or visit a construction site.

Anoop Sattineni, associate professor, MWSBS, says: “Over the last decade, construction has become much more visual. We needed a large digital space so we can show our students digital drawings and models. Mezzanine and the Visualization Lab allows us to do that.”

The school wanted to create a unique space that would significantly deliver a best-in-class education experience to MWSBS students and better prepare them for the challenging work environment. To deliver this vision, they needed technology to maximise the visualisation of complex documents and to enhance collaboration – this was to be an essential component of the new Visualization Lab.

Mezzanine from Oblong Industries, with its multi-screen and multi-stream user experience, was selected as the best technology to bring in the multiple pieces of information, critical to look at a building problem in its entirety – such as construction documents and 3D building rendering. With Mezzanine, all this information is easily shared, moved around, and re-organised seamlessly, in a way that facilitates the understanding of complex construction challenges.

The Visualization Lab delivers an immersive and ultra-connected workspace where students can gain a new perspective on construction plans and share ideas in an agile and collaborative way. The pixel-rich workspace commands attention when viewing information. Students interact with data and construction plans, physically manipulating information and images across interconnected screens with Mezzanine’s multiple modes of control, including the gesture-based wand which is ideally suited to command content across multiple screen surfaces.


Polymedia’s solutions have helped transform education at Horoshevskaya School in Moscow. The project included installation of modern equipment in multifunctional classrooms, the main lobby and the teachers’ area of the main school building. The primary goal was to create a comfortable and intuitive environment for students and teachers. Solutions based on the ultra-short-throw Epson projectors combined with marker surface covering the full length of a classroom were installed. The projectors can function autonomously, enabling drawing and display of mobile devices, without a computer thanks to the built-in software.

TeachTouch mobile interactive systems based on LCD panels were used to easily configure the work space. Mobile devices can also be wirelessly connected to all interactive systems

One of the highlights of the project is the Mobile Interactive Cube, or ‘Horocube’, a proprietary development from Polymedia engineers. The tool for collaborative work consists of four interactive mobile surfaces which can be used by four independent working groups. When the work is finished, the groups turn over their surfaces and present their work to the audience.


NewTek’s NDI IP technology is being used by TV production students at Charles University in Prague. “We have the best studio and programme for students in Czech Republic because we use production technology based on the same workflow used in national broadcast television. With our studio, we have created what is essentially a copy of the Czech national broadcasters,” says Jan Peml, head of the Radio Television Lab in the Communications Sciences and Journalism department of Faculty of Social Sciences.

Peml has found emulating a real-world studio is the key to success, training students in the same methods they will use when working in professional studios. But as methods of production advance and technologies such as video over IP are adopted, it has become more important for the RTL to future-proof its studios and classrooms. The chance to modernise came when the Faculty of Social Sciences constructed a new building to house the television studio. Moving to a new studio, within a robust IT infrastructure, would keep the university at the forefront of Czech’s television studies.

Peml and his staff saw possibilities in the school curriculum for NDI, NewTek’s encoding technology for frame-accurate, live video over IP. “We could integrate NDI through our Wi-Fi network, using it as a universal route for AV sharing in-studio – connecting all possible screens and sources, and using tunnelled UDP streams to simulate an external OBvan input,” he says. “We also saw we could use NDI Monitor for full-screen output from Adobe Premiere.”

After evaluating several video switchers to ensure they could create a future-proof studio environment that echoed a professional broadcast station and stayed within their budget, the team selected the NewTek IP Series, using the system’s built-in NDI capabilities to place video in front of the students, wherever they’re sitting in the building, whether classroom, student room, or studio.

“We can capture a signal from the IP Series in different places around the studio, in the classroom. We can ask students to edit using the same sources their colleagues are using in the editing room,” Peml says.


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