• Wednesday , 20 October 2021

Back to Uni?

Following last year’s disruption to the academic calendar, the September 2020 university intake face an uncertain future. Indeed, many potential students are questioning whether a university experience so changed from what might have been expected is even worth the financial commitment. Philippe Remion is the head of the Educations Solutions Business for Sony, and has been charged with making university the kind of immersive experience that justifies this commitment by students.

Philippe Remion, Sony; “We have a very strong partnership with UBICAST.”

AVN: So Philippe, what can Sony do to make university a more immersive experience?

PR: “First, we have a very strong partnership with UBICAST. Since I have the role of European business development manager for the division responsible for the solutions created by this partnership. Of course, the UK has always had a reputation for being very involved with education technology. But actually, what we saw is that indeed there is a strong demand for solution throughout Europe, to really ensure the educational future everywhere in Europe. You can really see the concern growing with the with the weeks and months of the pandemic.”

Virtual education

AVN: what are the options for universities seeking a technology solution – is a solution to the forthcoming funding crisis?

“I’ve been doing more than 70 or 80 deals in the last two or three months, to universities or school, that really have to find solutions in order to ensure continuity. Educationalist Tom Ridge was one of the first to announce their decision to go straight to online courses. I think this is a very, very big signal. I’ve always been reading about this technology for education and Cambridge, which is one of the most famous university in the world, decided to take the lead in saying that they will be studying and teaching off-campus from September 2020 to next summer. They decided to take a strong decision, but this is something that I got also from other universities.”

“Maybe, they would have a hybrid model with some student on campus, following the course in the classroom, and the others following the course from home, but many universities, and many schools, are really frightened about not getting scholarship fees from their students. Students and parents are demanding: “OK, what are you doing?” Because we have been spending out on fees without having seeing any classroom sessions, without any lectures and, starting from September, no clear idea of the future. So there is a risk, high risk for the universities, the financial risk, because if there is no end to pandemic there is a big financial risk.”

Technological solutions

PR: “At the moment, universities are really looking into investment in technological solutions. I would say, investing in order to avoid losing money and even bankruptcy.

Sony has wonderful hardware, and strong brand recognition for quality. What Sony doesn’t have, is well recognised software, the same level of Teams or Zoom. But let’s imagine, that now everybody is able to teach everywhere. OK, and for students to be able to learn from everywhere, meaning from their home, but imagine all the advantages that it brings. For example, why do students choose to attend a particular university? Was it because of proximity of the university? Or the availability of a particular specialised course?

AVN: Does technology represent an opportunity for universities looking to expand?

“Now, with virtual courses, location is much less of a factor. Students can follow a course, in any suitably equipped university, with the same cost as if they are staying at home. They can follow the course and graduate from any university in the world without moving from home. Add the fact that the international students will probably not be able to travel. So imagine 40 percent of students are international. They are coming from everywhere in the world. Now imagine a university not having access to this student body any more. Sacrificing income from forty percent of its students through not changing the tools that they are using to teach? That would be a disaster.”

“Look at the issue from the other perspective, by boosting the capability of teaching from the university to anybody in the world, the immersive nature of the experience becomes very important. Then, you would be justified in asking what’s the point in going to the university on the campus?”

The immersive space

AVN: Does an off-campus virtual experience represent value to the students?

PR: “There really shouldn’t be so much difference between being on campus or off campus. Yes, you can use Zoom or other form of web videoconference, but what exactly is the experience that we are proposing to the students? I don’t think that this is enough in order to really deliver a truly immersive experience.”

Philippe goes on to describe Sony’s UBICAST solution. The UBICAST mission statement states: “We make content creation a breeze through universal lecture capture and easy-to-use desktop recording tools, automated workflows and web-based post-production. We make knowledge easy to access by developing a video CMS that integrates with LMS platforms and provides a viewer-controlled, searchable playback experience. We generate engagement through interactivity and social collaboration.”

PR: “If you send the image of the teacher, plus the extraction of the text as you are writing the formulae for the mathematics, the student is able to follow correctly, even better than before. The reason is always difficult for some students to be able to follow the course correctly.”

“Audio is integrated into the solution. The microphone is able to cover up to seven metres radius. If there is a question from a student in the classroom, everybody would be able to hear it, which is very important. And so, the teacher doesn’t have to touch the microphone. The teacher has to connect one cable and that’s it. This the difference with the UBICAST lecture capture solution: the students have a video of the teacher and decide what else they want to see. So if the teacher is writing something on the on the board, I can elect to see it correctly in full screen.”

“I can play the content full screen , or with a PowerPoint for example, what we try to do today, is to hide the technology as much as possible – and ten don’t have to train the teacher to use the system. You could cast those individual screens to the students’ devices, so they could so they could take copies of their PowerPoint into their own device and consume it later on. In the presentation, students are able to ask a question. The teacher can see where I am, at the moment the student is asking the question.”

The cost

AVN: the solution sounds great but with universities already stretched is it cost-effective?

PR: “Basically, this is not expensive. The question is how many students will be able to benefit at the same time because they want to look at the course at the same time. It’s not that you have 40000 students in the university that you would necessarily have 40000 students looking at the video at the same time. The idea is to give permission to twenty-five groups of one thousand students, at the same time, to be able to connect to the system. We scale with the experience in all the projects that we have done.

It’s not the pricing or the cost of the solution itself because that is balanced by the usage.”

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