• Sunday , 28 November 2021

Feature – remote learning and collaboration

Education futures

  1. Remote learning and collaboration

Collaboration tends to be hindered in traditional lecture and lecturer-led teaching delivery. Comparatively, remote learning offers contemporary forms of engagement and collaboration that you couldn’t otherwise have in the physical classroom environment. For example, group work and interactivity is far easier to facilitate in the remote learning environment. Staff can create breakout spaces, track work in real-time, use tools like EZWrite whiteboarding to share opinions, thoughts, ideas, and answers. All of which effortlessly replace the outdated sticky notes method in terms of ease, efficiency, and engagement.

From an assessment perspective, educators can more quickly differentiate the needs of individuals by accessing live working documents instantly. Comparatively, in the classroom space, you have to go at the pace of the slowest person. Hybrid, blended, and flexible learning allows for self-paced and individualised journeys for students. Meaning that those learners who might be more disengaged, have other home commitments, or find certain topics more challenging can access their education resources in their own time.

The collaborative environment

Students are far more open to collaboration from the comfort of their own home, they feel far more confident about participating behind the safety of a screen with the kettle only a few feet away. Blended learning was the toe-dipping test. It enabled institutions to think about the technology resources available to complement in-person learning. But it remained very much a ‘one-size-fits-all’ structure. In its place, hybridisation allows for an individual experience. If you think about a complex technical qualification, you have to learn a lot of comprehensive new skills.

In that traditional learning structure, you have that one- or two-hour lecture to take it all in. There’s no post-learning, only your rushed scribbled notes. In hybrid education, students can return to all of the teaching resources as much as they want to.

Government policy

There have been some communications from the DfE, but it isn’t necessarily clear. 30th September saw an announcement that there would be a plan to reduce the content in some subjects and give advance notice of topics in other subjects but not conclusively explaining which this would be – advanced information will be released by February 7, 2022 (before half term) but the timing will be kept “under review subject to the course of the pandemic” and can be brought forward.

The other announcement was a decision to maintain grade boundaries to be set by exam boards at a “midway” point between 2021 and 2019, the last time exams were sat before the pandemic. Grades are expected to return to normal by 2023. All this means that we are aiming to be ‘back to normal’ but with a lack of insight as to how educational establishments can bridge the gap of lost learning, as well as maintaining healthy progress in a not-yet under-control pandemic.

Meeting the social challenge social

As Universities and their Students’ Union partners are responsible for much of social experience, they are the Educational Authorities concerned in this area of the Higher Education experience. The main priority, right now, is supporting students to feel safe and comfortable on-campus again. The universities want students back. There are very few who want a fully remote experience, and some don’t even want to consider blended learning let alone hybrid education.

What helps Universities is that students want to be there in person thanks to the social culture. Instead, the trend appears to be about moving back to previous normality but providing learners greater hybrid options, especially in terms of enabling safe spaces for social interaction.

Nick Mawer, Marketing Manager, Kramer Electronics UK Ltd, reasons that: “For accessibility, higher education establishments can secure better guest lecturers when they are not restricted to location or time zone. This can enhance the quality of lectures provided by making them accessible for experts across the world to take part by joining and presenting remotely. It is also beneficial for students in remote areas or with physical disabilities, as they no longer need to travel to classes. This can help with affordability, as they don’t need to live in pricy student accommodation or away from home.”

For some. there might even be advantages to removing the social imperative: “For inclusivity, students who find social situations challenging can really benefit from not being in hectic spaces with lots of people. Learning from home can make it easier for them to concentrate and through online collaborative take part in lessons. Similarly, not being in a physical space and having to speak out loud makes people more confident to ask questions and contribute to discussions.”

Interactive pedagogy

For the lecturer, hybrid education at its best is when the room set up allows them to see and interact with their remote and in-room participants simultaneously and naturally. The technology set up in the room needs to give them the ability to address and engage with everyone equally for it to be truly effective and inclusive. This includes well-placed screens and a responsive audio and visual solution that follows the lecturer around the room and ensures they can hear responses from remote participants.

For the students, hybrid education at its best is when they have the same experience as the people in the room, are seen included in the discussions and can contribute their opinions in real-time. The technology being used to foster engagement and collaboration in learning environments can be used to do the same for social situations. The focus is on bringing people together and into one cohesive physical and digital space, which can be used for lectures, seminars, breakout collaborative sessions or for socials if students can’t physically get together.

The hybrid education model has even ben muted as a possible solution to the current skills shortage in the UK economy: see section 2 for an account of Credersi – the world science and tech campus.

Credersi – the world science and tech campus

 Two of Manchester’s leading tech companies are leading the race to innovate the global education metaverse with their own science and tech campus, Credersi World, using a mixed reality platform that includes virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). While Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has outlined his vision of what a global metaverse might look like, tech and science educators Credersi and 3D tech innovators PixelMax are at the forefront of developing and shaping what the education metaverse will actually be. Tech disruptors Credersi and PixelMax are already making this a reality and for the last 12 months, they have been developing and creating their own virtual science and tech campus.

‘Credersi World’ is an immersive platform in which students – and employers who want their workforces reskilled for careers of the future – shape their learning in a virtual campus world, complete with shops, cinemas, art galleries, wellbeing rooms and food and coffee shops by using immersive mixed reality technologies. The concept for Credersi World was to create a virtual science and tech campus that could train and reskill workforces of the future in an immersive and engaging way. The Covid pandemic has resulted in more people than ever before taking up training and learning with a view to reskilling for a career of the future.

Credersi co-founders Darren Coomer and Andy Lord saw how the pandemic had impacted university students and those in further education courses. Many students were struggling to keep up with remote learning on platforms such as Zoom and Teams and maintain their engagement to learning. At the same time, through their tech training company Credersi, they then saw employers and business suddenly finding a skills shortage as never before, as well as a rapid advancement of future technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). They decided to team up with PixelMax co-founders Shay O’Carroll, Rob Hilton and Andy Sands, to see how they could revolutionise and shape the learning and education metaverse.

Credersi CEO, Andy Lord, said: “The reality is that technology is now driving businesses forward at such a rapid pace that there is simply not enough skilled workforce available to fulfil those roles, which is why we have such a massive skills shortage and demand is outstripping supply. As companies try to keep up with the rapid pace of technology as it evolves, they have realised that a large percentage of their workforce are simply not fit for purpose. That now means companies have to identify the talent from within their workforces and organisations and create the opportunity to educate and train them – and reskill them for a career of the future.”

The Credersi World science and tech campus is an immersive experience with its own real estate. Delegates enter the concourse – much like they would at a physical university campus – and will be able to delve into different learning pods relevant to their courses. Various boulevards line the tech estate, which engages with the delegates at all levels, providing breakout rooms, libraries, shops, cinemas, art galleries, oceanic aquariums, as well as virtual banks and even wellbeing counsellors. The careers boulevard will have exhibitor totems, where tech, pharmaceutical and bio science companies can have a presence on the campus real estate. Delegates can drop in to learn more about career opportunities at each company and the campus will also have its own careers fairs, where companies can come to recruit delegates.

The lecture boulevard will have rooms that allow delegates to wander in and listen to visiting academics and tech entrepreneurs giving masterclasses. Bio scientists will be able to carry out and conduct live experiments in AR and VR laboratories, while coders and cyber security students can simulate real-time ethical hacking and defence exercises on real-life infrastructures. Andy Lord added: “The simple question all CEOs and business leaders need to ask themselves is, ‘What do you do when demand outstrips supply? Try and find people who don’t exist?’ You simply can’t just wait and hope the workforce will come back. The pandemic has been a clarion call to the global economy. Business and industry must rethink how they adapt to the future after the impact of events such as Brexit and the pandemic. With the rapid advancement of technology and AI, we must now look at how we reskill our workforces to make them future proof. Businesses also need to create a culture of continuous personal development for their staff and talent. They will find this in the education metaverse, which will future-proof their workforces with the right skills in an immersive and engaging way.”

Dubbed “Silicon City”, Manchester is now the fastest growing tech hub in the UK and across Europe and is widely seen as the UK’s version of California’s Silicon Valley thanks to its phenomenal growth of tech companies. Credersi is at the forefront of incubating, training and developing the digital pioneers, codebreakers, vaccine developers, bio scientists, biological and cyber defenders, software engineers and data scientists of the future.  PixelMax was founded in 2018 and created by co-founders Shay O’Carroll, Andy Sands and Rob Hilton. Their specialism lies in creating virtual 3D worlds, where they have delivered ground-breaking initiatives and won numerous awards. They have worked with some of the world’s biggest businesses to deliver innovative solutions that solve a variety of business problems and challenges.

PixelMax co-founder and tech disruptor, Shay O’Carroll, commented: “The 3D worlds we create and the solutions we offer our clients are vast. The pandemic has changed the way businesses operate and it has become clear that virtual worlds add a huge amount of value. The PixelMax technology allows our customers to deliver something truly unique. Our mission has always been to create a place where people can effectively communicate and collaborate in real time.:” Over the last 18 months their 3D world technology has evolved to offer world first virtual events and more recently to create ‘always on’ 3D environments which businesses are now starting to use as their virtual office to complement their hybrid working model. The PixelMax technology harmonises the virtual world and the physical world to deliver an enhanced or more immersive reality for the user. Partnering with Credersi to create the science and tech campus is a great example of what can be achieved.

Andy Lord explains: “What we have created with the Credersi World science and tech campus is something truly unique, which is immersive, engaging and interconnecting. We are creating the education and training metaverse, a unique ecosystem for companies to reskill their existing workforces and make them future proof. It also means that we educate and inspire the next generation of tech and science pioneers in a world they relate to. We want to ensure that each delegate can be immersed into their surroundings and engage with their syllabus learning within an exciting platform. As a result of creating and shaping the education metaverse, we can also create our own real estate within the campus. Big pharmaceutical companies and technology firms can exhibit their companies and recruit the very brightest minds and talent coming out of our incubator programmes. We become much more than just a tech training provider, but a science and tech campus that has everything to offer delegates and future employers. There is no reason why you couldn’t have companies like AstraZeneca, PWC and British Aerospace alongside Government organisations such as the Home Office and GCHQ, as well as retailers like Boohoo and ASOS, and Deliveroo or an Amazon online shop.”

Vivitek NovoPro leads the way for UCL

University College London (UCL) is London’s leading multidisciplinary university, with a well-deserved reputation globally as one of the finest seats of learning in the UK. Since 1826, it has championed independent thought by attracting and nurturing the world’s best minds, and today it is the second largest physical University in the UK, home to 38,000 students and 12,000 staff.  As a leading university at the forefront of teaching, UCL is a pioneer in the way it uses modern teaching methods and technology to ensure it delivers a world class learning experience for its students.

The refurbished UCL Bartlett School of Architecture, 22 Gordon Street, London. The refurbishment, designed by leading architects HawkinsBrown, has doubled the space available in a modern, light-filled building built on the structural concrete frame of its predecessor. The building was officially opened by The University of London Chancellor, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal on the 16th December 2016.

Today, Vivitek’s NovoPro – a powerful, wireless collaboration tool – is playing a fundamental role in helping to invigorate lectures while bringing students’ work and projects to life. Paul Burt, Spaces & AV Service Owner, Information Services Division, University College London, who is responsible for the technical facilities in 700 teaching spaces across the institution, explains: “We had a requirement for a wireless presentation solution that was simple to use but could easily scale to an enterprise-grade level. I was aware that there were some complex solutions already available on the market, but they were very expensive. I then came across the NovoPro on Vivitek’s booth at ISE 2016.”

Impressed by its rich feature-set and attractive price point they were soon pressed into service, with the first project they were used for marking a significant moment in the university’s history – the opening of a world-class business school, located on the 38th floor of the prestigious One Canada Square tower in Canary Wharf.

The next project was even more ambitious, with a subsequent 15 NovoPros installed in teaching spaces at the Bartlett School of Architecture on Gordon Street. In that application, multiple connections to the NovoPros are being used to enable architecture students to connect up to displays and discuss their work with other students and their lecturers. This new, interactive and collaborative method for sharing work and ideas replaces cabled display connections and to some extent, the paper-based display of designs and concepts.

NovoPro is ideal for education applications, as the platform is designed to ensure a top-quality wireless experience, yet at a price-performance point that makes it easily affordable for any classroom, meeting room, boardroom or huddle space. With NovoPro as the hub, contributing digital content onto the projection screen is fast and simple and the additional features such as on-screen annotation and capture open up a vast array of creative possibilities in any meeting. Participants can instantly connect their device via a Wi-Fi connection to NovoPro and start sharing immediately once the meeting host assigns them one of the four (split screen) projection connections.

Featuring a powerful Quad-Core processor, NovoPro is a fast-operating wireless hub for any learning space, class room or meeting room.  Multiple devices (up to 64 in client mode) can be connected at any one time, while four can be actively projecting in a split screen. This empowers users to share content with the group on the main display through its full mirroring capabilities. Its cross-OS platform compatibility ensures NovoPro supports all types of Wi-Fi enabled devices including iPads, iPhones, as well as their Android equivalents, alongside Chromebooks, laptops and all types of desktop PC.
Given the value that NovoPro adds to the learning experience, it is often in use from 9am to 10 pm at UCL, with no failed units or problems reported, which – despite its attractive and very competitive price point – illustrates its inherent robustness and suitability for a large scale, high-usage deployments, as Paul explains: “It does everything we need it to, and it’s cost-effective. We also like the fact that given this is a reasonably new market that’s evolving quite quickly, the attractive price point of the NovoPro means we’re not financially committed to one product route, which gives us more flexibility over our future AV needs and how we can accommodate them.” Paul estimates that circa 1,000 students are using the current NovoPro units which are linked into the University’s EduRoam wi-fi network. “The network configuration was quite straightforward,” Paul added.

On a more practical, day-to-day level, Paul points to another problem that NovoPro has solved: “One of the benefits of NovoPro is that it is always a challenge to maintain working HDMI leads in a teaching space. Not relying on the HDMI leads also prevents trip risk incidents from occurring and there’s no need to swap HDMI cables between students’ devices.” This observation is evidence that NovoPro really does simplify the collaboration process. Paul enthuses over NovoPro’s other qualities. “Although we don’t use it yet, with a view to the future we like the fact that iOS Mirroring support has been included. It’s also very easy to use, and I’d go as far to say that it is as good as – and performs as well as – products costing three times as much.” Asked whether based on his experiences to date Paul would recommend the NovoPro to other education institutions, he replied with an emphatic “Yes!”



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