Tech & Today’s College Students

I had the pleasure recently of hanging out with technology managers from higher education institutions at an InfoComm on Campus event in Boston. We spent considerable time discussing emerging technologies and the evolution of classroom design. Lisa Stephens, Senior Strategist for Academic Innovation at the State University of New York, introduced the group to FLEXspace and the Learning Space Rating System, both of which were established to help higher ed planners create facilities that better support AV and IT systems and modern teaching methods. FLEXspace, which is an online repository of learning-space designs, currently has about 2000 users. Basically, it’s where theory meets application. InfoComm supports FLEXspace, as do several AV companies, including Crestron, Sonic Foundry and Wolfvision.

Conversation also turned to the tech-savvy students of the future. Many in K-12 now learn using Chromebooks or tablet PCs in the classroom. (According to InfoComm on Campus presenter Bill Nattress, CTS-D, CTS-I, of Biamp and member of his local school board, planners didn’t anticipate that students would forget to charge their devices at night, so into the classrooms went charging stations.) Today’s younger students collaborate electronically. They learn to write code in elementary school. They aspire to go to college, where one would assume they’ll continue what they’ve been doing in their local districts, but on a grander scale. Will technology keep up?

Colleges and universities are in an interesting spot. Because of budget pressures and entrenched ways of doing things, many aren’t exactly in a position to innovate…at least not without difficulty. But the new students they need to attract have had a front-row seat to innovation throughout their formative years. They are what’s been termed “digital natives”: young people who have grown up with smartphones at the ends of their arms and access to any media they want at the swipe of a screen. They will be headed to college, with high expectations and gadgets in hand.

Much has been written about how schools need to incorporate new technology into classrooms in order to keep students engaged and deliver learning on their terms. According to InfoComm’s 2015 AV Vertical Market Study of education customers, there is, indeed, a trend toward greater use of networked AV systems (streaming media and lecture capture, for example) to support more flexible, engaging experiences.

“The biggest challenge in higher education is that we’re transitioning from faculty- and instructor-centered teaching to student-centered teaching,” said Domenic Screnci, Executive Director of Educational Technology, Training and Outreach for the Information Services and Technology department at Boston University, in an InfoComm report last fall. “Before, it was really about the instructors: what they needed to do in a room and how. Now it’s more democratized.”

At many institutions, the AV function has been moved under IT. This is more an acknowledgement that AV is a bigger part of the learning experience and needs to be incorporated into an enterprise department than some kind of “AV is IT” assessment of the post-convergence world. But AV professionals in higher education environments face an uphill battle in accommodating digital-native students if they can’t change the conversation from technology to outcomes.

In Boston, we had a predictable conversation about 4K video technology: the possibilities, the technical challenges, the inevitability of adoption. But we stumbled over how to get higher ed stakeholders as excited about all those pixels as we were. The solution is to learn to talk about 4K, or streaming media, or Internet of Things, or BYOD, without ever using the words “4K, streaming media, Internet of Things, or BYOD.” Focus on outcomes.

In higher education, creative faculty are looking to enrich the classroom experience by figuratively knocking down walls. Through the use of videoconferencing, students can learn from experts all over the world. Now, would they like to patch in four different experts at one time on the same large-screen display? Yes? That outcome describes a viable 4K application.

The Internet of Things should be a valuable tool in an AV integrator’s arsenal, but probably not in his vernacular. Learning “pods” (what others might call huddle spaces) are gaining popularity in classroom design. These pods should configure themselves based on who wants to use them and how. That outcome describes a possible IoT application.

Even today’s students don’t talk tech for tech’s sake. They live it and talk only about what they want tech to do for them. AV pros in higher education should take their cue.

“When meeting with colleges and universities, the goal is to bring both the AV/IT and instructional design teams together so all stakeholders are happy with the outcome,” said Erin Minich, a sales executive at Microsoft who used to provide collaboration solutions to education clients for AVI-SPL.

They may sometimes forget to charge their devices before class is in session, but today’s students will know how to get the outcomes they want from today’s technology solutions.

Sound & Communications: May 2020 Digital Edition
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