by Dan Chen
Twenty-eight percent of students attending a higher education institution take at least one class online. As online learning becomes more prevalent, it will be important for universities to develop strategies and infrastructure to create high-quality, compelling content. According to Connections Academy, 75% of school districts across America offered online or blended courses. Today’s K-12 students are immersed in technology and online learning and will expect it from their universities. However, according to Inside Higher Ed’s 2016 Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Training, less than half of responding faculty members felt their institutions provided adequate technical support for creating online courses. It’s time for universities to embrace online learning and provide the infrastructure educators need to teach to this new norm.
Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype, Inc. (BH+A) has been involved with integrating online learning, supported by advanced AV and IT technology, with higher education clients in Boston and Cambridge. We have developed an expertise in converting existing classrooms into online teaching spaces such as video capture studios, online content production, and 3D makerspace labs. Several of these conversions took place on campuses with 1970s brutalist concrete buildings where unforgiving structural frames, inflexible HVAC systems, and low floor-to-floor ceiling heights posed significant challenges.
In helping institutions to meet tomorrow’s learning needs, several criteria have emerged that require careful planning and coordination with projects of this type. It is important to align end user equipment needs with campus planning and operation goals early in the process. Engaging, instead of shunning, the end user groups at the beginning of the project helps to bring a smoother and seamless integration of complex AV and telecomm equipment into the project. This helps the project manager of the campus operation/facility/planning group more accurately prepare and monitor the project budget.
Careful attention to acoustic criteria is another key element to a successful conversion project. Developing full acoustic separation, absorption, and proper HVAC ductwork attenuation from adjacent spaces is critical for a properly functioning video capture studio. Because these spaces are sometimes tucked among a group of programs in an older concrete structure, sound can travel easily from space to space. Thorough investigations of acoustic properties of the space in the beginning will help develop a realistic understanding of acoustic design goals and better control cost in the end.
Video capture and postproduction studios offer students and instructors enhanced learning opportunities and contribute to better learning outcomes for students. They support development of online class material and provide students a means for developing experimental visual projects. However, there’s another opportunity for institutions. Once content is developed, universities can monetize it by repackaging it for consumption by professionals in individual courses or packaged courses for use in employer certification programs. This content can be distributed through massive open online course (MOOCS) platforms, which have surged in popularity. In 2016, 58 million students registered for one of 6,850 courses available from more than 700 universities.
Tying institutional needs with the need to develop content for a MOOC, BH+A was commissioned to design a video-capture studio and innovation classroom to support and strengthen our higher education client’s online teaching platform edX. edX was developed by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is supported by hundreds of other universities. edX has a series called MicroMasters, which offers graduate-level courses from top universities. Individuals can take a MicroMasters series and later apply for course credit toward a master’s degree from the same university. This model allows students to obtain a master’s degree for less money than traditional program enrolment. This makes developing content for edX or other MOOCs an opportunity for universities to market to prospective students by showcasing relevant courses and introducing prospective students to what the learning experience at that institution would be like.