Education 2.0: Classrooms need a ‘voice lift’ to adapt to the new normal
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Education 2.0: Classrooms need a ‘voice lift’ to adapt to the new normal

Education 2.0: Classrooms need a ‘voice lift’ to adapt to the new normal

Schools and universities must now look to adapt their current spaces to new requirements


After being one of the first countries globally to entirely transition students to online learning in the wake of Covid-19, the UAE has been equally effective in restarting in-person classes. With key concerns from parents and guardians being around the wellbeing of their children, it is understandable that greatest emphasis during the re-entry of students to classrooms has been around ensuring proper health and safety protocols are developed and adhered to. Now that these measures have been effectively implemented and proven, it is time for schools and universities to adapt classrooms and lecture halls to new challenges that have emerged in the post-Covid world.

Evolution of learning spaces
As a consequence of measures such as social distancing, the pandemic has fundamentally altered the way we relate to the space around us. Whilst the solution may seem straightforward – let fewer learners in and keep them well apart – keeping person-to-person proximity within acceptable bounds poses unique challenges in classrooms, auditoriums, and other facilities that make up the typical educational institute.

Moreover, while hybrid learning has recently been catapulted into the limelight as a solution to Covid-related challenges, its benefits extend beyond just optimising classroom occupancy and maintaining social distancing. This model affords students unparalleled levels of flexibility. With the option of recording lectures, it empowers them to choose not just where, but also when they learn. Now that universities have to compete not just with each other, but with increasingly professional and comprehensive online learning platforms which have skyrocketed in popularity over the last year, enabling students to learn as they choose will be pivotal to success – especially for higher-education facilities. Embracing hybrid learning is no longer an option, so schools and universities must adapt to the requirements that arise from this paradigm.

Consideration for the modern classroom
Apart from the obvious restrictions in communication and being able to understand each other clearly whilst physically far apart, several factors such as classmates joining remotely, chatty students, air conditioner noise, repetitive sounds like typing and tapping as well as poor room acoustics can now significantly impact how students interact with a lecturer and each other. Against this backdrop, schools and universities must now look to adapt their current spaces to new requirements.

Re-evaluating existing A/V equipment becomes crucial to this process.

With some students joining lectures or seminars in person and others participating virtually via conferencing apps such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, institutions need to invest in effective audio ecosystems which not only link virtual attendees with presenters, but also look at the bigger picture: ensuring good quality audio in the room between all physical members, as well as connecting in-room members with virtual participants. All groups need to be able to freely interact with each other and hear each other well no matter whether they are online or where the person is sitting in the classroom or lecture hall.

Elevating auditory experiences
Voice lift technology plays a crucial role in making the vision of a seamless, hybrid classroom a reality. It uses the components of a traditional sound system to deliver voice amplification for all participants in a room. The beauty of such a system is that it increases the speech level by just a few decibels (dB) to account for decreased speech intelligibility due to the distance between people in the room. The effect is so subtle that it is often not even noticed by physical attendees, let alone virtual participants.

Voice Lift Technology can assist in overcoming poor room acoustics and make up for the decreased speech intelligibility that comes with social distancing in larger rooms. Like a conventional sound reinforcement system, voice lift technology needs components such as microphones, amplifiers, digital signal processors and loudspeakers. And – in times of Covid-19 and beyond – it is the microphone side that presents the most convenient option for optimising a voice lift system.

Hybrid education is here to stay
Classrooms that blend the physical and virtual worlds are here to stay. The advantages they offer higher education facilities beyond touchless audio and convenience are obvious. For universities, remote students have become an additional source of income, and offering sophisticated solutions for remote participation will make courses more attractive for distance students.

Adding voice-lift technology will make these hybrid experiences agreeable for students who attend classes in person: Remote audio is clearly understandable anywhere in the room, and a presenter is clearly heard no matter how far one may be seated from them. Voice lift systems deliver a very natural and seamless communication experience between all members of the discussion, whether situated in the same room or participating remotely. In doing so, they enable educational institutions to not only address pandemic-related challenges, but effectively adapt to new paradigms in education that are sure to stick on long into the post-COVID era.

Ryan Burr is the head of technical sales and application engineering, professional audio at Sennheiser Middle East

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