Welcome to Spring 2021!
In the summer of 2020, we installed a significant amount of technology in the various classrooms to support SMUFlex and fully virtual courses. This technology worked well, but the lack of audience microphones in many spaces and the lack of the visual of the students in the classroom delivered a slightly disconnected experience for the class. As a remote graduate student myself, I was able to experience the efficacy as well as the limitations of our initial technology configuration firsthand. In order to provide a better experience for the spring semester, the University authorized the purchase of another set of technology that was installed over the Winter break.
There are two new components installed in the majority of the classrooms to be used this Spring. The DTEN device provides a view of the in-person students, audio from the in-person students, and transmits the audio from the remote participants to the classroom as well. The instructor will still join zoom from the classroom podium in order to provide the video of themselves within zoom and manage the shared content etc. The DTEN also serves as an electronic whiteboard and annotation tool which will be very useful in some courses. This device provides a more unified, seamless experience between the remote and in-person participants in the course. Several courses began early in January and have piloted this technology with great results. Take a look at our DTEN video demonstrating how the device can be used.
We also purchased and deployed 24 Meeting Owls particularly in some of the smaller rooms. Although many of these rooms already had audience microphones, these rooms were not equipped with a camera to capture the in-person students. For discussion-based courses, remote participants could hear what an in-person student was sharing but could not see them. The Meeting Owl provides a 360º panoramic view of the room and even focuses on the individual speaking to provide a more natural interaction while in zoom. Faculty can toggle between the built-in instructor video camera during their lecture and the meeting owl to enhance the classroom discussion. Check out our quick video of the meeting owl in a classroom.
We also modified the zoom spaces and reservation process based on student feedback. In the Fall, zoom spaces allowed students to book individual seats within a number of rooms across campus. While this provided a larger number of reservation options, students would be in a room with other students participating in different classes. This also meant that masks had to be worn! For the spring, most reservations will allow you to book the entire room regardless of the room size. If you are alone in the room, you no longer have to wear a mask. However, if you coordinate with other students to participant in the course together, masks should be worn.
Finally, several students requested a few computer labs to be equipped with dual monitors. This would allow them to view the zoom meeting on one screen while working within a software application in another. The following labs were reconfigured with the dual monitor option: Embrey 123, Junkins 102, and Caruth 485.
All of the rooms have been tested, new instructions posted, and minor repairs are being finished quickly. We look forward to this new semester and an improved experience for faculty and students. We’d love to hear your feedback as we continue to adapt and improve the technology configuration to support teaching and learning.