Distance Learning: What We Learned, What Works and What Doesn’t – Commercial Integrator | Team Cansler

Editor’s Note: Commercial Integrator has partnered with IMCCA, the New York-based nonprofit industry association for unified workplace communications and collaboration, to release a quarterly supplement entitled Collaboration Today and Tomorrow, which will cover all aspects of collaboration across multiple perspectives focused .


On March 13, 2020, the President declared a national emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. If they have not already done so, all universities announced that they would switch to online learning on that day. It would only be temporary…or so they thought. What was initially seen as a short-term stopgap has become a transformative moment in learning: Distance learning has evolved from a niche category for enrollment to the largest determining factor in education as it evolves.

As technologists, we naturally jump on that things that enable distance learning. Many of these tools—for example, unified communication (UC) platforms, in-room cameras, ceiling microphones, learning management systems (LMS), and recording capabilities—may not once have been part of classroom standards. But while having the right tools is important for an effective installation, the tools themselves aren’t the lessons we’ve learned.

Content is critical for distance learning

Effective distance learning is about content – ​​specifically, delivering content and understanding content. Translated, this means it’s about the people: people who send the content and people who consume the content. Students have adapted very well to delivering online content. In fact, they’ve been doing this for well over a decade; Just look at the popularity of TikTok, Snapchat, FaceTime and a host of other social media communication platforms. The college-age demographic was primed to learn through the screen.

Faculty members, on the other hand, experienced a roadblock. “How do I take what I’ve been doing for 20 years and put it online?” asked the professors. “You don’t have to,” the tech managers replied. The world is different; Learning is different; and your teaching style and skills must also be different. Faculty must adapt to the technology provided and student experience with it.

Online teaching is a fundamentally different endeavor than face-to-face teaching. Distance learning is not traditional learning and should not be treated as such. The move away from conventional classrooms and towards virtual learning has exposed some weaknesses in traditional educational practices. Equity and access issues became prominent. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) used to be considered a checklist item in space design and construction, the pandemic has shown something important: people are behind the regulations. Likewise, best practices for online learning, such as those of Quality Matters (QM), needed to become commonplace instead of being “nice-to-haves”.

“A” comes before “V”, but the “V” is crucial for fairness and accessibility. The pandemic has helped clarify the old AV adage that audio is more important than video. In the context of working from home, many would argue that it’s okay if people can’t see you as long as they can hear you. However, this is a flawed theory when it comes to distance learning. While audio is important, subtitles are above it – and that’s visual. It is not the camera that’s so important, but the ability to consume the message of the content. And in a just digital world, this message is conveyed both acoustically and visually.

Learning without being able to pause a livestreaming professor for questions and discussion means the ability to rewind, relisten, and reread is also a critical factor in distance learning success.

Considering the visually/hearing impaired

Distance learning has proven to be a boon for people with visual and/or hearing impairments. Although most technology executives would agree that professors shouldn’t function as AV technicians and show producers, they are expected to follow best practices when delivering content. Previously, the teaching and learning offices of many institutions taught these practices, but they were rarely followed in face-to-face classes. For example, proper audio enhancement and voice boost, as well as proper microphone placement technique have always been important. It’s always good practice to make sure you’re speaking loudly enough—in the direction of the students (not the whiteboard). It’s also important to consider appropriate fonts and point sizes on presentation slides to ensure they can be easily read by the farthest students in the room.

When screen sharing became the norm, students were able to read the content without feeling left out and without fear of revealing their disability to their peers. Likewise, when streaming content, earbuds and headsets have been a great boon to people who used to have trouble understanding a professor’s soft voice or accent. Coupled with the aforementioned closed captioning, real digital justice could be achieved in distance learning.

Thankfully, these feature sets have been around long enough that there’s no turning back. Students now expect multimodal content delivery. Both higher education institutions and UC platform manufacturers have figured out how to use automation, plugins, and SaaS-to-hardware integrations to create interactive, accessible, and equitable content on the fly with limited faculty involvement.

Capitalize on the transformation

How will manufacturers and integrators benefit from this transformation? The answer lies in not focusing on the technology, but on the result. This involves the following questions: Who is being served? What obstacles might exist that could interfere with teaching and learning? Can the lectures be recorded? Can remote students hear and see? Can the presentation slides be uploaded for review? Is there enough lighting and projector brightness to be captured by an ePTZ or PTZ camera mounted in the back of the room? Since rooms are typically designed for seated viewing angles, is the camera angle sufficient for a distant student without being distorted? How does the faculty present in the room know that the distant student wants to ask a question?

All of these questions must be asked, thought through and answered before the appropriate technologies can be selected.

In summary, we learned that effective content delivery is important. What works is providing solutions for equitable and accessible learning. What doesn’t work is assuming that the world will or should go back to previous practices. The technology provided must complement the learning requirements to ensure that distance learning is not just an informational transaction. More importantly, there must be a connection to the needs of the student consumer.

For more Cooperation today and tomorrow Content can be found in our website archives.


Joe Way, PhD, CTS, is the Director of Learning Environments at the University of Southern California (USC).

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