In the run-up to back-to-school preparations, hybrid virtual classrooms are under the spotlight these days. More and more educational institutions are discovering the power and flexibility they offer academies, faculty and students. The Belgian university KU Leuven recently received the 'EUNIS Award for best overall AV-enabled Education Space 2020' from the European university association EUNIS. Its hybrid virtual classroom at the Kulak campus in Kortrijk uses Barco’s weConnect hybrid classroom.
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The idea behind hybrid classrooms is simple: depending on the circumstances, students can choose to attend lectures either physically in the room or remotely. This could be due to travel bans, ill health or working commitments. The participants – whether they are in the physical classroom or remote – can all seamlessly interact with each other, take part in the same polls and use the same whiteboard.
The context is that many people are finding that video-conferencing solutions such as Zoom or Teams can be handy in the short term but disorienting for some after a time. A recent article in the Financial Times talked of “Zoombies” – people that end up being troubled by the fact they constantly see others but are not actually with them. The tough reality is that just placing screens in a classroom does not necessarily make remote students feel they are part of the actual class. The danger is that after a while the remote students can suffer from feeling close but nonetheless distant.
As opposed to dedicated classroom solutions, many of the video-conferencing solutions out there reduce the human connection to a head on a screen. Some limit the number of people that can be seen on the screen - usually the ones that talk the most – and have limited interactive possibilities. This is not the best way to run classes.
Estella Griffioen is a consultant in educational innovation at the Inholland University of Applied Science in the Netherlands and owner of Didactivate, an educational advice and training consultancy. She has worked on a number of systems, including Barco’s weConnect. “The advantage of Barco’s hybrid virtual classroom is that you see all the faces,” she notes. “There are faculty members that will find this useful if they continue online teaching [after confinement], as they can see all the students and the students can see them in full. From a teacher’s perspective, they don’t have to sit in front of a computer and watch a small screen all day.”
The fuller palette of interactive tools also ensures engagement for everyone, remote or otherwise. Teachers are in a natural teaching environment and can easily deploy single-question polls, split screens, silent questions, content sharing and an interactive whiteboard to keep the energy flowing. This means remote students are totally involved in the lesson and feel less distant.
The need for educational institutions to deal with tighter sanitary requirements is also driving some of the interest in both remote learning and hybrid virtual classes. More specifically, they enable greater flexibility when managing courses. It is now possible to reduce the number of people in the classroom to respect social distancing without disrupting the remote students’ agendas and while ensuring that they remain fully engaged in the actual lessons.