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“Game-changing” Tech Updates Improve Remote Learning

January 25, 2021

It took a few days for the dust to begin to settle on the new academic term at The College of Idaho but, as it did, Alan Price ‘10 and Jeff Reed were finally able to exhale. At least a little.

“’Cautious optimism’ would be the buzz word, for sure,” said Price, the College’s associate director of Information Technology.

He and Reed spent much of the break between the fall and spring semesters doing the usual technological upgrades around campus: server updates, software and system updates, and any repairs to campus technology that need to be made. However, this year, there was a further challenge – adding and updating cameras and microphones to improve the overall quality of the College’s remote-learning environment until faculty and students are all allowed back into classrooms.

Price and Reed were the two who actually did the installing. Four classrooms in the Kathryn Albertson International Center (KAIC) are now equipped with conference-room-style microphones, hanging from the ceiling in each room to improve overall audio quality and new cameras. The cameras have two functions. One camera provides a closer image of the presenter. That camera can follow, or “track” the presenter as they move about the front of the room. The second camera is a set or “fixed” wide shot of the classroom that doesn’t move. The presenter can choose which camera is in use. In some instances, it’s both; a picture-in-picture feature that shows the wider image with the presenter in the corner.

“It essentially gives the ability for a close-up of the presenter, usually the professor or instructor, and then one as well that looks from the back of the classroom, over the whole class,” Price said. “You can actually see your classroom, see your peers.”

The early feedback has been positive. Rick Goodwin ‘83, a Business & Accounting lecturer, pointed out the benefits have enhanced hybrid classes. Hybrid classes have limited in-person students as well as remote-learning students.

“I can now move to the whiteboard and students online can see me.  It has freed me from being tethered to the podium when teaching to both in-person and online students,” Goodwin said. “The new audio equipment was installed so that students online can hear not only my voice but the voice of students in the classroom. This is a game-changer for me teaching as we deal with the pandemic.”

It sounds routine, but Price points out that it was tedious. The College needed to identify rooms on campus that worked, structurally and size-wise, to lay out and install the new equipment. Then, products needed to be identified that would fit the classroom and also could be reasonably afforded. And it had to be done quickly. Once the plan was in place, there was one last hurdle to clear, and it was one that the College could not control.

“With continued global supply-chain disruptions, there was no guarantee that we’d be able to find everything in stock,” Price said. “And, if we did, that it would get here (to the College) in time.”

He went on to explain that it wasn’t as easy as going to the neighborhood electronics store and buying whatever was on the shelves. The equipment needed to be sturdy and reliable, yet also user-friendly enough where a variety of people could use it without encountering too many problems.

“The last pieces arrived during our (campus) closure (in late December) and we finished installation the day before classes,” he said.

The upgraded classrooms will continue to benefit the College once the pandemic has subsided and full, in-person learning resumes. They saw use last week during a poverty simulation as part of the MLK Student Voice Day.

“So far, very positive,” Price said of the upgrades. “At the moment, we’re pleased.”

The College of Idaho has a 130-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition, and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.