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University Challenged - Wins in Hybrid Learning

Learn how Chester University engaged active learning and Ascentae hybrid working technology to engage students and improve learning outcomes.

Webinar Transcript

Jon Knight: So thank you very much for joining our webinar. My name is John Knight. I’m the Managing Director of Ascentae. We are a UK distributor of 13 different brands of technology, but I’m delighted to be joined today by Mark Sargison, have I got that pronunciation right, Mark? Yes, excellent. So I’ll let Mark introduce himself properly, but he’s the AV development and support manager for the University of Chester. Welcome, Mark.

Mark Sargison: Hi, thank you. Yeah, that’s me. So I look after the AV installations and the AV team here at the University.

Jon Knight: Excellent. Well, thanks very much for taking the time to speak to me and tell us about some of your experiences of trying to take on the challenge, I suppose, of hybrid learning, hybrid teaching. But I wanted to take us right back, if possible as we start to, what you told me was your starting point in your research into this area. Which you said started with you coming to ISE in 2020, and just to set the scene, ISE 2020 was the last proper ISE before the world went into lockdowns and COVID took over our world and we suddenly put the words social and distancing next to each other, having never done that before. So back in that time, what was it that motivated you to start researching this topic?

Mark Sargison: Yeah, I mean, it’s crazy to think this was all sort of pre COVID, and so it all does feel a very long time ago, and I guess at the time we were really kind of exploring this, there was nothing kind of obvious to us anywhere at the time. So, we have multiple sites at Chester, although we have kind of main campus, one of our larger sites in Chester, and various buildings dotted around, we have sites around the northwest as far as Warrington, down to Shrewsbury even, and the Wirral and Birkenhead. So lots of different sites geographically, and a lot of the subjects move between them, and they might teach the same thing across different sites. So obviously the thinking was if we can deliver one session from one site, broadcast it to the other sites at the same time, it’s better for the students. Staff aren’t having to repeat the session over and over. So we were looking at kind of webinars, as we would call them, like this is now, but trying to, you know, a bigger scale, turn a lecture theatre, because obviously we needed some students in person, into a space that could be captured, ideally student speaking as well, Q&A could happen between sites. So I went to ISE three and a half years ago looking for tools to do that.

Jon Knight: And you described a few different scenarios there like Q&A with students. We’ve heard different universities have different strategies with regards to how they encourage their staff to teach. So, you know, some wanting more of a kind of front of room delivery versus more kind of active collaboration. I didn’t prep you for this question, I don’t think, but what’s University of Chester’s style in that regard? What are you trying to achieve from an experience point of view?

Mark Sargison: It’s both, very much moving towards active learning, that’s the way I think teaching is going and needs to go. The kind of passive lecture is seen, you know, by a lot of studies to be not always the best. I think there is sometimes a time and place for it, but. small group work, flip classroom, various kind of approaches are sort of seen to be better, more engaging, what students are sort of certainly wanting. Technology is potentially a part of that, but certainly what I try and do in Chester is not have one, any single room dictate teaching too much. So if there are different teaching styles and different learning styles with that, hopefully the tools can do that. I guess that’s where we were in 2019, early 2020 is trying to keep everyone happy. So again, trying to find products that would allow that, you know, we knew is perhaps not even entirely possible, but we wanted to give it a go because some people do like to stand and talk. Some subjects do need that. Others do need to be more engaging and have that engagement with the students in the room and obviously students in other sites. It was a big aim, something we’re still working on now and I think other institutions are the same. I know we’ll come to this, but you know, there’s more tools for that now, but at the time, yeah, it did feel like a bit of a challenge, certainly.

Jon Knight: Yeah, and we do want to try and talk broadly about the challenges of hybrid rather than just talking about one particular element of it. Although we would like to speak about that as well. But that sort of leads on to my next question, which is that we are going to talk in a second about the challenges of audio. And how you tried to approach that. But apart from audio, because I’d say our engagement started with you at ISE 2020 on an exhibition stand. What were your other thoughts around what you were trying to research and investigate? What other challenges did you identify back then?

Mark Sargison: It was, you know, obviously camera technology was a big part of that. We were still heavily video conferencing at that point. Kind of what I see is quite sort of traditional video conferencing. We were using Skype for business at the time as well as an institution, but not all of our telephony had moved over at that point. So we were at a very interesting point where it certainly felt to me that after visiting ISE in 2020 and before lockdown happened, that very small window of what a month or so still very much piecing it together. I got the sense all the tools were there. But I guess maybe looking at kind of main manufacturers and looking at other institutions, there didn’t seem to be a sort of single solution. There were lots of different uses by different people. But kind of putting that together to something tangible even, I guess, and something that would work together still did feel sort of quite far off at that point, you know, so I thought anyway. Lots of good things, but I guess in retrospect, certainly looking back, I think options were quite limited then broadly, you know? So yeah, it was an interesting time. I think COVID, I think has obviously really helped to develop a lot of this because more people have used it. So technology has followed, but you can see the core of it was there, I guess, at that point. Now, again, in retrospect, so, yeah, it was kind of, you know, we went into lockdown thinking, you know, we haven’t nailed this yet, and obviously things have changed so dramatically. And what’s it going to be like? At the point where we are allowed back on site. So that was a very interesting period. Certainly.

Jon Knight: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve just been reminded that we’ve had a question in via the Q&A, which I’ve just taken a look at. So a reminder to everybody that’s listening that if you would like to ask questions, probably more to Mark than to me, I guess, feel free to do so. The question is about what you’re using now. I’m going to come on to talking about that a little bit later in this discussion. So, I’m going to hold that question for whoever sent it and we’ll come on to that in a moment. But yeah, just to remind everybody, feel free to send your questions in. So if we just continue with the initial research that you were doing and what you were investigating back in 2020, from your perspective, trying to put these solutions together, were there any boxes that you felt absolutely had to be ticked or were high on your requirements list? And then subsequent questions about how do you then start to kind of prioritise stuff below the must haves?

Mark Sargison: Yeah, linking back to the sort of first point, I made you’ve got all these different sites. It’s something that we can support. Not necessarily remotely, but potentially remotely, you know, the team that I manage is centrally based in Chester, Shrewsbury is an hour away, Birkenhead 40 plus minutes, Warrington’s 40 minutes, and you’re relying on the M6 and M56 being good there, which, you know, you can’t really rely on that. So, the idea that we can provide some support remotely and it’s consistent, you know, maybe over the phone, the team can support, you know, if the product needs support, but one thing we find that is needed is that user support is needed and training is required. So something that we could put everywhere that would be relatively easy to use. And I guess, you know, something that I always have to think about is value for money as well. You know, can’t go too crazy on the budget. Something that tries to meet all that. It’s that happy compromise between Quality, ease of use, price, which I think is the dream for everyone really, isn’t it?

Jon Knight: Well, indeed, indeed.

Mark Sargison: Your question of prioritising, it’s probably ease of use, I think, because, you know, the cheapest product isn’t always the best. I think, you know, buying anything, not just within this environment, you know, you get what you pay for a lot of the time. And I think with good research, you can find that product that hits those as well as it can. But ultimately, You know, academics main priority isn’t technology. It is teaching and learning. So that product has to be easy to use. So I think that was kind of up there, something that we know we could put in a room. It’d be straightforward and with a small amount of support, people could use it easily and it would enhance, you know, it wouldn’t add to their stress or be something else to think about and then would take away from the learning experience.It can be put in and enhance what the students are getting who are ultimately our customers here.

Jon Knight: Yes, absolutely. And so we started with ISE 2020 and the fact that you went there to research, more webinar based tools, and then COVID comes along, you know, a month later. So how did that start to change your thinking, because I think you described to me it was quite a shift.

Mark Sargison: Yeah as I guess it was for everyone it did go, that webinar idea went very short term as everyone did it was just trying to work out what we were going to do. Teaching carried on so we adapted to being totally online, but me and a colleague who went to ISE as well, we still wanted to follow up with some of the stuff that we’d seen so we started doing online demos, but by the time we were coming out of it, so where did that take us kind of June time, I guess, 2020, you know, things were relaxing a little bit and we were looking ahead to September 2020 and hopefully some students on site. That’s when we were thinking about, you know, a hybrid approach and what might we need to deliver that? So I guess the same with everyone, you know, guidance was changing so regularly that it was hard to be like, okay, this would definitely be our strategy now. And I’d imagine everyone was in that same position, you know, you thought this, this could work, this could be good. But, in my head, I was thinking, what else is there? What might we need to rely on? So we couldn’t. Just pick a few products and be like, yeah, great. This is our plan for the next 1, 2, 3 years. You know, it was so uncertain at that point that, I guess, yeah, we were just keeping an eye on various areas just to see what we liked.

Jon Knight: Okay. So there was a recent webinar that Nureva ran. They actually ran from the US talking to one of their American university customers, and the strap line of the webinar was, is microphone mist marketing fluff. So we’re going to talk about your evaluation process in a moment, but just to talk about your understanding and my understanding of the different technologies that are on the market, because I think you’ve got a very strong audio background. So you know, one of the things that we’ve been trying to understand from our perspective of representing Nureva, who we’re going to talk about now, and also trying to make sure that we position correctly, is the difference between microphone mist and alternatives. So just to give a quick summary of my understanding of the alternatives, there’s standard or traditional microphone technology that is either directional or omni directional, and those tend to be the types of technologies that are used in either table based microphones or handheld microphones, for example. And then there’s also beamforming technology as well. Microphone mist is something slightly different though. What was your interpretation, if you like, of microphone mist and what it is? We’re going to talk about your experiences in a moment, but yeah, do you remember how it came across to you in those early days?

Mark Sargison: Well, it caught my attention because it isn’t something I’d heard of before, you know, audio is my background. So audio production, audio post production for moving images, what I spent a little while doing. Plus, you know, it’s all playing in bands for a long time, but, you know, I gave that up a long time ago. So, yeah, you see that, you know, familiar with the other kind of more traditional technologies. That phrase was something new and I guess part of me was probably a little bit cynical, honestly, because something new, is it just that fluff? And again, you know, part of my role is to be cynical and not just trust something straight away and ultimately hopefully test it, you know, does it do what it says it does? And it does. I think with anything like that, I guess is the right approach, isn’t it? Companies saying we can do this, well, you should never take that at face value. Give it a go and see does it live up to that. And I know we’re going to come and talk about this more, but, but ultimately, yes, it did. The concept, you know. Concept that I see you could read and understand. It’s like, yeah, okay, on paper, this, this really does sound great. It does sound different, and was something that we were really interested to try. And I think from everything at the show that year in 2020, me and a colleague, it was high on our list, because it was something new and we were familiar with the other technologies, and although we were going to trial those as well and had had some demos, you know, we thought, okay, let’s see what this new one does against it. What microphone mist offers. Is it substantially different, or is it just kind of more of the same with just a different name, you know, that’s the kind of… Position we were at that point.

Jon Knight: Yes. Well, I like that phrase. Is it more of the same with a different name that’s got a good ring to it.

Mark Sargison: But I guess, you know, a microphone is a microphone to be, you know, to really kind of get it down to the most basic level, you know, you are using something to pick up sound in a room, you know, that is kind of all it’s doing, even when you’re making up a drum kit, you’re kind of doing that. There’s obviously things to consider as well, acoustics and all the rest, but it’s still a mic, you know. So it could be easy to whack a new name on it, but it’s still the same thing. And I think in this case, you know, we were impressed, so it wasn’t that. So I guess my answer to that question is no, I don’t think it is. Absolutely not.

Jon Knight: Okay, excellent. Well we’re going to talk more about that in a second. I just want to focus on one particular point before we jump across into what will be a very short, five minute live demo. From your point of view, what was the evaluation process that you undertook in those early days? So you came out of ISE, you know, you got told about this new thing. You were cynical at the time, but also curious by the sound of it. So what did you do next?

Mark Sargison: I think we probably had the demo in probably April, I guess, late April, maybe May. By the time it’s all settled into COVID and have the time to following up, you know, from ISE, I guess it wasn’t our top priority initially. We did an online demo and we did that with a few companies after I see, you know, for various areas and, you know, make success. There’s only so much you can do via a teams or a zoom call, but I was really skeptical about the Nureva one initially. But then actually, then it occurred to me that it’s the perfect demo. You know, we did a teams or zoom call can’t remember what it was at the time. And we’re hearing the products, you know, the person was in a meeting room. There was a, can’t remember which version it was. It was in there and the test we had was great and it was brilliant. You know, let’s say you do a demo at ISE, even in the sort of more soundproof booths. It’s still a noisy show. It’s still a lot of noise around. So it isn’t the perfect, you know, headphones maybe aren’t the best, but this was. The exact way that we’d be using it and yeah, it was very simple and straightforward and we were impressed straight away. I think it was the point where they kind of moved to the corner of the room and turned their head away. In theory microphones shouldn’t work very well in that scenario, not at all, but, the quality that came over was really, really good. And that was sort of the moment for both me and my colleague. I guess we were trying to probably play it a bit cool at the time. You know, we didn’t want to show all of our cards at that point, but we really were impressed. So it was good. And it’s kind of the best way to do a demo, do it in the actual situation where you’ll be using it. If it goes well, then it’s a very good demo. Unfortunately, that was the case.

Jon Knight: Excellent. Well, on that note, we are, as I say, going to jump into a very quick live demo with two of my colleagues, George and Chris, and I’ll let them explain what they’re doing in a second. We’re actually showing two types of technology at the same time here, which George is going to explain. And hopefully that will provoke some discussion about where we’re going to go with our conversation in a moment, Mark. But George and Chris, over to you.

Chris: Thanks, John.

George: So today we are in a showroom in Leeds, and we work for Ascentae, and Ascentae are responsible for distributing Nureva, and Nureva are the people who Mark has had most experience with. But we focus on learning and teaching environments in five key ways. The first of which is display. So can educators show content in an engaging way on their display. Can they interact with it in an easy way? Second is the joining experience. And Mark, I really liked the quote from you, which was that educators or teachers, their main job is not technology. Their main job is teaching. So making that experience as easy as possible. Joining a lesson. You don’t want teachers having to spend 10, 20 minutes at the start of a session and having to bring people in remotely. And then the third is collaboration. Are your collaboration tools easy to use? Can you share PowerPoints? Can you use physical whiteboards or interactive whiteboards easily? But the two areas that we’re going to focus on today are audio and camera. And just to start off with, I’ll start with the audio. So today we’re using a Nureva HDL410 in a room that is 12 by 6 meters. And so you mentioned it, John, microphone mist. This is a patented technology from Nureva. And the way it works, which is different to traditional microphones, is that when you first set up a device, it will play white noise, which will go around the room, bounce off all the different walls in the room, and create virtual pickup points. And all this means is that as an educator, with no lapel microphones. I can start to move around this quite large space. This is a 12 by 6 meter space. And I will be heard perfectly clearly and evenly no matter which direction I’m facing. And although this is a 12 by 6 meter room, you can actually achieve this in rooms of up to 17 by 11 meters in the most recent generation of HDLs. So as Mark mentioned, if actually I as an educator were facing the wall. And now we’re writing on a whiteboard, I’m not going to have to worry about being seen or heard, or not being heard even. Because I can just get on with what I do, which is teaching, without having to worry about, am I facing the right way, am I doing the right things. And what’s quite important in a lot of teaching environments is that things move around in the space and you don’t want things blocking your audio. So I’ll take this example of this large screen that’s next to me. What I can actually do is stand behind this screen and talk into the back of it and still be heard perfectly clearly. So, for educators, they can get on with teaching, they can put it in, especially if Mark, you’ve gradually moved on to put it in most of your teaching rooms, I believe. But educators don’t have to worry about what they’re doing with the audio because it’s all sorted for them. And it’s just a simple matter of an audio bar on a wall. Now, the second part I’m going to mention, and you might have noticed it already, is the cameras. So currently, we’re using three AI driven cameras from Huddly. And the reason why, again, AI is important in this case is because like Nureva, it’s focused on ease of use for teachers, for educators. So when I am speaking, you’ll notice that occasionally it will zoom in on my face and occasionally it will cut to reaction shots of my colleague, Chris. But when I actually move around the room, it’s gonna show the whole room view. So you as a remote participant are not missing out on anything in the room. But the important thing is that I am not actually doing anything in this environment to affect that change. So actually as an educator, you are not having to worry about does this technology work in this way? Am I switching it to this camera when I’m moving to this place? Because the AI is actually doing all that work for you with a mixture of facial recognition technology and also small microphones to see where noise is coming from, just to give you a direction. Well, that is what we’re going to focus on today, and I’ll return to you, John and Mark to discuss further. You’re on mute, John.

Chris: John. You’re on mute.

George: John?

Jon Knight: School boy error, I’m on mute. But yeah, thank you very much George and Chris, I was just saying I appreciate that Chris was just there to give us those reaction shots as we were cutting the cameras, but I appreciate you being there and helping us, and hopefully that sort of leads us on to talking about some of the topics I want to go on and talk to Mark about in a second. Just to give you a bit of context, this camera technology you’re seeing is currently in early, sort of release phase. So we’re Huddly’s UK distributor and we’re helping them test the technology. We wanted to use this opportunity to kind of showcase the fact that this is the type of technology that is coming through in the next few months. So let’s move on to the here and now Mark and start talking about that. So, roughly, I believe you’ve got about 65 rooms throughout the university that you’ve installed Nureva into. But you did start with a very small number of systems in the first sort of six to nine months. So can you just talk us through the journey that you’ve been on now and maybe why you started with a small number?

Mark Sargison: It was just a test initially. Certainly Chester took a more, I want to pick a good word here, sort of controlled approach kind of during COVID and coming out of COVID. I say coming out of COVID, you know, it’s not totally gone, but you know, from sort of mid 2020 onwards to, I guess, kind of last September, even looking at how we wanted to exist as an institution, you know, that split between online or in person. So we didn’t rush to bring technology in straight away. So our initial response was just to put pretty simple webcam in every room and that offered a very basic audio and video solution. Microphone and video solution. And that was just the initial one. You know, no one knew where things were going to go. Obviously, there was that second lockdown in early 2021. So I think it proved to be for us the right approach. And we kept online for a little while with small amounts on the site. So getting those couple of units in initially was just a way to test. My colleague and I had heard the technology and really liked it, but we had to then obviously sort of prove it to the rest of the institution. You know, get academics using it. My line manager had to get involved and the department get behind it. So, yeah, it was a question of selling it and us experiencing it in person. So as a team, what’s it like to install it? And we work with Roche AV. They’ve got a sole supply agreement with us. So working with them, and sort of getting to know the product as well. How it would sort of slot into a fairly standard room type or few different room types that we’ve got going. So it was just seeing how it would integrate all round and I mentioned before how we could support it, how users integrate with it. Another key thing was that I’ve tried a few other solutions in some rooms with air conditioning and had real problems battling with that. One solution just amplified the air conditioning, which was awful. So I put one of the units in there, I think it was just a single HDL300 and it was incredible, you know, that first demo had been really good during lockdown, but listening to it in the room or hearing a sort of recording of the call afterwards and speaking to a colleague who was sort of in another location to test it was just sort of incredible. And like I said, I come from an audio post production background. Having to apply that to kind of audio and pro tools was a fairly long manual process and to hear this being done within a couple of seconds, you know, you could hear the noise fading out of the recording was sort of annoying in a way that I’d spent so much time with noise reduction software, and here’s this bit of hardware just getting rid of it in literally a few seconds. It was, you could hear the tail going, like I said, two or three seconds, it was gone. The air conditioning was loud, you know, I was in the room, I could hear how loud it was, and a colleague on the other end said it sounded great, go to the corner of the room, really, really clear, you know, and what I think was particularly good, I think, was when we tested it in this large lecture theatre, and Roche V, the engineers were still there, and I remember hearing that recording, the three of us were stood apart, we were socially distancing still. I remember listening to the recording and acoustically it was so clear. It sounded like we were all stood in the same spot in the room, which we weren’t. But you know, you can hear a room, you can hear if someone’s further away, you know where they are, they’re near a wall. And yeah, that’s nice in a musical recording, but when you’re listening to someone, as that demo just proves, no matter where you are in the room, it’s this good, crisp, isolated, but not overly processed audio signal. With those two rooms, we went for a large room and a sort of fairly standard seminar room, but this air conditioning noise, that I thought was two good tests, put it through its paces and yeah, very, very happy with the results.

Jon Knight: Just out of curiosity, I don’t think I’ve prepped you for this either, so apologies for going off script slightly, but, when it comes to your understanding of how the technology is doing what you just described, you know, so that that example of the air conditioning unit, do you have a sort of technical appreciation of how that’s happening? Or not? And I’m only asking you this because, you know, ultimately you’ve experienced it, you know, in person, so to speak, you know that that’s your problem room that’s got that fuzzy air conditioning unit, and then you’ve experienced the technology eliminating it. Do you understand how it’s doing that or not?

Mark Sargison: I don’t know exactly. I guess I don’t want to kind of reveal the secret. It’s like learning magician’s tricks, isn’t it? I’d rather kind of live in it. But I can assume possible ways that it’s done again, you know, background and post production, you know. Software is advancing all the time, isn’t it? The tools to do that are sort of very much there. But I think it was just the hardware is so small in quantity. You know, you’ve got the unit on the wall, you’ve got the capture box in this case, module. Sorry, and between that, it just feels like there’s not enough to do all this work, but again, it’s got this ease of install, but this powerful tool and powerful products. It’s doing something right. And I’m happy to live in ignorance.

Jon Knight: Okay. Well, I’ll just give a quick explanation. So the actual feature that you’re describing is called intelligent sound targeting. So it is a sort of feature that Nureva described. It’s not magic in that regard that they’re trying to keep hidden. So, what it’s doing is it’s listening to the room and the product is always continuously calibrating, and so it’s trying to identify any persistent noises that exist in the room, like air conditioning. Projector fan noise would be another good example, heating systems, whatever that noise is though, if it is persistent and it continuously exists, they built it into their software to automatically eliminate those noises. So it is a deliberate feature and it is interesting to hear you describe your tests, where you heard it decreasing, because that’s the system detecting the fact that the noise is persistent. I mean, I probably talk too much anyway, but even I stop talking at some point, whereas those persistent noises don’t go away. So that’s where there’s that gradual elimination of the noise that occurs, and they are trying to make that a more dynamic feature within the system as well, and we can give longer demos to show you some of these features, but it’s obviously fantastic to hear that you’ve actually experienced that within your environment. So, I mean, hopefully you wouldn’t be here, talking to us if you weren’t kind of satisfied, so to speak, but let’s just move on to the feedback that you’ve been experiencing or receiving. So, you know, what feedback have you had from people in the university?

Mark Sargison: We’ve not had a lot, which I take as a very good thing, because I think in most areas of life, generally when you hear things, it’s bad news, and so I’m very pleased that over the last, I guess, three years now, isn’t it? That we’ve not had a lot and it’s all been good. The ease of use is there. Certainly the AV team here like it, Roche AV like it. It’s very, very easy to install, very easy to integrate into our existing sort of setup. It’s now become a standard in certain rooms, certain room types. So, yeah, it’s very, very good. And yeah, I really do take kind of no news is good news. And when people are specifically sort of told about it, obviously, we offer training sessions and stuff like that. You know, the team offers that. When it’s specifically touched on, it’s kind of highlighted. This is what you’re using. This is what the technology is. And people then kind of have a real understanding of it. You know, they just assume it does what it needs to do, and they don’t have that comparison. But they are kind of impressed when they know what it is. What it’s doing, and I think it, I guess, in a way, sort of interactions I’ve had with staff is that it gives, I don’t know, it gives some sort of added confidence, potentially, that we talked before, you know, your colleague mentioned before that you don’t want all that set up time. If you can trust technology, it’s such a good thing. It’s really doing what it intended to do. It’s doing it easily. So I think it gives, sort of comfort in a way, knowing that we’re on hand if the help is needed, which it isn’t, it’s not needed at any point. Yeah, it just helps. So again, the academic focus on that primary aim, which is to deliver a good learning experience.

Jon Knight: Yeah, and on that note, you talked to us previously about the challenges of being in an academically focused environment. What do you mean by that when it comes to trying to deliver what you’re offering here?

Mark Sargison: Ideally, obviously the technology just needs to work. Students have expectations and then staff have expectations from the room and the technology in order to meet those student expectations. So, you know, we do have our work cut out. We need these tools that work. We need these tools that are reliable. Either need something, like I’ve said a couple of times, that can be replicated easily around, that a central team can support, that doesn’t require too much training for the team to learn, so any member of the team can support this. We can train other people at sort of remote sites to do it. So it’s all of those challenges and obviously, I don’t, to clarify my statement before, academics aren’t not technologists. You know, technology is a large part of what they do, but they obviously probably ideally just want to focus on the teaching and learning element. Technology will always be there and will grow and maybe some staff will be more interested than others. But it’s that it’s understanding, that there’s a range of users and students might want to use the spaces. We have conferences as well. You know, there are a range of users here. And so we need something that’s going to be easily transferable and understandable between them all. And this is a product that’s been able to do that effortlessly. Really, like I said, this lack of feedback generally really is a good thing. Because we definitely get, you know, negative feedback when it’s about there. So it’s not like we don’t get that, as is the case with any sort of customer supporting team. So yeah, it’s, it’s a real positive how little we’ve heard about this, but when people are aware of it, that positive feedback.

Jon Knight: And on that note, then let’s talk about support quickly, because you described earlier that you’ve got multiple sites, you’re relying on motorway traffic, yeah, M56, M6 traffic. What’s your experience been like of the reliability of the product and how many support scenarios have you had to kind of tackle?

Mark Sargison: Very few, you know, there really has been, I think one or two. Very good every time, you know, we have a good relationship with Roche and I think the sort of chain that’s there with Ascentae and then with Nureva, that dynamic works incredibly well. You know, I know the support’s there. So yeah, very, very happy with that. I think it’s, yeah, I tend to talk quite a lot, but that really is a short answer because it’s been very little needed and when it has been there, it’s been excellent.

Jon Knight: Excellent, and I want to talk about what your future plans are in a second, but we did have a question that came in earlier. The question was, what platforms are you using now? So I think that may have been in response to the fact that you described originally Skype for Business as one of your platforms. But if you like, maybe you could just explain to everybody that’s listening, what is your current set up, both from a platform point of view and also what you currently have, and that will help us to talk about the future.

Mark Sargison: So yeah, we selected Teams. We’ve been using it a little bit before COVID, fortunately, but yeah, we rolled it out everywhere. When the first lockdown hit. So yeah, we’re Teams everywhere. The way we integrate the Nureva into the rooms is they go into the lectern via a USB switch. So, you know, primary use is probably the lectern PC, which most people will use. But a lot more people using their laptops, again, still moving between sites. Maybe they’re working from home a couple of days a week and then coming on site. They can pre prepare everything ahead of time. And then just put their laptop on the lectern, plug in a cable, and then they’re connected to Nureva that way. So it isn’t just set to the PC, anyone using the room can bring their own device if they want to, and access it that way. And that’s been a successful way to use it too, because it doesn’t then just limit it to staff. Competitors can come in if they don’t have a login, they can use their own device, but still access the room hardware as well, and it has been successful using it that way, no problems at all.

Jon Knight: And you’ve told me that in terms of where you are now, that you currently feel confident that you’ve made some good decisions. What is it that’s given you that confidence, both from the respect of, you know, I think you talked about support, for example, or reliability, and I’m sure that’s one element, but what are the reasons? I mean, we met again at ISE this year, for example. What else is it about a technology vendor that makes you feel confident?

Mark Sargison: I think certainly with Nureva, it’s the release of the new products and the development of it, you know, there’s this ongoing development, which is obviously always really great to see. I guess the company could rest on its laurels. I think that’s the right phrase. It’s a really good product. Brilliant. I’m just going to stick with that. But the development that’s happened over the last three years has been really, really positive. And it’s something we can sort of embrace more. Not really had an opportunity to yet because we are so happy with the HDL300s. So seeing that technology and yeah, I see 2023 was the first time I’ve been since 2020 wasn’t able to get out in 2022, so it’s just nice to see that, you know, obviously there’s products in all areas, not just audio, and we’ve made choices in certain areas, and it was just good to see that actually what we had selected was good. I guess, you know, maybe buy a new car and then a new model of a different manufacturer comes out. Oh, I wish I bought that one instead. And there was none of that kind of envy. There’s obviously some great products out there, and I think the last 3 years and the impact of COVID has had this huge increase in products available and, you know, thinking back to ISE 2020 and what our needs were then, and feeling that it was quite limited and concern over whether we could meet these sort of needs that we had, users are spoilt for choice now. Again, we’re very, very happy with Nureva for an audio solution. And yeah, it was just nice, nice to sort of have that, that confidence and to know that we can build on it. Obviously this was COVID specific because things did change so much. You didn’t know what was going to happen, what guidelines the government were going to need to kind of change and put on people. Couldn’t really look forward, but now I think we’re in a position where, yeah, we’ve made this choice and it feels very, very positive, you know, some strategy that can remain and that there shouldn’t be, I’m going to say this out loud, there shouldn’t be anything that changes that in the near future. We can stick with this path, work with Ascentae, work with Nureva for this area and kind of grow that relationship and grow our use of the products.

Jon Knight: Excellent. So let’s start, you know, wrapping up and talking about the future. So, what do you have planned for the future in terms of enhancing any of these experiences? More of the same, you know, we’re happy, so I think continue with that, but do embrace the new products that are coming out. So the connect module two is very exciting. Seeing that at ISE was really, really interesting. We started to use Aver cameras and there’s a link there between the 2 manufacturers, so not really had an opportunity to pursue that much, but we’ve got all the sort of tools in place to do so.

Mark Sargison: So that’s our kind of next step. Obviously there’s the new HDL products. So yeah, see what it’s like, you know, go through a similar version to what we did at the start and hopefully test them out and see what they’re like and work with you guys to better understand how we do things and how we could develop, and yeah, just keep that conversation going really.

Jon Knight: And let’s talk about cameras because we’ve just experienced a new approach to a multi camera experience, which, you know, you can comment on if you’d like, but just generally, what’s your sort of strategy around camera technology for teaching spaces?

Mark Sargison: This is, you know, it’s something that we’ve come to later than maybe other institutions, but it was done intentionally. I think we waited to see how things unfolded before we kind of took the step. So we brought the microphone technology into the rooms first instead of selecting camera. I think I am swayed by my sort of previous experience with audio, but for me, you know, we could do this webinar now and the cameras could be on, but if the audio is not good, if the audio goes off. It’s pointless.

Jon Knight: As I demonstrated earlier.

Mark Sargison: It has to happen once. Always has to happen once. Yeah, for the very small part of the population who can lip read, it’s kind of redundant. So for me, I really thought that if that audio experience is good, and if we can focus on that, that’s technology that will. It’s broader than just hybrid teaching, you know, if people want to produce, I don’t know, asynchronous content in the room, they just want to go into a seminar room and record a session for their students to watch before a session happens, you know, sort of go for the flip classroom approach, then they can do that. If they want to do some lecture capture, generally, it doesn’t just have this single purpose and a microphone will allow that. Somebody wants to sync some audio with a PowerPoint slide. For me, it was more important that the audio was good. And yes, there’s body language. I don’t even want to, I’m not going to say that the visual elements and visual cues aren’t important. Of course they are, but I think you can afford to lose that visual element before you can lose the audio. So by focusing on that, it was better. So we’re coming to cameras later. We’re starting with the strategy now and we’re happy with it. But, you know. The demo before was impressive, And I have some experience with kind of, you know, video production in general and a multi camera shoot is always going to be good. You’ve got different angles and the quality there was excellent. So the two pairs, you know, it’s a very good product and really does help enhance hybrid sessions or even just recording general sessions. We do a lot of public lectures here, things like that, and that would really enhance those as well. No set up time, you know, you’re going to teams. Make sure you’ve got the right input. You’re ready to go and from a user perspective and a support perspective again. I mean, that’s amazing. Really, really is just what you want.

Jon Knight: Excellent. Well, we’re going to wrap up in a second, but one final quick question. I’ll refer to the question of this we’ve had in. For anybody that’s listening to this webinar who’s, you know, either not happy with the choices that they’ve made to date or would like to, you know, research more into this area, what advice as a decision maker within a university would you give your, you know, your colleagues or your peers? When it comes to investigating this topic?

Mark Sargison: Trying it, get a demo, if you can get a unit in, put them in a difficult room, be acoustically extraneous noise, whatever it might be a combination of the two, you know, really large rooms, whatever it might be, and give it a go, put it through its paces, because that’s what we did, you know, that’s the experience I’ve got and why we selected Nureva and it was incredibly positive. And I think, yeah, with something like microphones or an audio solution, it’s about using your ears. So get an opportunity to do that, you know, ideally in your environment that you know, well, you know, that initial one in the office remotely was really, really good. It was a really strong starting point, but I think it was when we put it in the rooms, that was, that’s when it was sold for us. So, yeah, that’d be my advice.

Jon Knight: Excellent. Thank you so much, Mark. We’ve got a few questions that have come in, so I’m just going to quickly answer a couple of them because I think there’s probably more for me to answer than you. So what camera brands can Nureva integrate with? Currently, the list of camera brands that there are, there’s already existing integration with is Aver, Lumens, and also Extron, although Extron don’t make cameras, they have camera controllers, which will give you options around choosing other forms of camera because The Nureva technology is talking to the Extron controller. Just to explain what we mean by camera integration. So in all Nureva’s products from the HDL300 up, there is now the ability to integrate with camera technology to trigger events from the camera. So, some of the technology is based on angles. Which is what most other technology vendors use currently. But there is a new approach coming through which is in beta with a couple of vendors now which is with the new HDL410. Which allows you to have a grid, so almost think X, Y coordinates within a room, that can be used to trigger different camera events, and certainly that will work very, very strongly in large spaces where you may consider multi cameras to be used. We’ve got a question about a demonstration. If you’d like a demonstration, by all means, contact the team at Ascentae through ascentae.com, or if you’d like to speak to the team in Canada, you can also book live demos through Nureva’s website as well, which is nureva.com. And then another question about how many UK universities are using Nureva audio. On that note, Mark, are you aware of other universities that are using Nureva? I mean, the technology is probably being promoted in the UK now for about four-ish years, so it’s still a relatively new brand. Would you have any sense of an answer to this question?

Mark Sargison: I don’t, unfortunately. I guess because I’m happy with our use, you know, we’ve not been searching for a different product, you know, there’s obviously groups where AV managers, let’s say from different institutions, you know, discuss things, but I guess I’ve not been involved in those conversations because I’m sort of happy with where we are. It’s a bit of a sort of selfish thing not to share that, but yeah, so I don’t know off the top of my head.

Jon Knight: Well, I don’t know the precise number off the top of my head, but what I can say is the answer is between 30 and 40 UK universities that have bought Nureva. Of that list, there are probably between 10 and 15 who are now actively recommending or specifying Nureva into their spaces in a similar way to what Mark is doing. The number is growing, and because of Nureva’s approach to audio, for these challenging spaces being something that is very scalable, we’re looking to try and speak to more and more customers that may want to research a new way of doing things from a vendor that’s proving, with their approach to this technology that Microphone Mist isn’t just marketing fluff. And to be honest, I might try and wrap it up there unless any other questions come in. Whilst I’m doing that, if you do want to send any other final questions in, please do so. But, I’d like to just finish by thanking Mark for his time today. We really appreciate it. Your feedback is not just valuable to us, in this regard, but also Nureva take feedback from their customers to try to improve their products. So any feedback that we received from existing Nureva customers always seem very high priority, feedback from the Nureva product development team as well. So thank you so much, Mark, for spending this time with us.

Mark Sargison: No problem. Thank you.

Jon Knight: And I’m going to wrap it up there. So thank you very much to our listeners. We hope it’s been useful to listen in on some of the challenges that Mark has been trying to tackle, when it comes to the challenges of hybrid learning and hybrid working. Obviously he’s still on his journey, and hasn’t necessarily concluded yet. So if anyone has any feedback for us, please let us know. But otherwise, thank you very much for your time. 

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