I feel it’s time to do a round-up of where we’ve got to with the various work going on around our teaching spaces as of March 2022. We’ve come a long way since the start of the Hybrid Teaching Spaces (HTS) project. Much of this information is a repeat of previous posts but I hope that putting it all together helps answer some of the questions I’ve been encountering. In the future all this information will be concentrated into a service description once we know what that service looks like, but for now read on and let me know if you have any questions.
- Hybrids Teaching Spaces: There are currently 50 enhanced teaching rooms designated for hybrid teaching that are allocated through timetabling to modules that indicated their needs at the start of the semester. These rooms are being gradually upgraded from the hybrid-light design called Capture & Stream to the full-hybrid design called Dual-Mode. See our room tracker for details.
- Standard Teaching Spaces: Outside of these enhanced rooms, standard teaching rooms are being gradually upgraded with the Capture & Stream design to eliminate the need for the mobile kits currently deployed to schools. Note that this project is only covering the installation of a basic camera and microphone – the basic hardware of the rooms will remain as they were pre-pandemic.
- Support: Support for these rooms is being delivered by a mix of existing staff in End-User-Services (UoDIT) and the temporary staff from the hybrid teaching spaces project:
- Dial *1 from a teaching space if you are having an issue.
- Outside of a live situation, report issues to Help4u.
Hybrid Teaching Spaces project (Enhanced Teaching Rooms)
The Hybrid Teaching Spaces (HTS) project was commissioned in the summer of 2021 with the goal of rapidly developing our hybrid teaching facilities and provide this much-needed capability to our education community. This project was conceived during the pandemic but has the long-term view of providing a foundation of enhanced teaching facilities to support further teaching innovation in the future.
Semester 1 (21/22): Capture & Stream (hybrid-ish)
To deploy a level of hybrid capability in time for teaching in Sem 1 (21/22) we designed the limited but functional Capture & Stream (C&S), which is essentially a microphone and camera, combined with Blackboard Collaborate and a workflow. Fifty core teaching rooms, along with a number of specialist teaching facilities were identified as being suitable for upgrade to enhanced teaching rooms. We deployed the C&S kit as an interim measure to these core rooms and supported their use while we worked with our AV partners, StreamTec, to develop and test our true hybrid design called Dual-Mode.
During this semester, we also deployed mobile kits to schools to provide some additional flexibility should the core fifty rooms prove inadequate to demand. These mobile kits were only intended as a stop-gap measure and we there was never an intention to deploy full hybrid capability beyond the enhanced teaching rooms.
In addition to upgrading our core teaching rooms, the project was tasked with bringing hybrid capability to some of our specialist teaching spaces. This work has included technology like large touchscreens for Architecture, advanced AV trollies in DJCAD and a range of facilities in lab spaces. These specialist facilities have been worked on directly with the schools and we hope to continue to partner in this way.
Semester 2 (21/22): Dual-Mode (true hybrid)
At the start of December 2021, we were able to start training staff in the use of our new Dual-Mode hybrid design using our first innovation teaching space in the library. This design represented a true hybrid capability and involved a complete replacement of the equipment in the designated rooms from networking to the lecture desk.
The original intention was to begin upgrading rooms from C&S to Dual-Mode in Semester 1 and have the rest completed for the beginning of Semester 2. The complexity of deploying this modern design with ever changing lockdown rules and frequent staff absences meant that we were unable to meet this target with around twenty rooms being completed for the beginning of teaching in January. Since then, we have completed a total of thirty rooms, working whenever timetabling is able to provide the required two-day space to complete the work.
When will the project be completed?
Because we are subject to the timetable (which is severely overworked right now), we cannot give a firm date for completing the upgrade of all fifty rooms. We are working with our AV contractor currently to prepare for room upgrades over the Easter holidays and we hope to get a lot of rooms completed during the break. Remember that all enhanced teaching rooms have C&S as a minimum so can support a degree of hybrid even if they have not yet been upgraded to Dual-Mode.
Enhanced Teaching Spaces?
Although this isn’t official yet, it is our intention to re-designate ‘Hybrid Teaching Spaces’ as ‘Enhanced Teaching Spaces’ in time for the new academic year 22/23. This change will be announced in the coming months and is intended to reflect the changing role of these rooms as we move into a post-pandemic future (fingers crossed).
Standard Teaching Rooms
Upgrading fifty hybrid rooms along with other specialist facilities has been an important project, but what about all the other teaching spaces? There is something like ninety-two centrally managed teaching spaces and a further hundred-and-ten school managed rooms of various kinds. These rooms that represent our full teaching estate and we have observed several common issues in their use this semester:
- Standard rooms being used for hybrid teaching when they are either not equipped for the purpose or the mobile kits schools have been inadequate for the task.
- Lecture Capture is a default policy requirement for appropriate teaching activities. This means that equipment is needed even if there is no hybrid requirement for a particular class.
- The consistency of how these rooms is equipped can vary, especially in the non-centrally managed rooms. This lack of predictability makes it hard for timetabling, lecturers, and support staff.
- Reliability has been a major problem with equipment simply not working when needed. Hybrid teaching spaces have had issues, as would be expected with new equipment, but it is a known quantity and such issues have been dealt with quickly. Other rooms have not had any attention or investment for years which can end up disrupting teaching and causing stress in ways that could be avoided.
So, what’s the plan?
As detailed in a previous blog post, a mixed team from CTIL and UoDIT has been tasked with some interim measures to address the above issues, at least in the short term. Here are the objectives from that previous messaging:
- Rapidly design and deploy minimum viable lecture capture kit to all centrally managed teaching rooms. This will be based on the existing Capture and Stream solution and establish a baseline capability.
- Establish and provide training for a simple lecture capture solution using the existing YuJa video management platform.
- Increase the available in-room support by recruiting two additional temporary staff to join our existing staff, Indrani and Josh. This team will work alongside existing resource in End-User-Services and focus on supporting teaching activities.
- Survey all centrally and school controlled teaching spaces, cataloguing faults and notifying the appropriate follow-on service. This survey will also allow us to start planning future improvements to our teaching estate.
- Implement pro-active teaching checks.
- Improve communication between departments and users, including a new room tracker that shows everyone an up-to-date status of rooms.
There is no timeline on this work as it’s being done as fast as our resource allows while we wait for the digital strategy work to produce a long-term strategy and resource plan.
We’ve been quiet about this, but considerable progress has been made in the last few weeks.
- Sixty-two rooms are now equipped for either Dual-Mode or Capture & Stream, and we are receiving and installing new kit every day.
- The new ‘Here to Help‘ service is up and running and you can book either a training session or have someone come to meet you at your teaching session to help talk you through setting up.
- All centrally managed teaching rooms have been surveyed and we’re now going through the school-controlled ones
Hopefully, you have already started seeing improvements in the equipment and the reliability of rooms even though we are late in the day for this semester.
I’ll continue to update on this work periodically, but the main message I want to convey for standard teaching spaces is that people are working hard across departments to improve the standard of the service for your teaching.
I hope this summary of where we are is useful even though we’re in a bit of a transitional period while we wait to see how the digital strategy shapes up. I’ll continue to work with the mixed team from CTIL and IT to keep moving forward with this work so that you can access reliable, capable teaching spaces that are clearly organised and properly supported. Until next time.