Sound Solutions: Q&A on Connected Classroom AV Technology and Unified Communications

By N. Justine Hunter | 4 min

As we move into the start of a new academic school year, many institutions continue to adapt their IT strategies to include audiovisual software and solutions to support hybrid and remote learning. From advanced Unified Communications (UC) with integrated lecture capture software to network management solutions, colleges and universities continue to navigate the build out for a connected classroom that is equipped for learning anywhere.

While instructors and students have become more comfortable switching between in-class and remote learning experiences, there’s an increased need for high-speech intelligibility and high audio fidelity to keep students connected and engaged. With this comes great opportunity for integrating audio into networked systems, but network audio isn’t just about speakers – it’s about creating an end-to-end solution that enhances classroom operations and learning outcomes.

To dive deeper into this conversation, we discussed the topic further with Panasonic Connect Senior Category Manager, Petro Shimonishi.  

The past two years have demonstrated the future of education requires greater emphasis on AV solutions, whether students are learning remotely or in-person. How has the task of ensuring audio quality evolved for AV engineers and learning technology specialists?

Petro:  Audio has always been a key component of learning and retention.  Students in the classroom must be able to hear the instructor to be able to understand the lesson.  In the past, not all classrooms had voice lift solutions, however, as instruction methodology has shifted to hybrid in-person / remote classes, every teacher needs to have a microphone to ensure all students, regardless of location can hear the lesson.  It is also highly desirable for the remote students to be able to hear the students in the classroom and vice versa. But audio isn’t the only shift – video plays a bigger part in today’s lectures as there is the added desire of providing a more realistic and inclusive experience for remote students.  PTZ Cameras with auto-tracking capabilities can greatly aid in providing this experience.  Microphones and PTZ Cameras help make the shift towards more discussion-oriented classes much easier for the faculty.   Classroom AV design has also changed to accommodate this shift, and there is a need for more AV products in the classroom to accommodate flexible lesson plans.

What are some of the acoustic challenges faced in both physical classrooms and online channels of learning, and what are some of the solutions being deployed to tackle them?

Petro: I could write a book on that, but instead I’ll just state that every environment, regardless of room dimension, interior design accoutrements, layout and furniture, every environment has its own unique challenges.   Fortunately, there are solutions to the various issues that crop up – rooms can be acoustically live, have bad echoing, etc. and these can not only cause audio issues inside the room but also for remote students.  It is important to take a holistic approach to classroom design and work with interior designers, electricians, AV installers, Fire Marshalls / building safety to prevent acoustic challenges.  Incorporating acoustic wall treatments, the choice of interior materials during the new build or redesign process can help.  Audio DSPs with noise and echo cancellation also provide an excellent solution for any space. 

But the environment is not the only factor. It’s further complicated by the users themselves.  Some users may get too close to the mic while others may stand too far away.  There may be a lot of background noise (rustling papers, pen-clicking, potato chip eating, etc.) that need to be filtered out of the audio signal. One must understand the various use cases in the design process, because let’s face it -- not many classrooms come with their own sound engineer to professionally mic up a teacher or adjust the gain. 

The effects of poor classroom acoustics on the student can be long-lasting. What are some ways to achieve better equity of experience through use of AV technology?  

Petro: Teachers, Mic up!  Even if you think you talk loudly, use a microphone.  A dedicated microphone for the instructor along with a DSP in the classroom sound system is important, because the AV installer can set the priority for the instructor microphone (in the DSP), providing for enhanced clarity of the teacher’s voice so all students can have a better learning experience.

With the increase of UC&C applications in many environments, why is the integration between UC&C and professional audiovisual solutions important?  

Petro: The internet and AV are just a natural combination for AV and Unified Communications and Collaboration, and Panasonic Connect has been delivering innovative products in both spaces for a long time.  Our digital wireless microphone system leverages DECT technology (traditionally from the Unified Communications space) to provide dialog clarity, easier wireless signal frequency management and ease of use.  Panasonic Connect continues to push the envelope in the PTZ space to meet the needs of our customers, delivering 4K resolution, whisper-quiet operation, and with NDI and USB connectivity for easy operation in UC&C applications.  Our Professional grade high resolution displays and high-brightness projectors ensure high quality images can be easily seen in the classroom.  And we just introduced a lecture capture solution for easy recording with auto-tracking integration for our PTZ cameras.  

And we are just getting started. The AV space is a fun space to be in. The pace of innovation is exciting and Panasonic Connect continues to focus on developing innovative products, solutions services to meet the needs of our customers.

To learn more about Panasonic Connect’s AV Solutions for Higher Education, visit the website here.