264 students, 8 courses, 792 hi-def video streams, no walls #theta2015

264 students, eight courses, 792 High Definition video streams, no walls (abstract)
Jim Cook and Warren French

New Charles Perkins Centre at University of Sydney – opened in 2014, multi-faculty research and learning hub focused on obesity, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. Includes IT, engineering, maths as well as medicine, public health and vet science.

The X-lab is a wet (ie hands-on) teaching lab with 264 seats – about the size of a football field. Wanted to maximise space utilisation. ‘X’ represents cross-faculty teaching paradigm. A way of teachers learning from each other. Needed completely innovative approach to enable up to 8 classes to operate in same space without disturbing each other. “No walls” reflects this and collaborative process between ICT and teaching academics.

Teaching stations around the edge: based on standard touchscreen AV-control system so teachers would be familiar with the idea. Just added features. Select what lab benches (anywhere in room) will be teaching to, for routing of video/audio. Select video source for student screen display (PC, laptop, facecam, camera for objects/notes, or microscope). Integrated highly-directional speaker technology – so only students at appropriate bench will hear it.

Directional speakers mean “We used to shout at students now we talk to students” (quote from lecturer). Minimises impact of classes being taught next to each other.

Has been a supreme success. Lecturers have found “instructions provided in live or video format were easier to follow and facilitated engagement”.

Lessons learned:

  • Worked well: stakeholder engagement and inclusivity; leveraging TechLab; leverage existing AV standards so easy for lecturers; dedicated relationship manager and program manager team
  • Power of prototype: thought they were just shaking out the bugs, but even better achieved joint ownership between academics and ICT so they became the ones to sell it – word of mouth
  • Would do stress testing to avoid first day anxiety
  • Would put more focus on support funding in business-as-usual. Had to use project funds to pay for support staff, took much haggling to get a sustainable support model.

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