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Distance learning today and in the future- NC State University Case Study

26/09/2020

Distance learning today and in the future - NC State University Case Study posted: 26/09/2020

by Tony Pearson, senior associate director, Video Communication Services from the DELTA team at NC State

About Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA)

DELTA's role within the Office of the Provost is to foster the integration and support of learning technologies in NC State's academic programs, both on the campus and at a distance. We coordinate the funding and production of all distance-based credit programs and courses for the university. We promote high-quality education by extending the reach of the faculty and collaboratively applying expertise in technology and pedagogy in an efficient, effective and service-oriented environment.

Video Communication Services

Video Communication Services was started prior to DELTA in the 1980s. Courses were captured/recorded using physical media, tapes, then CDs, then DVDs that were shipped directly to students. During this time courses and special programs were also broadcast through many of the following methods, LPTV, Microwave, Satellite, ISDN, MPEG2, and H.323. Prior to H.323, Satellite and Microwave were primarily used for synchronous learning: remote students were watching course lectures at the same time as those who were actually present on campus. They could respond to the professor via two-way video (H.323) and or phone bridges, giving a real sense of interaction with the class. Once the internet became a reliable source to deliver high quality material, we began to move our courses online. The benefits were obvious: not just lower cost to distribute, but immediacy, interactivity, and the improved ability to use the courses synchronously or asynchronously, thanks to enhanced collaboration applications, and video on demand access. What set NC State apart, was the demand for maintaining a professional, high quality broadcast standard approach to their production for distance education courses. The workflow was created with a Realtime production process. This included live transmissions and or synchronous connections for designated courses every semester. All this was achieved in the beginning by creating what was originally called a Studio Classroom now referred to as a media-enhanced classroom. Although these classrooms were used by traditional students on campus as well as those at a distance, they were not your standard classroom. All classrooms were full production studios with specialized lighting, production switcher, character generators, desktop or ceiling microphones, and up to six cameras where required.

Operational efficiency

As our Distance Education programs grew more classrooms were added and the need to increase classroom capacity was in high demand. During this period of growth, we started to see annual enrollment increases of 15 to 20%. This growth dictated the need for improved and efficient workflows. As a result of this growth, all designated control rooms supporting media-enhanced classrooms were reduced to equipment closets to provide additional seating capacity inside the classroom. This required a swift transition from a control room modal with dedicated technicians or video directors.

Tony Pearson, CTS, Sr. Associate Director, Video Communication Services, NC State University

Once a space was identified for a centralized control room now referred to as the CCR. Phase one was implemented with two consoles to support, control, and monitor three media-enhanced classrooms remotely. One challenge was how to repurpose existing fiber no longer needed for microwave transmissions: With the CCR located in the heart of main campus, all existing fiber runs had to be rerouted and additional runs added for a home run back to Ricks Hall Annex. The AV infrastructure design required the use of single mode fiber to transmit one SDI video source per fiber strand for a total of four sources per classroom. This placed serious limitations on the number of signals we could transmit back to the CCR. Including cameras and computer sources, a media-enhanced classroom might have anywhere from 12 to 16 video sources to be managed. The current fiber infrastructure only gave us four video channels per classroom. The AV design solution was to put a multiviewer in each classroom and send quad-split screen feeds over the fiber to the CCR.

Media Enhanced Classroom

That meant the technicians could see a limited number of sources and by using routing controls they could switch and manage various signals. Because the multiviewer to multiviewer design provided bundled feeds of all sources transmitted from each classroom. A handicap was created, these feeds could not be unraveled to provide true confidence feeds of other remote sources. Technicians had to be really creative with routing in order to see, monitor and control everything.

Control room Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA), NC State University 2

Migration to IP

Moving forward it was determined that we needed an open architecture solution to provide flexibility and scalability for the next generation of remote monitoring and control in our CCR. We also needed it to be standards-based, which would secure the future without becoming bound to a proprietary solution which would limit future developments. The process for selecting a solution took almost four years. We looked at a broad range of products that were presently on or entering the market. Due to our aging routers and multiviewer our focus was on open architecture solutions using industry-standard interfaces from signal acquisition, to signal delivery and, monitoring. As we looked to move away from dedicated SDI-connected routers towards an all IP processing platform it became obvious that an SDI to all IP solution would provide all the flexibility and scalability we re
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