Back in the room

How connectivity and collaboration are transforming distance learning

Colin Rosam, Internal Sales Manager, Healthcare, Higher Education and Further Education at IT supplier, Misco ( writes:

The market for distance learning

Distance learning accounts for a significant proportion of the higher education sector’s revenue. Rising fees for full time on-campus degrees, changes to visa regulations and increasing adoption of online and collaborative technologies have resulted in many students opting to study remotely.  Distance learning also provides many students who are living with disabilities with a more accessible route to further education qualifications.

According to the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, there were 663, 915 international, non-UK students who spend their entire study period overseas while studying for UK undergraduate and post graduate qualifications. 

In 2012, the Guardian reported that distance learners accounted for ten per cent of students undertaking postgraduate course in the UK. The following year, one massive open online course (Mooc) provider reported that 2.8 million people had registered for its courses. 

The Open University currently has 173,889 students registered and has delivered distance learning courses to 1.94 million students since it was founded in 1969. Every year, around 12,000 students enrolled on Open University courses are registered as disabled.

Many of the leading education providers are investing in the latest collaborative technology to support people who are studying off campus. distance learning

Technology to support distance learning

Many of the higher education establishments that we work with are using Microsoft’s Surface Hub, which is designed to make students feel like they are present in to classroom with their tutor, no matter where they are based. With Surface Hub tutors can easily send teaching notes and other content and communicate outcomes and action points to students who are based off campus.  

These educational establishments are taking advantage of improved broadband and mobile connectivity and supporting distance learning using interactive whiteboards and projectors, which integrate with interactive collaboration software and familiar hardware used by students, such as SMART notebooks.

Employing technology that students already use

For mature students who are already working within businesses using Microsoft technology at work, the Office suite of tools and Skype for Business, has the advantage of providing students with collaborative tools with which they are already familiar. In combination with the Surface Hub remote classroom technology, this allows for real time collaboration between teaching staff and students and delivers a completely new immersive experience, which is ideal for distance learning. 

The move to interactive presentation devices

Following the ‘whiteboard revolution’ of the 1990’s, we are seeing interactive whiteboards increasingly being replaced by interactive flat panels (touch distance learningscreens) because they provide a much better experience for presenters, in terms of clarity and resolution. Touch screens also perform better in bright daylight conditions, reducing the frustrations often encountered with whiteboards and projectors. In addition, interactive flat panels also provide educational establishments with a lower cost of ownership because flat screens do not require replacement bulbs or filters.

A 55” HD 1920 x 1080 display provides a comfortable viewing for groups up to 8 people. For groups of up to 15 people, an 84” 4K 3840 x 2160 display is more suitable.

Two built-in wide-angle HD cameras in the Surface Pro Hub ensure that all attendees can be seen and the view can be varied to suit where the presenter is standing.

The Surface Pro Hub device also includes a high performance four element microphone array, so that a presenter’s voice can be captured clearly up to 23 feet from the interactive device.

As mentioned above, the advanced touch capabilities of the Surface Pro Hub allows up to 100 touch points on the interactive screen, allowing multiple people to interact with the screen at the same time.

Supporting the remote classroom environment

Using technology such as Infinite Canvas, tutors can link all of their devices to one device that allows them to use interactive whiteboards with touchscreen capabilities to present to students based all over the world. 

An increase in the number of touchpoints on whiteboards will enable more and more students and tutors to simultaneously participate in remote teaching and learning activities. The speed of connectivity will only serve to strengthen the real-time element in telepresence, so that tutors can interact with and support more students and capture information seamlessly for distribution to the group and collect students’ work for marking at the touch of a button.  Students can really feel like they’re in the room with their tutors and peers.


April 3, 2017

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