During the pandemic, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) moved to implement a hybrid, more flexible classroom scenario that could accommodate both in-person and remote learning in a system approach incorporating Sennheiser TeamConnect Ceiling 2 (TCC2) microphones deployed across 58 multi-purpose classrooms across the campus.
Senior AV/IT systems specialist Frank Alaimo and classroom control systems specialist Michael Theil lead the university’s IT team in coming up with the plan. “It was what I like to call the Swiss Army Knife of classrooms because it’s a typical classroom, but we added lecture capture and web conferencing into the rooms,” Alaimo explains. “Now the room has synchronous and asynchronous capabilities, recording capabilities, live ‘in-the-room’ capabilities — it has everything.”
One specific requirement from the administration was that each room had to be a technical ‘carbon copy’ of the other. “While the rooms might be different sizes and contain different furniture, it was important for us to deliver similar functionality in each room,” Alaimo says. “One thing we wanted to guarantee for our instructors was that when they go from one building to another, the touch panel would be exactly the same and they will be able to record lectures while experiencing top-quality A/V conferencing.”
The new hybrid classroom — dubbed ‘RebelFlex’ after the university’s own mascot — was a natural evolution: “We already had Sennheiser’s SpeechLine Digital Wireless and Sennheiser Control Cockpit in place, and we added the TCC2 as part of our overall web conferencing solution,” Alaimo says. “Now, the instructor has a mic at the lectern, and the TCC2 is able to capture both the students or the instructor, should he or she choose to lecture while moving around the room.”
The patented beamforming microphone technology on the TCC2 is particularly useful in a classroom with many student participants: “The microphones pick up voices really fast and are able to move to wherever a student is talking, and then is able to bounce back and forth as needed,” says Theil. “This also simplifies our lives in IT so we don’t have to make microphone adjustments. That is a huge time saver.”
The ‘first’ RebelFlex was deployed in UNLV’s faculty center, and the IT team then provided recommendations on how to migrate both new and existing classrooms to newer ’high-flex’ environments. “The concept was little bit overwhelming for instructors at first, so as part of the RebelFlex pilot program, we included a RebelFlex assistant in each room to provide support, so instructors could remain focused on their agenda during the initial rollout,” says Alaimo.
The primary rollout consisted of 58 classrooms: “We took eight rooms that we had on campus that already had a camera and a Pasnapto recording device and converted those to RebelFlex rooms,” Alaimo notes. “The remaining 50 classrooms are completely brand new, with equipment including the Sennheiser TCC2 microphones.”
Now that the rollout is well underway, RebelFlex has caught on among the administration and student population: ”We are already getting positive feedback,” says Theil. “We have teachers calling us and saying, ’I need you to turn my room into a RebelFlex room by tomorrow’. Additionally, we are seeing a push from our administration to get more and more rooms online.”
The classrooms vary in size, ranging from 25 seats to 179 seats — the larger sized rooms being served by a pair of TCC2 units. In addition to several more RebelFlex classrooms that are currently in the planning stages, Alaimo and team are also looking at converting a campus auditorium that is currently undergoing renovation: “The auditorium has all the recording features already in place, so if the administration decides to move forward, we’ll be ready to roll and could easily deploy the TCC2 in there,” says Alaimo.
TCC2’s network compatibility made for straightforward installation “Using Dante with TCC2 makes it a lot easier, because everything shows up as a network device,” says Theil. “Being able to route all the devices with a simple click of a mouse simplifies everything, and it means that we can monitor the performance with Control Cockpit right here in the office. Also, with the Dante connectivity, I am able to merge the conferencing capabilities of two or more rooms quickly if needed.”
Using Sennheiser Control Cockpit, the IT team can also monitor things like battery levels, muting functionality, and other features. “This kind of remote monitoring through Control Cockpit gives us added confidence that when someone walks into the room there won’t be issues. We know everything will just work as it should,” Theil concludes.