Sponsored by the University of Hong Kong, AVIXA on Campus takes place on 24 May, 2016.

Classroom TabThe university classroom is moving beyond the simple one-way lecture, a standard practice that hasn’t advanced much since medieval times. Today’s interactive learning and the changing classroom dynamics require the space and technology to be both flexible and user-centric. It’s an exciting time as technology becomes more integrated into the classroom, but these changes also demand a shift in the design process.

These important questions are highlighted in Asia’s first AVIXA on Campus event at the University of Hong Kong. In this Q&A, one of the guest speakers, Zane Au, CTS-D, Director, Shen Milsom & Wilke, argues that AV design for higher education must start with bringing the right stakeholders to the design table early on. He also talks about the danger of putting technology before user needs.

Q: Why is it vital for AV designers to pay attention to the changing classroom? 
A: There is often a disconnect between the AV designers and the end users like teachers and students. As the classroom becomes more interactive incorporating group discussions, student presentations, and lecture capture, it’s critical for AV designers to push beyond just implementing an equipment checklist of projectors and screens. The classroom has changed, and the AV design process must adapt.

Q: How prominent is interactive learning in Hong Kong? 
A: A key turning point was the widespread adoption of learning management systems (LMS) like Moodle and the emergence of the massive open online course (MOOC) in higher education. More and more students are now expected to read and watch content online before class; the in-person session is where they internalize and make sense of seemingly unrelated information through active participation.

Q: How should AV designers adapt their approach and mindset? 
A: Learning first, technology comes second! Technology is a great enabler but it is a tool that is only helpful if it adds value to the beneficiary. No good design can happen without first understanding the needs and challenges of the respective users.

The first step of a great AV design is to engage the stakeholder groups of teachers and space designers and managers. This includes analyzing not just the day-to-day usage of the room but also its future applications and support mechanism. As a whole, the complete AV design process is structured to ensure ultimate user satisfaction across the board and on-time project delivery. 

Q: Why should AV designers be included in the stakeholder engagement exercise?
A: AV designers and university AV/IT departments need the first-hand insights because they are the ones who design the systems and interfaces that enhance the interactive learning experience. They are best positioned to interpret how the end user interacts with technology and establish learning needs. They then translate the requirements into AV system and IT infrastructure designs, and convey the spatial/environment requirements to architects, designers, and other team members.

Zane AuQ: Why hasn’t there been more user engagement in AV design in higher education? 
A: Getting the user engagement exercise done right is easier said than done. Universities typically have a very short time window between school semesters for classroom construction or renovation. This means the project managers have to carefully manage the design and construction process to prevent hold-ups. The main problem comes from a general misconception that teachers aren’t design professionals and engaging them in the planning may delay the process. And the teachers may not be motivated to participate because their voices are not always given the weight they should.

But what both sides don’t realize is the power of collaborative planning in the early design phase. When various groups can develop a shared understanding of the objectives at the start, the results are always much better at the end.

And this is the very goal of the AVIXA on Campus event: Bringing together various stakeholders in higher education so they understand their respective parts in a collaborative design process. Ultimately it’s about working together to facilitate an exceptional learning experience for both teachers and students.