Schools face unprecedented challenges. As if budget cuts weren’t enough, we now have a persistent epidemic, and many teachers are in a demographic that’s susceptible to risk. Furthermore, today’s generation of students was raised in an online and computer-based world. Their way of assimilating and retaining information differs from the days when learning was done solely through books, helped by a teacher’s physical presence.
Alternate learning methods are being explored as ways to optimize the educational experience, particularly during a pandemic but also with the future potential to re-shape education for the better. Definitions for the terms “hybrid learning” and “blended learning” vary; in either case, their processes overlap somewhat—so many of the tools we’ll describe apply to both approaches. But regardless of how you shape your courses going forward, the following will help you use technology to maximize the educational experience, even under difficult conditions.
We’ve collected our best-selling and most popular products for hybrid learning, and grouped them in six different categories for easy reference: video cameras, video streaming devices, microphones and wireless systems, audio/video interfaces and converters, projectors and displays, and safety products. At first, the options might seem overwhelming—but fortunately, the Full Compass sales professionals can help you assemble the ideal system for your needs. Simply call Full Compass at 800-356-5844 (Monday-Friday, 7:00am-5:30pm Central time) for expert, helpful advice.
Meanwhile, let’s look at representative products for each category. In general, the “you get what you pay for” cliché applies, but the market is so competitive that even lower-priced solutions may do the job—the higher-priced options may have features that aren’t relevant to your needs. Again, the Full Compass professionals can help you sort out the options to find what’s best for your unique situation.
A video camera is a fundamental tool for online education, because one person can stream a visually intensive class to students in remote locations. Fortunately, video cameras are available at all price points.
Compared to a basic, inexpensive webcam, this model gives higher audio and video quality, with high-definition video (1920 x 1080 pixels) and audio capture (up to 15 feet away from the speaker). Another advantage is that in addition to being compatible with popular video streaming software, it integrates directly with Facebook Live and YouTube for convenient, near-universal streaming. Connectivity is simple—both audio and video connect to computers via USB 2.0. This is an appropriate solution when working with a single presenter, or a small group of presenters.
This camera also steps up to high video resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels) at up to 30 frames per second. However, its specialty is voice pickup, thanks to four mics with echo canceling and noise suppression, automatic gain control, and a 25 foot voice pickup range. It connects to your computer through a standard USB 2.0 connection, and provides an excellent price/performance ratio.
In some cases, you need a wide-angle view to take in a teacher, whiteboard, demonstrations, and the like. You may also need to pipe in audio or video from other sources. For these types of applications, the ACV-5100 gives a 110 degree, wide-angle view, with camera rotation and tilt for optimum placement. The connectivity is also more advanced, with HDMI, Bluetooth, and USB, and the audio (engineered by well-known audio company JBL) is high quality. Unlike most other video cameras, it’s packaged in a soundbar-style package for a professional, unobtrusive look.
Ideally, video setups are optimized for particular rooms. But when you need a camera that works for stationary and mobile applications, the Mevo Start is rugged, only 3 inches high, and shoots at HD resolution for up to 6 hours on a single battery charge. The microphone system for audio pickup creates a focused pickup pattern, and also features noise reduction and echo canceling. An accompanying editing app works with smartphones or tablets to provide a choice of camera angles, face detection, movement tracking, and an “autopilot” mode to simplify editing in real time, while you shoot. It has an NDI output instead of HDMI, but NDI-to-HDMI converters are available if needed.
Some applications are very demanding, like those involving multiple presenters in training suites, lecture theaters, and the like. This top-of-the-line camera handles a lot of tough challenges. It can mount on a ceiling or desktop, and has smooth, quiet robotic control to move it to any of 16 preset positions—pan, tilt, and zoom to capture whatever is needed. Furthermore, it excels in virtually any lighting conditions, including low-level lighting and harsh backlighting with extremes of dark and light in the same scene, and generates a standard HDMI output.
Video Streaming Devices
Once you have video capabilities, you need to get your video into the world. As noted above, some systems connect directly to Facebook or YouTube for live streaming, and you can use a Facebook/smartphone combo for quick, basic streaming. But for anything beyond the most basic streaming options (like using a high-quality, separate camera, or putting video on another livestreaming platform), you’ll either need to dedicate a computer or more simply, use an encoder box. This kind of box takes the video signal from your camera and puts a high-quality version onto the web. Here are four, easy-to-set up encoders that produce a broadcast-quality stream.
This is one of our best-selling encoders, because it strikes an efficient balance of usability and performance. It allows you to stream and save a master recording at the same time, so even after the stream is over, you’ll have a copy for future classes. This is extremely helpful when students need to “time-shift” their attendance. Note that It requires an HDMI output from a camera or switcher.
This is similar to the Monarch HD, but offers dual-channel streaming and recording. When streaming, you can assign each channel separately. This allows streaming to two different destinations at 10Mb/s, or to a single destination with 20Mbp/s quality. With dual-channel recording, you can record content locally (on an SD card or USB drive) and to a drive; that way, files are available immediately to anybody on the network, but if the network goes down, the material will still be preserved. Also, each recording can be done at different bitrates to accommodate devices with different decoding capabilities.
The SlingStudio Hub is a portable, wireless multi-camera broadcasting platform with exceptional connectivity. You can monitor, record, switch, edit and stream live HD-quality video wirelessly to Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter/Periscope, Livestream, Ustream, Restream.io and similar destinations. Being able to monitor up to four cameras wirelessly makes multi-camera shoots practical, but it can also stream with modern iOS or Android devices, as well as conventional cameras. (However, note that it needs the CameraLink accessory to accept HDMI camera outputs.) Once set up, it’s easy to use, and popular with schools because of its versatility.
4K video continues to rise in popularity due to its high quality. When you want the highest-quality stream available today for remote learning classes, TASCAM’s VS-R26 simultaneously records, encodes, streams, and decodes 4K video streams (3840 x 2160) using High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) that delivers H.264 video quality at half the bit rate. As a stand-alone encoder, it can stream HD video to all popular streaming platforms; it also has analog audio I/O, as well as accommodates digital audio embedded in HDMI streams. The recorder stores data on USB 3.0 drives or SD/SDHC data cards, has a full-featured/web-browser-based user interface, and offers 1 Gb Ethernet connectivity.
Although this level of resolution may not seem essential today, the ability to record ultra-high-definition source material future-proofs the video as much as possible, and also means that the recordings can be archived and distributed over high-definition visual media (such as Blu-Ray) if needed.
Audio/Video Interfaces and Converters
It’s inevitable: at some point, you’ll need to fit a round peg into a square hole, especially when you’re cobbling together a system that consists of newer and older components. For example, your video streaming device might want an HDMI input, but you have to feed it from a device with a Serial Digital Interface (SDI) output that’s designed to do digital video transmission over coaxial cable. Or you may have a VGA output from your computer that needs to hit the world in an SD or 3G format.
What’s worse is that it may seem like the puzzle you’re trying to solve involves some strange kind of alphabet soup—which is yet another reason why it’s handy to have the Full Compass sales professionals only a phone call away. They’ll analyze your gear, and tell you the most effective way to get your video and audio from point A to point B. Meanwhile, here are some of our most universally applicable converters and interfaces.
This compact, inexpensive, highly functional converter is a favorite among users because it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and does it well. Convert from HDMI to SDI and SDI to HDMI simultaneously, as well as feed an HDMI input or SDI input to both HDMI and SDI outputs. It has a USB port for control, firmware updates, and powering by the included power supply and USB cable. It also supports 3G levels A and B, which allows for conversion between them (3G HD is twice the bit rate of HD SDI; Level A is used for broadcast and satellite, while Level B is used in post-production). And that’s all there is to it; this is one of those units that “just works.”
This is the next step up from the Decimator DEC-MD-LX. In addition to doing HDMI and SDI conversion, it also includes options for scaling into devices like switchers, or changing frame rate. All in all, there are 14 conversion modes that provide just about any combination of HDMI and SDI scaling, conversion, and routing you could need. It even incorporates four (3G/HD/SD)-SDI outputs, which allows it to serve as a 1-to-4 distribution amplifier. One output pair can be either a copy of the SDI input, or a copy of the converted output at the other output pair.
This is getting into Swiss Army knife territory. It accepts VGA, SDI, and HDMI inputs, and can convert into two 3G/HD/SD-SDI outputs and one HDMI output. There’s also a 3G/HD/SD-SDI loop-through output. One of the DAC-70’s best convenience features is that it converts automatically to the selected output format, even when the input format changes. It even supports multi-channel audio, while a USB port allows for firmware updating.
Although newer computers usually have HDMI outputs, older computers often were limited to VGA video outputs. Fortunately, the Intelix DL-VHD solves that problem simply and inexpensively by accepting stereo audio and VGA video for the input, and outputting HDMI.
In addition to paying attention to video, it’s important to take audio into account. You have microphones, playback devices, audio devices with digital outputs, maybe even instruments for music education, and you need to integrate them all into your computer and video stream. This is the job of the audio interface, and Focusrite has earned a reputation for high-quality, cost-effective audio interfaces over the years. The Scarlett 2i2 3rd generation connects to your computer via USB, and features two “combo” inputs that handle mic-, line-, and instrument-level signals. It also includes Pro Tools First and Ableton Live Lite recording software so you can record offline and stream later, along with a suite of Focusrite plug-ins and other accessory software.
For situations involving multiple microphones, such as panel discussions, you’ll need more audio inputs. The Scarlett 18i8 offers four “combo” inputs for mic-, line-, or instrument-level signals, and four balanced line, ¼” inputs as well as four ¼” line outs. Like other Focusrite interfaces, it handles sample rates from 44.1 kHz up to 192 kHz.
Microphones and Wireless Systems
Until we have a digital larynx with a USB output, we have to get what we say into a computer or video stream somehow—and that means microphones. Microphone technology has improved dramatically over the last two decades, so fortunately, even relatively low-cost models give acceptable quality. The real choice you need to make is what microphone characteristics are most important for what you do, and the following options give you a wide range of choices.
Microphones with digital outputs are easy to set up—no mic preamp, audio interface, or expensive cables. The Lyra has a USB output, so all you need to do is patch a USB cable from the mic into your computer, tablet, or smartphone. The Lyra isn’t just a mic; it also has a headphone jack so you can monitor your audio without needing a separate monitor amp or speakers. Another important feature is four different mic pickup patterns optimized for different audio sources—a single person speaking, two people in an interview, stereo, and a broad pickup for larger groups. Finally, although it can sit on a desktop, it can also mount on a stand or boom.
iOS devices don’t accept devices with USB outputs natively; you need a USB-to-Lightning connector adapter. Shure’s MV88/A gets around this by connecting directly to any Apple iPhone, iPod or iPad equipped with a Lightning connector. What’s more, it takes advantage of its iOS host to run the free ShurePlus MOTIV Recording App, which can call up five preset modes optimized for different applications: speech, singing, flat response, acoustic instruments, and loud sound sources. Real-time adjustment options include mic gain and stereo width to further optimize the recording quality, and the mount includes a 90-degree hinge with built-in rotation, making it easy to position the microphone as needed. The final touch is all-metal construction for ruggedness in portable applications.
There are times when wires get in the way—moving around a classroom, going back and forth between blackboard and desk, or needing to use both hands to show how to do something—which means wireless is the way to go. Usually, you need to choose between a hand-held mic or a headset type, or buy two systems—but the BLX1288/P31-H9 package has both. For example, a teacher can wear the headset for hands-free operation, while audience members can pass the hand-held mic when they need to ask questions. And of course, this is an ideal setup when there are two people teaching.
Unlike some wireless systems, this one is easy to set up. The BLX88 dual-channel receiver finds the best frequencies, and the dual XLR and ¼” output connectors will work with just about any mixer or audio monitoring system. Also note that the headset mic is designed for comfort, not just performance—an important factor when spending significant amounts of time wearing a headset mic.
And speaking of wireless, when doing video shoots you often don’t want audio tethered to the video camera by a cable. The RØDELink Filmmaker Kit makes adding wireless audio to your video easy, because it includes a receiver that attaches to a standard camera shoe mount, 3/8” thread, or belt clip, along with a transmitter and broadcast-quality lavalier microphone. The transmitter weighs only 190 grams, and can be fitted to a belt or clothing. To avoid having accidental disconnections, the microphone output uses a locking thread to connect to the transmitter.
This wireless system is designed for video shoots where two people need wireless mics. The two wireless transmitters have built-in mics, although you can also use the included lavalier mics. A dual-channel receiver, which operates in the 2.4 GHz band, mounts to the camera shoe and has a line-of-sight-range of around 160 feet. You can even add up to 18 additional systems, for a total of 36 microphones.
Projectors and Displays
One of the challenges with hybrid learning is maintaining social distancing within a classroom. Often, this means relocating to a larger space like an auditorium, which requires a projector capable of creating a big enough image so that everyone can see it, even from the back row and the sides.
Quality laser projectors aren’t inexpensive, however the PT-VMZ60 weighs in at under 16 pounds, making it easy to transport from one space to another so that you don’t need to have multiple, permanently installed projectors. For a permanent install, its inclusion of Digital Link and 4K signal input connections makes for easy integration with existing systems. The laser-diode light source (6,000 lumens) features a well-above-average useful life of around 20,000 hours before the brightness drops by 50%–that translates to using it four hours a day, every day, for almost 14 years. As to size, it the PT-VMZ60 accommodates screen sizes (diagonal) from 30 inches to 25 feet, with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels, and supports signals up to 4K at 30 frames per second. Audio reproduction is monaural, with 10 watts of amplification. Overall, when you need a projector that delivers clear, bright images over big areas and will do so for years to come, the PT-VMZ60 is one of the best options available today.
For less critical applications, an LCD projector doesn’t match a laser projector’s performance, but the cost savings are considerable. The VS355 accepts HDMI signals (as well as USB plug-and-play to project audio and video from MacOS or Windows computers), with XVGA (1280 x 800 pixels) resolution. An Eco mode extends the bulb life from 6,000 to 10,000 hours. Projection methods are front, rear, or ceiling mount. The VS355 weighs only 5.5 pounds, and is easy to set up thanks to convenient controls and simple image adjustments.
The days of people crowding around a big computer monitor are over. With larger spaces and social distancing, students need to see a display that’s big and clear. But the OP751RK+ isn’t just a display, it’s a multi-touch (20 touch points), interactive display that’s equally well-suited to the classroom and boardroom. With native 4K UHD (3840 x 2160 pixels) resolution, anti-glare tempered glass, and a blue light filter, it delivers the all-important wide viewing angle and detail needed to provide clear visuals to everyone in the room. However, connectivity is where the OP751RK+ shines. It’s compatible with Windows, Mac, and Chrome OS, and supports cloud storage solutions (like Google Drive and OneDrive) for versatile mass storage and ease of collaboration, as well as wireless content sharing to showcase instantaneous results from quizzes, polls, and tests. Audio plays back over dual 12W speakers, and a wall mount is included.
Because the novel corona virus is indeed novel, it’s unclear how long we’ll need to follow procedures designed to minimize its spread. Online learning is best for those most at risk, but there are also ways to mitigate potential problems in a classroom environment.
Hand sanitizers are recommended to prevent infections, but think about everything else in classrooms that needs disinfecting: microphones, headphones, and touch screens. Goby’s equipment care kit disinfects microphones, headphones, and earphones. (Note that the screen cleaner is not a disinfecting agent because that could damage a screen’s coating, but does allow removing dust, smudges, and other contaminants.) Owners of karaoke bars have long known the need for microphone disinfectants, and they really do work; your classroom needs them too. If all you need is microphone sanitizer, the Goby GLS-104 Microphone Sanitizer is available separately for $8.45 per 4 oz. bottle.
Medical experts recommend social distancing to minimize contact between people who are infected by COVID-19, yet might be asymptomatic. But in a classroom context—especially with children—maintaining that distance may require reminders, and safety tape is an ideal solution. Rose Brand’s black-and-yellow-striped, OSHA-approved adhesive safety tape is hard to miss when you’re marking off those 6 foot (or more) distances on floors or within specific areas.
Hybrid Learning Is Here to Stay—Even if COVID-19 Isn’t
During the initial stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, company employees often needed to work from home. Interestingly, many companies found some employees were actually more productive when working from home. This was particularly true of the “creatives,” who had the freedom to run into their office and write down that great idea that came to them while in the shower at 9 PM. As a result, several companies have recognized the potential of a “hybrid” time allocation system that incorporates both working at home, and coming into the office to meet and collaborate, because it can be more efficient than either option by itself.
Similarly, the trend toward online education that has accelerated during the pandemic will almost certainly continue to gain momentum. Different people learn differently, and the equipment you acquire now to deal with today’s realities will likely serve you well in the future, as the world of education fine-tunes the learning process in the online age.
Yes, it’s a new world, and sometimes a confusing one—and that’s why it’s crucial to take advantage of the 40-plus years of expertise accumulated at Full Compass. Our sales professionals will do everything they can to put your needs first, and help you obtain the tools you need within the time frame and budget you specify. When you need to make the right decisions, let us help. Call Full Compass at 800-356-5844 (Monday-Friday, 7:00am-5:30pm Central time) for expert, helpful advice.
And for an even wider selection of teaching solutions, check out Prepare Your Hybrid Classrooms, our landing spot for all of our hybrid education gear.