Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, India

Hurrairah bin Sohail takes a closer look at how the classrooms and learning spaces at Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology are transforming to meet the modern needs of pedagogy.

Higher education in India is undergoing a digital transformation as new pedagogy becomes established. Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology [KIIT] serves to illustrate what this transformation looks like in action.

The evolution for KIIT was helmed by Sustainable Outreach & Universal Leadership [SOUL], which is the knowledge and technology arm of the education institute. Satya Narayan Mahapatra, chief business officer at SOUL, talks about the ethos driving the technology specialist: “Through the course of working, designing and deploying technology for KIIT, we found that KIIT’s technology team had gathered and accumulated a treasure trove of knowledge and expertise pertaining to education spaces. SOUL was born from a desire to share this knowledge and expertise with other education institutes across India and the globe.”

Mahapatra explains the impetus behind the digital transformation at KIIT: “The pandemic was an accelerant for change, and we took the opportunity to start researching what really is a ‘hybrid classroom’ or a ‘smart classroom’. Our research revealed some core fundamentals. The students and the teachers, whether they are in the classroom or at the remote location, whether they are online or offline, need to feel like they are present in the same space. And that formed the core of our definition for a smart classroom.”

SOUL understood that technology was to be a key component of the smart classroom KIIT envisioned, and Mahapatra adds: “To create this smart classroom, you need audio and video technology. Audio is a core component because without quality audio the entire function of the smart classroom begins to fall apart.”

Unsurprisingly, great care and consideration was given to the selection of technology solutions during the design phase. Audio was considered the building block and Mahapatra expands: “Hybrid learning and teaching is all about sound first, so we knew that we wanted the teachers and the students to feel comfortable with the microphone and to ensure that everyone could be heard clearly. We knew that features like echo cancellation would be important to achieve the outcome we wanted. So, the selection of the microphone would be important.”

Mahapatra and SOUL looked at the data and feedback they had regarding microphone usage at KIIT and then embarked on a rigorous testing process.

Mahapatra details: “We have previously used various kinds of microphones from lavalier to handheld to gooseneck and even boundary microphones. We found that the sound quality was not always uniformly great and additionally they required a lot of maintenance. Our staff had to make sure that the microphones were charged consistently, there were issues with the microphones being misplaced, and this was a strain on our resources.”

He continues: “It was at this point that we started to consider shifting to tile microphones which would allow us to address a lot of these issues. And we knew that the classrooms we had were all different shapes and sizes and coverage was the most important thing for us. We conducted our own benchmark testing for the products on the market and selected the Sennheiser TCC2.” The switch to tile microphones also fed into one of the greater purposes KIIT was trying to achieve.

Mahapatra expands: “We have livestreaming through a solution platform which encompasses both hardware and software. The teaching sessions are livestreamed and put on our servers with our LMS which allows students to access the content at their convenience. And while students are returning to classrooms, they still want the be able to access learning from wherever they are. The same holds true for teachers who might want to teach from the comfort of their house sometimes. So, the LMS system is crucial and the audio and visual systems are crucial because they serve to capture the content for our LMS.” SOUL also understood that audio quality is not just a matter of selecting the right microphone. Mahapatra says: “When it came to the audio chain, we applied similar demands for quality and excellence. Xilica products and solutions met our standards easily as was proven through our internal testing for our use cases at KIIT learning spaces. After that, we wanted to figure out what adding another piece of hardware would mean for the overall system. Thankfully, the Xilica and Sennheiser pairing is something that is well-established and has already been tested. Xilica itself was able to give us a lot of assurance and detail how its solutions and products would fit into our system. When put into action, we found that the hardware, software, and certifications of Xilica products were seamless, so Xilica solutions were an obvious choice for us.”

Xilica Solaro QR 1 units are used in clasrroms that can accommodate 60 people while Xilica Solaro FR 1 D units are used for larger 120 people classrooms. The relevant input and output cards are also employed. In addition Xilica’s Hearclear AEC software activated channels are used to ensure quality audio. On the video side, Extron signal transmission together with Extron control via IPCP processors is pressed into service. Much like audio, the selection of endpoints was important. Lumens MC300 cameras are used across the learning spaces. The number of cameras in any room is based on the characteristics of the space, but in general four to five cameras for video input are used to ensure that KIIT has the capability to capture content for live streaming and feeding into its LMS systems.

Regarding the choice of camera, Mahapatra says: “We went through testing a lot of cameras and following the Make in India directive the origin of manufacture for the products was the deciding factor.” For display, LG interactive flat panels have been used. Mahapatra says: “Traditionally, the display in Indian classrooms is projection. But we wanted to move away from this, and at KIIT we are using interactive flat panels. They bring a new dimension of teaching and learning due to the interactivity and the inherent support for collaboration. And for us this represents a step forward towards the smart classrooms we want to create.”

Regarding the challenges faced through the course of the project, Mahapatra narrates: “There were four companies that put forward technology solutions and platforms for us to select during the design and proof of concept [POC] stage. We knew that selecting the right technology would set us up for success, so we paid a lot of attention to POC and did extensive testing for every technology component of the proposed systems. We also knew that almost all of our classrooms and learning spaces were unique when it came to dimensions and would thus require unique technology configurations. The locations of the cameras and the microphones would have to be determined on a case-by-case basis and this significantly increased the amount of work required to deploy AV technology. In fact, I had to personally oversee the setup and tuning in particular classrooms to ensure that we achieved the outcome we wanted.”

Mitesh Lahoti from Xilica adds: “This was an extensive technology rollout and Xilica was ready to support our partners with product procurement and delivery as well as with the programming and fine-tuning required to address the unique configuration of the spaces. I would say that there were close to 50 different classroom types and each of these had their own characteristics. It was a challenge for the AV professionals to ensure perfect audio for every space and Xilica dedicated resources specifically to ensure that our products would be properly tuned and programmed. We are delighted that the outcome is exactly according to the university’s specifications.”

Mahapatra expects the transformation of learning spaces and smart classrooms at KIIT to continue. He concludes: “I think we need to continue the evolution of our hardware and software platforms in combination toward an end goal that allows us to manage and monitor the technology remotely from a central location. Our learning spaces are spread across 600 acres of space and different locations. As these learning spaces become more technology dense the onus is on us to ensure that the technology enables better learning and teaching outcomes.”

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