From any corner of the globe, every student in Harvard’s HBX Live virtual classroom sits front and center. The groundbreaking online learning platform harnesses interactive and visual technologies to create the classroom of the future at Harvard Business School (HBS). The unprecedented e-learning solution allows HBS to expand its reach and further its mission of educating students from around the world.
Creating the Classroom
HBS designed the high-impact digital learning initiative to reproduce the intimacy and interaction of the physical classroom environment. A high-resolution videowall mimics the amphitheater-style seating of a university lecture hall, with up to sixty participants displayed simultaneously. Working with McCann Systems, audiovisual design build integrator, dozens of sightline studies were conducted to ensure a natural and personal viewpoint for both the student and the professor.
Each student has one unique student-to-professor video feed to simulate the typical conversational perspective, with additional vantage points provided by multiple in-studio cameras. High-definition views are also available from either side of the main videowall, facing the professor and teaching wall, a panoramic view facing the videowall, or within the teaching wall for another view of the professor. A handheld camera operator was added during the early studio testing phases to help convey the dynamic energy of the space.
From inside the studio, the professor’s experience is just as personal and interactive. The videowall uses 2.5mm Christie Digital LED and each participant is sized to show each student close to, or slightly larger than life size. This mammoth wall is composed of over 6.2 million pixels for optimal clarity from any position on the videowall.
To further simulate real-time classroom interaction, speakers are concealed within the videowall. If the professor is engaged in conversation on one end of the videowall, but a student on the opposite end interjects, he has a spatial, audio cue just as if in a classroom.
The high-tech, collaborative teaching wall features two 80” J-Touch Blackboard monitors which are visible to students from both their perspective camera and also from their personal user interface. If a professor prefers, content can be controlled and created from a central podium integrated with standard laptop connections, control panel, and confidence monitor.
Behind the Scenes
The system is engineered to manage sixty simultaneous calls, each with its own camera feed, and control them without one single break point. The most reliable way to manage such a system is with sixty direct point-to-point calls between the studio and the caller. This multitude of calls do not link together until processed through the studio’s audio matrix.
All of the video feeds through the studio are over fiber and all amplification for the system is located in the rack. An intricate system feeds the signal to the studio-housed amplifiers and is expertly engineered to transmit data without overloading any one network.
Control room producers use a multi-image display processor to create each caller’s digital experience. McCann Systems designed a highly sophisticated routing and distribution infrastructure to pull the sources from each point-to-point call for processing. Operators and producers stay on top of the action in the classroom to choose the appropriate layouts which can include a two, three, or four person debate mode.
Breaking Down Barriers in Education and Technology
HBX Live leverages today’s leading collaborative technologies to transform the distance learning model. This new standard in remote education surmounts geographical challenges, creating an enriched and personal experience for students and increased engagement with course content.
Read more on the HBX Live Blog HERE.