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I had a chance to sit down and interview the Susquehanna Township School District and Martin Schultz with HP to discuss the amazing work they did with Microsoft Teams . They were able to provide not only an engaging and forwarding thinking model for delivering classes during the pandemic, but also the groundbreaking work to make the in-school experience more engaging and personal. The one major feedback I received from our interview was that IT Pros wanted to better understand how the school district put this hybrid system of HP, Logitech, and Jabra devices, paired with Windows 10 and Microsoft Teams together.
If you have not had a chance to watch this episode yet, please check it out first: “How Susquehanna Township School District delivered world-class hybrid education solution using Teams”.
In this blog, I am excited to have the architect of the system and show guest, Martin Schultz from HP, dive deeper into this experience. Let’s walk through the process of how Susquehanna Township School District started preparing their students and teachers for hybrid learning.
Martin Schultz: When I was first introduced to the IT Director of the school district back in the middle of the pandemic in the summer of 2020. It was immediately obvious that the school district needed to architect a solution to support hybrid, synchronous learning for the fall session. The key issue was how they were going to support both in-room and at-home students with live, synchronous instruction from the teachers and ensure the remote experience was as engaging as the in-classroom experience, and they had to achieve all this without adding further complexity for the teachers, IT staff, and students.
Right away, we started collaborating with the IT Director on the necessities of the core workflows: a camera fixed on the teacher wherever the teacher moved, a camera to share whiteboard content, and the ability to show lab experiments, books, and objects as teaching aids, as well as ensuring mask-wearing teachers could be clearly heard by the remote students, and ensuring the remote students could participate in class assignments and discussions by raising their hands, be assigned into breakout workgroups, and be clearly seen and heard by the in-room classmates and teacher when participating.
One key challenge was audio performance and how to make sure everyone could be heard from the classroom. They went through several design alternatives, including considering lavalier mics for the teachers, in-ceiling mic/speakers to capture full room sound, and hand-held mics to pass around the classroom. Another challenge was camera placement: should they install from the ceiling, should they use multiple cameras for different angles/perspectives, and how to cover the entire front of classroom setting where the teacher was likely to do most of their instruction from.
They began some early testing and selected the HP Elite Slice G2 with Microsoft Teams Rooms as the core endpoint device. The HP Elite Slice G2 includes a touch panel to easily start each class period and control the remote class experience, four microphones to allow the teacher to freely roam the classroom and still be heard even with a mask on, speakers to provide a 360-degree surround sound experience to hear the remote students even from the back of the classroom, and a confidence monitor for the teacher to engage and view the remote students. The HP Elite Slice G2 performed exactly as designed for the audio capabilities: there was no need for lavalier mics, expensive in-ceiling modifications, or worrying about batteries; it just worked and allowed everyone to hear the teacher, the in-room students, and the remote students!
For convenience, the HP Elite Slice G2 was placed on a cart next to the teacher’s desk and an HDMI cable was connected between the teacher’s docking station and the Slice G2 ingest port to allow for instant content sharing from the teacher’s laptop for both in-room and remote viewing and instruction. They had some early challenges as this was not a supported specification for MTR devices, but with the help of Microsoft and HP engineering, an upgrade was provided just in time before the school year started.
To make sure the school district maximized visual engagement between the teacher and the remote students, two cameras were designed into the solution. The Jabra Panacast camera was selected as it allowed the teacher to roam anywhere in front of the classroom – where they spend most of their instructional time – and the camera automatically auto-framed and auto-tracked wherever the teacher walked. This was critical as the teacher was always in focus for remote students to see, even while viewing content. The spotlight mode in the Microsoft Teams client also became generally available, which greatly enhanced the remote experience.
A second camera, a Logitech Brio content camera, was mounted next to the Jabra Panacast camera on a dual camera mount on a tripod. The Logitech Brio was selected to perform dual purposes: to share whiteboard content with the MTR enhanced mode turned on and as a secondary object camera to show lab experiments, do manipulative teaching, show objects, and even read/see pages from a book in class. The content camera provided the unique advantage of allowing in-room students to stay at their desks while the teacher shared content from the Logitech Brio, which was displayed on the projector in-class and on the screens of the remote students simultaneously – enhancing the experience for everyone. At one point, there was discussion of ceiling mounting the cameras, but it turned out that the tripod supported a third use case: the ability to swivel the Jabra Panacast camera 180 degrees and allow the remote students to see and interact with the in-room students for certain instructional sessions.
After piloting all the workflows and experiences of the system and testing with a handful of teachers, the deployment of all 240 classrooms across four buildings was scheduled two weeks before school started. The deployment took about five days, just in time to allow for a soft-launch of the first week of school for in-room students, remote students, and teachers to get accustomed to the system and start their school year.
Remote students using their laptops, tablets, and the Microsoft Teams app are now learning just as well as their in-room classmates, thus providing a choice to parents and students to learn in-class or from home. In fact, when a survey was sent out to the parents for the second semester, over 90% of the remote students preferred to continue learning using the hybrid teaching solution from home, and the solution in place will also support future learning-from-home for any reason going forward.
Since then, HP has added formal professional development services to the hybrid teaching solution to help school districts get specific teacher training on the various workflows of the system, train-the-trainer workshops, webinars, and assessment results. In addition, HP offers a 30-day trunk-kit loaners for qualified schools, which includes all the components of the hybrid learning solution, including the HP Elite Slice G2, cameras, and cabling needed to setup a turnkey hybrid teaching environment in a classroom and test out the new workflows.
For more information on the Hybrid Teaching Solution: http://www8.hp.com/h20195/v2/GetPDF.aspx/4AA7-8612ENW.pdf
Contact info: Martin Schwarz, HP Global Solution Architect firstname.lastname@example.org
Be sure to watch past episodes of Inside Microsoft Teams here: https://aka.ms/InsideMSTeams
Brought to you by Dr. Ware, Microsoft Office 365 Silver Partner, Charleston SC.