Late in 2020 we commenced work on an innovative digital classroom for Wilmington plc at its Fort Dunlop, Birmingham office, designed to help its portfolio of businesses deliver professional training courses remotely to its global customer-base.
The goal was to use technology to create a new way to deliver courses and qualifications at a distance. Importantly, they wanted to implement a solution that was more engaging for delegates and more natural for teachers.
They specifically needed technology to support intuitive presenting, content displays for delegates, different video angles that make the space feel real, flexible remote communication, and generally work out how to make remote online learning as engaging as possible.
This was an exciting end-to-end project for us. By integrating flexible audio-visual technology, the studio space generates a phenomenal and natural experience for both speakers and delegates.
It’s an immensely intuitive solution that enables teachers to provide engaging and interactive lessons in the same way they might in person without having to worry about technical aspects, thereby helping delegates to engage and learn more, and attracting the best talent from both sides of the room.
The client had an extremely ambitious vision and needed the project completed to an incredibly tight deadline. However, we invested plenty of time learning about the needs of the Wilmington business and its team to enable us to design something that really delivered on their vision.
The installation is based around Barco weConnect and occupies two spaces: a digital classroom studio and control room. By integrating heavily with cameras and speakers in the room, this software elegantly simulates a classroom and provides a powerful user experience.
At a glance, the studio is brimming with flexible tools and features for speakers to deliver immersive lessons, including:
- a video wall to see students up close
- a green screen for custom backdrops
- an interactive whiteboard
- direction-based audio systems for natural face to face interaction
- wireless headsets and microphones for total freedom of movement
The control room enables audio visual experts to control certain elements of the teacher’s presentation, meaning the speaker can focus on the lesson in hand, rather than worry about the technical aspects.
The COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit certainly made this project a challenge; trying to order parts and gear leading up to Christmas 2020 proved problematic due to low stock. The team had to be incredibly flexible and even changed some designs last minute to ensure everything worked and that the solution was finished on time.
Features in detail
The focal point of the space is the curved video wall containing screens, cameras and speakers. Two walls are painted for use as a green screen, with a curtain for when the green screen is not required. Two floorboxes act as plug-in points for the portable equipment: a podium from which the teacher can control the session if needed, and an interactive whiteboard. These are optional and interchangeable to suit the teacher’s preference. The room also has two further cameras for different views and microphones mounted in the ceiling. Two wireless headset microphones are provided for teacher use in the studio.
- The video wall consists of six screens to be used as delegate displays in the Barco weConnect system (each showing up to six delegates), in three vertical banks. A fixed camera in each bank provides the delegate’s view and two further PTZ camera give more flexible viewing options. One of the delegate screens (bottom, centre) can alternatively be used to display other video content (typically when the weConnect system is not being used, for example during a simple video conference call). Below these screens there are three confidence monitors which are flexible in their use. Speakers are built into the video wall in each of the three banks so that when a delegate is talking, the sound comes from the direction of their display.
- The podium is a wheeled, electronic lectern with two touchscreens. One is to control the session and the other for any content they wish to display.
- The interactive whiteboard is mounted on a wheeled trolley. The system can capture both content displayed on the whiteboard and any content or mark-up produced by the teacher using the whiteboard.
The control room
The control room features a control desk from which a session may be controlled. It supports camera and lighting control, video switching and mixing, green screen processing, talkback to the studio, and the use of a technician’s laptop (provided by user) for content or to record video.
What Wilmington used us for:
AV systems architecture
Video capture playback
What Wilmington used us for:
Network architecture and security
Wilmington plc’s world-class virtual classroom delivers on every requirement. Implementing cutting edge technology across a studio and control room is helping the businesses within Wilmington to deliver offer engaging lessons using state-of-the-art technology.
The resulting edTech solution provides a rich, powerful learning environment, that allows all participants to engage in a way that traditional models do not support; going far beyond standard online communications or video conferencing platforms.
This project is yet another example of how technology can positively transform productivity, comfort, and efficiency levels. The facility at Wilmington plc’s Fort Dunlop office is a benchmark that all future virtual classrooms should aspire to.
Head of Facilities Management
“The brief was to create a flexible studio space incorporating weConnect; to enable the trainer to deliver classes at 100%, without any compromise, and therefore give delegates the best possible experience of the trainer.
Both Vanti and I were new to Barco’s weConnect as a product and there was a learning journey for them regarding the technical implementation and us regarding the functionality offered and required. Having worked with the Vanti team previously I knew that their innovative approach to finding solutions would be a key part to the success of this project.
Of course, the added complication to this project was that it was to be completed amid the national lockdown, however having worked with Vanti before, I admire the team’s problem solving capabilities and their approach to come up with solutions.
When I commissioned Vanti to do this project, they were not an approved Barco reseller at the time, however I chose them on the basis that Raj assured Wilmington that they would become an approved reseller. They had to sit many exams to become accredited and, by the time they were on site to install, they were accredited.
As a solutions-based company, they very much want to understand what we’re trying to achieve and that is the difference between a partner and a supplier. Working with Vanti is a total partnership; I gave them a remit to provide the very best solution for our budget and they truly delivered. We have a Gold-standard digital classroom with the best cameras, microphones, spatial sound and control desk. The installation enables our trainers to fly; we don’t want them to be technicians or need to understand the technology – we simply want them to perform and our facility enables them to do that.
Since the installation was completed, the feedback we have had from both delegates and trainers has been amazing, and we have a digital classroom studio that really sets the bar.”
“Driven by Barco weConnect virtual classroom technology and implemented by technology partner Vanti, the investment we have made in our digital classroom technology takes online or blended learning to a new level. Each year, Wilmington’s businesses enrol over 20,000 new students from around the world for training, courses and qualifications. Everyone has worked tirelessly to create a digital learning experience that bridges the gap between the physical classroom and the virtual world. The feedback we have received to date suggests that the two-way interaction it provides not only improves the quality of the experience for the student, but also of the lecturer.”
Late in 2020 we commenced work on an innovative virtual teaching space for Wilmington at Fort Dunlop Birmingham, designed to help them deliver professional training courses at a distance.