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Syncing up ASU’s classrooms for live-hosted digital classes

July 2, 2020

UTO is outfitting classrooms with new cameras, screens and microphones to deploy ASU Sync for the fall semester

The year 2020 is no traditional year. But Arizona State University is no traditional institution, which means university leaders have been preparing for weeks to create a seamless, socially responsible classroom experience for the fall 2020 semester — amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University Technology Office has been preparing classrooms at all ASU campuses for a new learning approach: ASU Sync, which will provide students with technology-enhanced, fully interactive remote learning, using live lectures via Zoom. It's part of the three options for on-campus learning that students will have access to when classes begin Aug. 20.

In all, more than 800 learning spaces will either be equipped or enhanced with Zoom features or capabilities, which will allow students on Zoom to hear the instructor from anywhere in the classroom and see what's written on classroom whiteboards, slide presentations and digital annotation tools. Students both in person and on Zoom will be able to ask questions of the instructor, and the faculty member will be able to ask questions of all students, regardless of location.

Of the more than 800 spaces, 375 are getting equipment permanently installed, with portable setups configured for the rest.

It has been a big job, with coronavirus-specific challenges.

"In ideal times, getting equipment installed in upward of 375 spaces during a summer would be a massive undertaking," said Corey Marshall, learning experience manager with the University Technology Office. "We would normally spend months preparing an initiative of that scale. So, the first immediate challenge was to do that in weeks instead of months. Add on top of that pandemic-related challenges, like equipment and labor shortages, and this became an incredibly complex puzzle to solve in a very short period of time."

The classroom enhancement process has six phases — design, equipment procurement, electrical/point-to-point installation, integration, faculty preparation and on-site engagement. The design phase is complete, and others are underway.

"Our learning experience team members and other UTO colleagues worked tirelessly to put this together in such short order," Marshall said. "The fact that we are ASU was a tremendous advantage for us, as equipment manufacturers and other partners — many local — were eager to get involved. With pallets of equipment still arriving to campus daily, we still have some ways to go to completion, but the energy around the project is remarkable."

Equipment has been ordered for 95% of the spaces, and UTO instructional tech specialists have been installing the necessary audio/visual equipment for the upcoming academic year at a rate of 10 rooms per day.

The integration phase will begin on all four Valley campuses and the Lake Havasu location the week of July 6.

In order to prepare for the upcoming academic year, more than 300 faculty members attended ASU Sync workshops jointly developed by UTO, EDPlus and 10 colleges in June, and hundreds more are signed up for sessions in July.

ASU Sync will allow the university to enable social distancing measures in classrooms by providing in-person instruction for some students, while others interact virtually. 

ASU has also partnered with a variety of technology innovators like Slack, Canvas and Yellowdig to supply students with the best online educational tools.

Top photo: UTO instructional tech specialists Mark Pettit (left) and Orlando Moralez discuss plans July 1 to transition ASU's campus classrooms with new technology equipment. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Jimena Garrison

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