Primary School Italy

How a primary school adapts to Covid-19 using A/V techniques

The Paritaria School S.G.B. Cottolengo of Turin, like all the schools in our country, had to adapt to the restrictions caused by the epidemic. System Integrator Delta Tecno Studio in Italy created a setup that made hybrid education possible in a great functioning way for children to keep interactive with their class and teacher. The Patritaria School S.G.B. Cottolengo saw the Covid-19 restrictions as an opportunity to look beyond and realized the idea of ​​a school that makes distance learning a fixed point.

After having equipped itself, already ten years ago, with large format multitouch monitors, the San G.B. Cottolengo has decided this year, transforming the Covid-19 into an opportunity. The decided to complete its technological equipment for distance teaching by equipping the classrooms with a complete audio and video system that allows students to feel like they are in the classroom even when they have to follow the lessons from home or from the room besides their classroom, as per ministerial prescriptions to counter the spread of the infection in the school environment. This because the size of the classrooms did not allow the correct spacing of the desks.

The setup being used

Delta Tecno Studio, System Integrator with long experience and offices in Rome and Varese, was called to carry out this technological upgrade. The solution included, among others, the installation of an Avonic CM44 remote camera, Sennheiser XSW-2 microphones, and an Allen & Heath ZED-i8 mixer, supplied by our distributor in Italy Exhibo Spa.

Classrooms equipped with remote cameras, microphones for classroom recording and multimedia boards: the school takes a step forward, even in the time of Covid-19.

This new upgrade allows a single teacher to carry out lessons, if necessary, in two classes at the same time. Even for students who follow from home. Featuring great ease of use, the system is divided into scenarios that are activated with simple buttons and do not require teachers to have specific technical knowledge. They tell us better what it is: Don Andrea Bonsignori, General Director, S.G.B. Cottolengo of Turin, Pier Luigi Pecchenini, Technical Director, Delta Tecno Studio and Pietro Radaelli, AV Specialist, Delta Tecno Studio.

The challenge: to teach online with clarity, ease and low cost.

“Si vis pacem, para bellum” says a famous ancient maxim. “If you want peace, get ready for war.”

Nobody, least of all Don Andrea Bonsignori, wants a second wave of Covid-19 in autumn-winter. Since the eventuality is anything but excludable, the school had to – understandably – run for cover in time, equipping itself with a valid online teaching system. Like the Cottolengo Institute, so many other Italian schools have equipped themselves for distance learning. But what, in particular, characterizes the system put in place at Cottolengo?

We suddenly found ourselves facing various problems – Don Andrea tells us. We had to provide our children with support which, in the case of an institution like ours, which has a user that is sometimes ‘difficult’, I like to say ‘different’, is not so obvious; tools were needed that could bring a double message to everyone. On one hand, actual teaching, which must be efficient and valid even at a distance and on the other, no less important for us, the thought of school as a community. Remote work has its advantages, but it risks losing that camaraderie and that idea of ​​community which, in our opinion, is essential in a school.

“The school is made up of concreteness, beyond questions of principle. School is community, not just notions, but community life, sharing.”

Don Andrea

Not having unlimited funds, and not wanting to give too much ground to the (albeit necessary) social distancing, the Institute’s management took a courageous decision. This is how Don Andrea explains it: “Faced with these problems, we asked ourselves: are we looking at the emergency or post-emergency? And we set out to look after, thinking above all of the most needy. The idea was to create an elastic class, also because we could not afford to hire many more teachers. And, on the other hand, it was also impossible to ask families to keep their children at home for three days a week. We also didn’t like the idea of plexiglass dividers between the counters “. Thus, it was decided to implement the already existing system of touch boards with a real A/V system capable of bringing the class wherever it is needed.

Above: with the AV solution now present in the San G.B. Cottolengo it is possible to follow the lessons from home or from other environments. Above: the distance in a classroom guaranteed by technology and, on the right, the Avonic CM44 PTZ camera active in every classroom of the school.

The solution: remote cameras and microphones in every classroom

Delta Tecno Studio, whose Technical Director Pier Luigi Pecchenini illustrated the system in its entirety, was involved in developing and implementing the project ten years ago. Don Andrea, in May, asked us, with great foresight in my opinion, to study a solution for his school that would allow all the children to participate in the lessons. The specifics were that the boys were not framed directly in the face, for privacy reasons, and that the audio was of good quality and allowed to capture and transmit the whole classroom environment, to create immersion and make the children more involved. from home. Obviously, the system had to respect a certain quality and price ratio.

A decidedly not easy mission, given that the building that houses the Cottolengo school, in the Porta Palazzo district in Turin, is not the most recent, and posed architectural problems. In order to comply with the specifications, each classroom was equipped with an Avonic CM44 remote camera supplied by Exhibo and placed behind the students, and a microphone recording in two points from the ceiling.

“The microphones we have chosen, two for each classroom – continues Pier Luigi Pecchenini – are models usually used to record the choirs, therefore very performing, and mounted in suspension. We also placed a third microphone on the desk. available to the teacher, to better capture his or her voice, especially for the benefit of those who follow the lessons remotely”. In short, what has been designed and assembled is in effect a complete A/V system that allows the teacher and the class to ‘split up’: the teacher can address both the students physically present in the classroom and those connected by home or from another classroom of the Institute (divided to comply with anti-contagion rules). But the key point of this system is that it has a ‘double meaning’. Not only in favor of the teachers, but also of the students because those who followed the lessons remotely could see the class and feel equally involved in the didactic activity of the classmates present.

The school adopts the Microsoft Teams platform for remote lessons, and the system designed by Delta Tecno Studio fits perfectly into this choice, adapting to the needs. Exhibo’s Avonic CM44 remote cameras transmit via USB: with a simple Avonic UEX150 USB extender, the signal is brought over Cat cable to the computer with which each classroom is equipped and, finally, to the practical Magnoni 3U slim vertical rack (also distributed by Exhibo), located just below the electronic board.

Avonic CM44 full HD remote cameras have a 2.8 ”CMOS sensor for 2.07 megapixel resolution with noise reduction, to deliver high quality images even in low light conditions. Controllable with the most popular protocols (VISCA, Pelco-D / P and via RS232), these cameras are also supplied with a convenient and simple IR remote control, which brings control within everyone’s reach.

“We have created an easy AV solution, manageable directly by the teachers. The PTZ cameras have been programmed to perform three different shots.”

Pier Luigi Pecchenini

An HDMI camera would have required a conversion interface,” explains Pietro Radaelli, responsible for the programming and start-up of the systems residing in the classrooms. “So instead you go directly to the classroom computer. The optics of the cameras, which shoot in Full HD, have a 5x optical zoom with a horizontal angle of view of 83.7°.

In essence, the system creates a live broadcast of the lesson with three different shots available:

1) The class as a whole (taken from behind, so that only the backs of the students can be seen);

2) A plan dedicated to teaching moments on the blackboard, such as questions, and finally

3) A tighter plan on the teacher.

The cameras do not have an automatic tracking function because it was not necessary to follow the teacher in his possible movements for the class. However, given the need for privacy, the choice would still have fallen on fixed shots with predetermined cuts.

The teacher – or anyone else who is in charge of managing the system – has only to select the frame with a simple remote control. Each classroom was equipped with an easy instruction manual, available to teachers and students. All with a view to extreme simplicity.

Such a structured system literally leads the classes to be ‘flexible’ (as defined by Don Andrea): a lesson held in a given class can be shared and followed by those who temporarily reside in a different classroom, or are at home. And this applies to Covid-19 but also to other eventualities. If one of our students – Don Andrea points out – should not be able to come to school for a long time, he could also benefit from the system individually; or if a family has problems, they could still have their children follow the lessons remotely, without losing the school year and the need to change schools. The installation of this system closes a path of technological equipment that began years ago. It is not a question of canceling classes or abolishing face-to-face teaching, but of offering more possibilities. In this case, technology puts the person back at the center.

Left: the monitor used by the teacher to communicate with students connected remotely. Above right: a student connected remotely. Above: simulation of students following the lesson from other rooms in the school.

Ease of use and out of reach of children

Teachers, we often hear, are enemies of technology, and have remained firmly attached to the ‘traditional’ lesson, in the presence. This is only partially true, because in the face of some teachers reluctant to measure themselves with the latest technological advances, there are also many who approach with curiosity what we have called ‘school 2.0’.

A system intended for distance learning, however, still requires a certain ease of use, as well as a ‘student-proof’ robustness: children and teenagers often cannot resist the temptation to touch and try the instruments, and an A/V system installed in a classroom it must secure itself from accidental tampering and unintentional mess.

For this – explains Pier Luigi Pecchenini – we have arranged a preset of three frames for the cameras, with the three most useful point of views for the purpose of the lesson between which the teacher can switch with a simple button. We then added a 24 “monitor which is used by the teacher to communicate with students connected remotely, from another classroom or from home. The DSP we used has an internal echo cancellation function that is added to the echo cancellation of the videoconferencing system installed on the PCs. This redundancy offers even better audio performance. Basically, you just have to start the video conferencing session with Microsoft Teams, and then the system works by itself. With a simple switch you can turn everything on and off. The microphones are enabled automatically, and to disable them just turn off the corresponding channel.

As for the diffusion of audio in the classroom, given that the classrooms have not undergone structural interventions aimed at making them more suitable for sound diffusion, has something specific been done?

The first attempt – Pecchenini tells us – was to use the monitor speakers, but it didn’t work well. So we installed soundbars above or below the monitors, depending on the environmental situation. Thus the acoustic diffusion has improved.

Very interesting, to complete the system, is the multitouch monitor, mounted on a stand with wheels, positioned in the classroom intended for interviews between teachers and parents. It is a mobile workstation equipped with Sennheiser XSW-2 wireless microphones, an Allen & Heath ZED-i8 mixer and the Avonic CM44 camera. The school has 16 ‘normal’ classrooms already equipped plus a music room but, if necessary, this multitouch monitor with wheeled stand can be picked up, placed and used wherever you want, for video conferences and remote lessons.

In order: 1) The buttons to activate and deactivate the microphones. The camera frames are recalled by the dedicated remote control function which also manages the manual movement of the cameras themselves; 2) A classroom of the Cottolengo school in Turin; 3) The large format touch monitor with the Avonic PTZ camera

For a true 2.0 school: is Covid-19 really an opportunity?

“I believe that Don Andrea is a person that really sees this as far away” is the final comment of Pier Luigi Pecchenini. “This upgrade of the school’s equipment goes far beyond Covid-19, it sets a path and represents a model for other schools”.

In fact, there is no doubt that a better connection between technology and teaching can only benefit teachers and students, even in the future.

Don Andrea agrees: Ten years ago we put multimedia boards in every classroom and we obtained the GARR connection. With this upgrade we have added environmental cameras and microphones to an existing system. I hope that our experience can be a model for other schools. In short, there is no need to rejoice in the epidemic we are facing, but in the end even covid-19 could leave a positive legacy: the renewal, from a technological point of view, of teaching and of the very own idea of ​​school.

Sennheiser receiver for the wireless microphone mounted behind the monitor positioned on a stand with wheels

Allen & Heath ZED-i8 mixer

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