With a student population of almost 50,000 students across 14 different colleges, the University of South Florida (USF) recently moved a step closer to its aim of having a microphone in every classroom.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, the university faced a pressing need for campus-wide, hybrid learning. And the Sennheiser TeamConnect Ceiling 2 installed in one of the campus’ high-profile meeting rooms paved the way for the USF to greenlight a cost-conscious, campus-wide installation of TCC2 across 96 classrooms.

Each of the 96 classrooms in USF’s recent integration was outfitted with a Sennheiser TeamConnect Ceiling 2, audience cam and a professor cam ‘The very first thing we did was get our entire team together so we could do a full inventory assessment of the campus,’ explains Audio Vision Engineering & Systems manager, Michael Kraus. ‘We deployed emergency personnel on campus with PPE to document everything we had, and anything we didn’t have full information on. Did a particular room have a PC and an instructor source? Or just a wall plate? Did it have HDMI? Was it analogue?’

By April, the USF IT team had made a full assessment of classroom readiness, as well as a dashboard of what a hybrid solution might look like. ‘We wanted a technology solution that enabled full student participation for both online and in-person,’ says Kraus. ‘Noah [Kessler, Technology & Systems Manager, USF] came up with a design for about 700 rooms of what could be done, how much it would cost, and what it would look like to achieve this new definition of flexible hybrid technology.’

‘We always wanted to be able to mic an entire classroom, but until then didn’t see a solid cost-effective solution,’ Kessler says. ‘When I saw the Sennheiser TCC2, we were eager to test it with a couple of rooms and experiment. Andrew [Kornstein, Customer Development & Applications Engineering, Sennheiser] brought it by and we installed it in one of our conference rooms. During the testing, we walked around the room to evaluate the quality of the microphone before jumping head first into this project. We knew we had a cost-effective solution.’

Once the scope of work and design was complete, the deployment took just three weeks. Working with Sennheiser, USF’s team of IT and A/V experts engaged integration firm AVI-SPL to assist with the installation.

‘Mike [Kraus] called and said, ‘they’d got a pretty big project and would will need a super-fast turnaround,’ says Jake Gilray of AVI-SPL. ‘The project entailed outfitting 96 classrooms across 17 buildings, and we had to have everything completed before classes started in the fall semester.’

The USF commissioned design called for both in-person and online students to engage within the classroom, using a camera and the TCC2. Gilray rallied his team: ‘USF staff are team players,’ he says. ‘They take a collaborative approach to each project and communicate regularly with their partners. After we received the brief from USF, we understood what they wanted, and knew we could handle their requirements on deadline.

‘Our team has deep experience with deploying solutions that require a high degree of technical expertise. What makes the TCC2 different is that it was efficient to install. This enabled us to quickly and confidently deploy the TCC2 in each classroom and help meet this project’s fast turnaround time.’

USF’s IT team appreciated TCC2’s ability to handle different audio sources, making it a solution that could play nicely in almost any audio infrastructure. ‘For the most part, most of the signal routing was pretty straightforward,’ says Kessler.

‘Typically we would take the analogue out, connect this to our Crestron processor and then back out of it. If it came to needing more mics, we could integrate other Crestron USB mixers, or alternatively send signals straight into the computer using a Dante USB adapter. That’s the beauty of this system, because some competing units only offer Dante connectivity, or in some cases just an analogue out. These limitations would have made the project a lot more difficult.’

Michael Kraus, Audio Vision Engineering & Systems, USF ITIn addition to the TCC2 that handled all the audio signals, each room was equipped with an audience cam and a professor cam. Once all the TCC2 units were installed and tested, they performed as expected.

‘What really impressed me though is how well the product worked out of the box,’ says Kessler. ‘Hang-and-bang, tweak a couple settings and then you are off to the next room. As far as performance, the audio is very clear and I really like the fact that you can create exclusion zones in two dimensions in case you have noise from an HVAC system or something.’

USF is confident that its TCC2 installation will serve staff and students beyond its effectiveness through the pandemic: ‘That was part of the original discussion –whether we could use all this equipment post-Covid,’ says Kraus, ‘We know we will be able to use all these systems and it is a good future investment.’

As a point of added value, many professors are using TCC2 to capture high-quality recordings of their lectures, adds Lead Audiovisual Project Manager, Dominic Cesario. ‘Since the pandemic started, we have been encouraging instructors to use the recording capability within our videoconferencing software, and the mics in TCC2 allow for high-quality audio capture.’

Kraus remains enthusiastic about the performance of Sennheiser mics – and the TCC2 systems across campus: ‘We have already included Sennheiser microphones in all future standard classrooms, regardless of whether or not they have flexible hybrid requirements,’ he concludes. ‘Regarding TCC2 itself, I’ve done demonstrations for other universities as recently as last week, explaining to them that this has now become our classroom standard.’

More: www.sennheiser.com

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