Case Study: Education

Pearl underpins remote and hybrid learning at the University of Rhode Island

March 16, 2021

Pearl underpins remote and hybrid learning at the University of Rhode Island image

The University of Rhode Island AV team equipped 30 classrooms with Pearl-2 and Pearl Mini hardware encoders for flexible, user-friendly lecture capture and streaming.

Pressed for a streaming solution for hybrid learning

In early 2020, the University of Rhode Island (URI) wanted to deploy a campus-wide live streaming solution that was simple for faculty to use. The devices the university had on hand were too complex, requiring that the AV team bring in a specialist every time they needed to live stream.

With the pandemic, URI suddenly needed to enable remote and hybrid learning in every classroom, active learning room, and auditorium – fast. The solution had to be flexible enough to stream out to students at home and stream into the room when a faculty member had to teach from home.

Different spaces called for different solutions. For classrooms with basic streaming configurations (e.g., a talking head and slides), the solution was to use video capture computer software. But media-rich learning spaces like active learning classrooms and auditoriums required a more complex and robust solution like a hardware streaming encoder.

The AV team was looking at hardware solutions with deep Crestron technology integration because Crestron is the backbone of the university’s AV infrastructure. Two other factors were ease of use and size. Faculty had to be able to use the solution no matter their level of technical expertise. Additionally, the device couldn’t take up too much precious space on the lectern.

A short and easy search

URI Senior Information Technologist Jeffrey Levesque first encountered Epiphan Pearl-2 and Pearl Mini lecture capture systems at a Crestron Masters training event. Both devices offered not only deep Crestron integration options but also a rich set of features. Levesque noted Pearl-2 as a powerful video production encoder and Pearl Mini as a compact, user-friendly device with a large touch screen for easy video monitoring. When it came time to make a decision, he reviewed the options and the choice was clear.

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“No other solution really fit as well. It was a no-brainer for us.” Jeffrey Levesque, Senior Information Technologist at URI

URI outfitted 30 active learning classrooms with Pearl Minis, capturing speaker video from a camera and a computer source. Audio was routed in one of two ways: directly into Pearl using XLR audio or USB, or through the classroom’s Digital Signal Processing (DSP) system. The AV team also installed Pearl-2s in three large auditoriums, where inputs included three NDI cameras and a projector source.

For URI, the choice of hardware informed the choice of the video content management system (CMS). Pearl’s direct integrations with Panopto and Kaltura narrowed the search to these two options. Ultimately, URI chose Panopto and was able to take advantage of the powerful scheduling integration on Pearl. After a lecture wraps up, all content gets uploaded to Panopto and distributed to Brightspace, the school’s LMS, where it’s ready for student access.

University of Rhode Island - diagrams

A solution appreciated campus-wide

Around campus, Pearls are revered as reliable and easy-to-use devices. The main benefits to the university include:

Ease of use for faculty

Pearl Mini’s large touch screen makes faculty members feel more confident about lecture streaming and recording. They find Pearl’s user interface intuitive and easy to navigate. The faculty also finds the Panopto scheduling system easy to operate on Pearl, allowing them to start and stop lecture capture at the touch of a button. Knowing they can “set it and forget it” frees them up to focus on teaching and not waste time fumbling around with technology.

Faculty members use various layout presets the school videographer built using Pearl’s powerful and simplified custom layouts builder This way, faculty don’t have to spend time figuring out optimal source arrangements and feel more comfortable with switching.

Ease of installation, operation, and maintenance

The URI AV team was able to easily install and configure all Pearl systems on their own. Pearl fit well into their existing Crestron infrastructure and integrated seamlessly with Panopto. With the Panopto scheduling integration, the team can set up all lecture capture at the beginning of the semester, and from there the process is fully automated.

Pearl’s remote accessibility is an essential feature for the AV team. With the ability to log into systems from anywhere, tasks like monitoring events, adjusting audio gain, and troubleshooting is a breeze.

“Products and solutions like Pearl-2 and Pearl Mini that offer strong backbones and strong oversight options are what really help us, as a relatively small group on campus, be as effective as we can.” Katie Babula, Manager ITS AV Systems at URI

URI is on track to connect all Pearl devices to Epiphan Edge to centralize device management. This will provide an easy way to monitor all Pearl devices in one location and make remote operation even easier.

University of Rhode Island - Pearl Mini

Safety and security

The IT and AV teams at URI were impressed with Pearl’s ability to work natively with the university’s robust IT structure. The AV team also takes advantage of the Kensington lock slot on the back of each device to limit physical access to the device.

URI has plans to expand its AV setup to include more classrooms in new buildings. When the question came up of what streaming solution should go in those classrooms, the AV team had the answer ready:

“When they asked about lecture capture and recording we’d pointed them to the Pearls. Even before our project went live, we were recommending them as the preferred unit for us to go forward with.” Jeffrey Levesque, Senior Information Technologist at URI

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Thanks to Pearl, URI is able to provide varying degrees of flexibility for in-person attendance to students. The university can now offer classes as in-person with recording backup, fully hybrid, or streamed only. Pearl lecture capture systems offer a flexible video capture and streaming solution that will provide benefits far beyond URI’s current remote learning needs.

About the University of Rhode Island

The University of Rhode Island is the State’s public land-grant research university. URI is a diverse and dynamic community whose members are connected by a common quest for knowledge. As a major research university defined by innovation and big thinking, URI offers its undergraduate, graduate, and professional students distinctive educational opportunities designed to meet the global challenges of today’s world and the rapidly evolving needs of tomorrow.