Managing HyFlex classrooms in the heart of New York City: Pace University case study
Catchbox microphones have transformed Pace University's HyFlex classrooms, ensuring seamless audio capture for both professors and students, fostering an engaging and interactive learning experience.
Published on: January 19, 2024
Pace University, with its main campus in the financial district of downtown Manhattan, is a top-ranked higher education institution and home to more than 13,000 students. Being located in the heart of New York City means space is in high demand, so Pace University strives to get the most out of it – their halls are equipped with state-of-the-art AV solutions enabling engaging HyFlex (hybrid-flexible) experiences for their students, lecturers, as well as event attendees.
With hybrid classes and events now a mainstay, it falls on the technology – and the teams managing it – to ensure a hiccup-free environment where everyone feels included, engaged, and present, be it a remote student or a visiting professor.
Today, it's THE challenge for any modern higher education institution – getting crisp & clear audio from students and professors for hybrid lectures and lecture recordings using user-friendly technology.
That's why Pace University turned to the Catchbox Plus system for their audio needs. To get the details, we caught up with Bradford Terry, Educational media manager at NYC Pace University, and Georgia King, an AV support specialist at Pace University.
Catchbox in the classroom: intuitive audio anyone can use
Introducing new technology in the classroom can be intimidating and stressful for all involved parties – for technicians to set up and maintain, for students to engage with, and for faculty to master.
For lecturers, and those who migrate between various teaching spaces in particular, mastering different platforms, technologies, and setups, as well as their basic troubleshooting practices, amounts to a heavy tech burden that may impact the quality of education, as well as their personal well-being.
That's why it's becoming common practice to create a common standard across the entire institution, says Bradford Terry.
“Our classroom standard includes digital media presentation, lecture capture, and HyFlex education technology in all our spaces. The goal of having the standard is to allow the users to walk into any room and fully understand what's going to be there for their expectations and also how to use the technology that's in the space.”
With HyFlex classrooms and hybrid learning, audio is critical. Both the presenter and the audience need to be mic'd up, to ensure remote attendees can hear everything and fully participate in the lecture. But traditional audio tech can pose a challenge – balancing volume, maintaining consistent audio quality, and learning to use the classroom microphones often disrupt classes and, when done badly, corrupt the audio capture for remote participants and lecture recordings.
Not with the Catchbox Plus system.
Bradford explains: “What's important for us is ease of use. We needed something that the user could come in and use without requiring instructions, without having any training. Having these be a nice wireless system on a wireless charging dock makes everything easy. The professor can clip themselves into the microphone, pick up the cube, and get started with their Zoom session.”
Nor do they have to worry about sound balance and inconsistent audio quality.
“With the Clip microphone, we love the lanyard attachment. It allows us to level the microphone ahead of time, and capture good audio from the professor wherever they are and no matter what attire they have on – they clip on this necklace and are good to go,” Bradford continues.
Originally, however, it wasn't the Clip mic for teachers that grabbed Pace University's attention, but the Cube. Like for other universities, audience audio capture posed a major HyFlex challenge and the available wireless classroom microphone options, such as ceiling array microphones, were too hard of a pill to swallow, as they're expensive and often result in subpar audio quality.
“The thing that piqued our interest was that we could quickly capture audio from a student answering a question, without having to capture either the entire room's audio or mic them up ahead of time. The Cube is thrown to the student and we can grab good, clear audio from that student. Crucially – on the fly.”
Moreover, the Cube's intriguing design speaks to the students, boosting engagement.
“The engagement aspect is actually why we started using it for some events. It allows a large event to do icebreakers, to feel more intimate, get everyone introduced to each other. These benefits translate to the classroom as well.”
It's not just faculty and students who are happy with the system, but technicians like Bradford, too, who are particularly relieved to have a single system for both presenter and audience audio.
“Something I like as a technician, working with this and setting up the Catchbox system is that I'm able to easily use the receiver's interface to adjust the settings that I want per microphone. I can adjust the settings on the Clip, or I can adjust the settings on the Cube itself. As a technician, it's nice to have that control.”
In case any technical challenges do arise, technicians always have the peace of mind that they can count on the Catchbox team to be there with a helping hand.
“The Catchbox team has been really awesome and accommodating. They've helped us out whenever we need help, they've been there for us, communicative, and supportive, so my compliments to the Catchbox team,“ Bradford concludes.
Catchbox at events: a proven engagement booster
Pace University also hosts frequent events and the Catchbox Plus system has become a key facilitator for those, too. Particularly as an engagement tool, says Georgia King, an AV support specialist at Pace University.
“For example, we use the Catchbox as a tool to have everyone introduce themselves and to incite discussions. It's really convenient because when you have a lot of people in a room and you have that ability to kind of get people involved physically and in a structured way, it makes everyone engage and pay more attention,” Georgia shares.
The Catchbox's simple plug-and-play setup makes it easy to incorporate with existing AV systems, and the superior audio quality guarantees crisp audio capture.
“With a throwable mic, there's a natural concern that it may make disruptive noise when thrown or dropped or otherwise handled. Or that audio quality has been sacrificed in favor of the protective foam. Or that there will be technical challenges. With Catchbox, there are no such issues. The only audio it captures is that of the speaker and it does so perfectly and reliably.”
At events, the wireless Clip is used as well and has quickly gained popularity among speakers and the AV team.
“The Clip is great – we really like that it's wireless and you can use it both as a clip-on and lavalier mic because we regularly run into the issue that people favor a lavalier. Sometimes they're wearing the wrong clothing, or have things brushing against the microphone. But with the Clip, you can reliably work with any scenario,” Georgia says.
And, just like the Cube, the audio's fantastic.
“It captures audio perfectly. We really like that it's super consistent so having to only do bare-minimum configuration saves us a lot of time and headaches.”
From the technical team, it's not just Bradford who has a good time working with the Catchbox Plus system. Like for most AV teams, at Pace University, the measure of technical success is the lack of support tickets. And with Catchbox there have been none.
“Literally, zero,” Georgia smiles.
Tech that makes you want to participate
Recently, Pace University hosted a large higher ed conference, where the Catchbox turned a lot of heads.
“As educators, the people there were very in tune with AV. The Catchbox really piqued their interest because, even more so than the normal participant, they really recognize the uniqueness of the product,” shares Georgia.
The Catchbox Cube was used as an audience microphone and as an engagement tool throughout the event.
“There is an immediate response to the Cube when people realize it's a microphone. It's something they haven't seen before and its uniqueness automatically makes people more engaged and gets them to interact in a different way than they normally would”.
The unusual way of passing it around – throwing – adds an enjoyable physical element to interaction, while also simplifying and speeding up the process of passing a microphone around. People immediately become curious, want to try it out, and, in turn, end up engaging more than usual.
“The Catchbox is getting people to speak and want to be involved in the conversation. Often, the cube itself becomes the topic of conversation as people, and especially educators, immediately start brainstorming other potential use cases and get into discussions about engagement in their own lecture halls.”
Being able to customize the cover with your own branding is another huge plus and adds to the microphone's uniqueness, both at events and in the classroom.
“It's a fantastic branding opportunity and definitely makes our events more memorable. The little branding boxes you sometimes see on handhelds seem laughable in comparison,” concludes Georgia.
Happy faculty, happy students, happy technicians, happy event attendees
Based on the positive reception and feedback received, Pace University plans to continue using Catchbox for lectures, conferences, meetings, and other events where interactive discussions are desired.
For Bradford, Georgia, and the rest of Pace University's AV team, the Catchbox Plus system is the ideal solution for crisp student and professor audio capture in HyFlex classrooms, whereas students and faculty enjoy the system's ease of use and engaging nature.
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