We wanted to clarify that the solution for IIMK’s classrooms was going to be voice lift and not speech reinforcement.

Mradul Sharma, 3CDN

Education spaces have changed drastically and a driving force for this evolution is a change in the approach to technology on the part of the end user. A perfect example is the expansion at Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode [IIMK] located in the city of Kozhikode, Kerala, India. The institute added a new building complex to its existing campus as part of a drive to create modern, essential learning spaces for its students. 3CDN Workplace Tech was the design consultant for the project while the integrator was Godrej & Boyce. Support was provided by Shure and its distribution partner in India, Sun Infonet, as well as Biamp through the course of the project.

The brief to 3CDN highlighted the aims and objectives of IIMK. Mradul Sharma from 3CDN details: “IIMK is one of the more forward-thinking educational institutes in India and it wanted to really expand the way students and teachers interact. One of the clear statements from the client was that they wanted a ‘microphoneless’ classroom.” What exactly does it mean when you say ‘microphoneless’ classroom? Sharma expands: “The phrase did not mean that there would be no microphones in classrooms. Instead, IIMK didn’t want the students or the teachers to wear (or see) the microphones. They wanted the experience to be seamless. As soon as the faculty members step into the classroom, they wanted them to be able to begin teaching without having a complex interaction with technology.” 

Making technology disappear is definitely a magic act and 3CDN took up the gauntlet. Sharma explains how the process to deliver the ‘microphoneless’ classroom began: “When the project started in 2017, we were just beginning to hear about the capabilities of ceiling array microphones. I think that was when the first generation of products from Shure and Sennheiser began to reach the market. We were not certain whether a ‘microphoneless’ classroom would be possible. Our first reaction was to let the client know that what they are asking for was something that had not been tested or tried. But after initial conversations with the client, we found that they were willing to participate in proof of concept activities to make it possible.” 

With the client on board, 3CDN began work. Sharma says: “Our starting point was a project we had completed for a corporate client in Bangalore, where we used the Shure MXA910 in a unique way to provide camera tracking where different microphone lobes served as the trigger for recalling camera presets. The success that we had with that project served as the first step for IIMK. After that, we had a conversation with Chicco Hiranandani from Shure who detailed a project in Dubai where the Shure MXA910 was used with Biamp at the backend to achieve voice lift for a corporate boardroom. With these two points to start with I would say we were 60% of the way to creating the ‘microphoneless’ classroom that the client wanted.”

IIMK’s new building complex comprises eight learning spaces of differing sizes. A temporary classroom approximating the size and the features of the actual classrooms, such as carpets and furniture, was created. A range of ‘microphoneless’ classroom solutions constructed from the different products available on the market were then brought in to be tested. 

Sharma says: “We took a lot of time for proof of concept activities and the major benefit for us was to be able to explain the difference between speech reinforcement and what the client wanted. We wanted to clarify that the solution for IIMK’s classrooms was going to be voice lift and not speech reinforcement, which means that you will be able to hear someone further away at a natural level rather than at a louder level which is what is achieved with traditional PA systems.”

Godrej & Boyce’s suggested solution comprised Shure MXA microphones and Biamp DSPs. Sharma says: “While most of the solutions demonstrated speech reinforcement Godrej & Boyce’s proposed solution clearly demonstrated a voice-lift system and this set the bar for the performance we were expecting.” 

Regarding the integrator’s selection, Paul Sooraj K from Godrej & Boyce says: “With any government tender, we have to identify products that are in line with the specification. For the proof of concept, we had to prove that our particular technology system would work and we also had to demonstrate that it could be executed.”

In particular, Godrej & Boyce believed that the Biamp DSP was particularly suited for the spaces at IIMK. Sooraj adds: “We felt that Biamp would be most appropriate from the technical perspective. Biamp DSPs have individual channel processing capabilities, whereas the competitors had a shared pool of resources and the overall processing capabilities are slightly less according to the technical observations of our design team. So, from the technical standpoint we believed that the Biamp DSP would be able to address the high level of

noise in the particular classroom.The noise levels are extremely high so we felt the need to have hardware-based solid processing at the backend which we felt Biamp would bring to the table in this scenario.”

After the proof of concept activities were completed, Biamp DSPs and Shure MXA910 microphones were chosen as the audio system for IIMK. Audio signals are distributed via Dante. 

When it came to the display system, the usage patterns of IIMK were considered in the selection process. Panasonic projectors were chosen to provide visuals in the various classrooms. Sharma says: “We needed approximately 140-in screens at the front of the classrooms and LED displays at that size are not affordable. In addition, pedagogy followed in India still includes whiteboards as a tool for teaching and with projection we could easily accommodate both options.” 

Sooraj provides further details regarding how projection was implemented: “When it came to the throw distance, the requirement from the customer was to make sure that there would be no shadow cast by the teacher. The Panasonic projector comes with an ultra-short throw inverted lens and this gave us complete flexibility in terms of positioning so if a person is standing even one metre ahead of the projected visuals, there is no shadow. The detailing and the drawings regarding the projector placement were extremely precise and clear and for us as the integrator it was just a matter of executing the design.” 

Video signals are transmitted via HDBaseT with an Extron DTP CrossPoint serving as the matrix for the system. Regarding the choice of mode for video transmission, Sharma says: “We began work on the IIMK project in 2017. If the project had started later, say in 2018, we would have specified AV over IP. We don’t on sider our customers to be guinea pigs where bleeding-edge technologies can be tried on them. When this project started, AV over IP was not a mature technology compared to HDBaseT specifically from Extron which is a very solid and stable platform to work on.”

Control is achieved with the help of Extron IPCP and Extron’s TLP Pro touch panel. Wacom 22-in monitors are used for annotation of content. 

A broadcast system to allow proceedings in the new building to be viewed in other facilities on the campus has been delivered. Extron SMP-351 units are used to record audio and video which is then sent out via multicast IP by Wowza. 

IIMK has standardised its conferencing with LifeSize Cloud. Sooraj from Godrej & Boyce says: “IIMK was already using LifeSize as its videoconferencing platform and they just increased the number of licenses according to their requirements. The main difference is that they moved from a hardware-based system to one that is now software-based.” 

Sharma details: “With the previous videoconferencing OEM the client had support issues with the product and the service that was provided and the improvements around it. They wanted a conferencing solution that was easy, and we thought the best route to that would be cloud-based. We ended up using LifeSize and the Extron MediaPort 200 which is a gateway and provides a USBinterface for laptops and creates that seamless experience that the client wanted.” 

Sharma says: “When it came to wireless collaboration, IIMK required a system that would allow the teachers to preview the content from students and then be able to put it onto the screen. The Kramer Via Campus met these requirements on the dot.”

Regarding the challenges faced, Sharma says: “During the tender process, the eight spaces were meant to be very similar in size, around 70 people seating capacity and oval in shape. But during the course of the project and its execution the form of some of the rooms changed. We ended up with two rooms with tiered seating when our original designs were for flat seating. This meant that we had to change the designs to achieve the proper acoustic results.” 

Sharma adds: “Price can be a sticking point in any part of the world. With government projects, it is important because they are investing the taxpayers’ money. This is why we exercised proof of concept activities with the products and paid great attention to the design. When it came to the budget, we were able to convince them with the proof of concept activities that the investments in technology that they were making would be delivering the results that they wanted.”

Sooraj from Godrej & Boyce details: “When we started work, the classrooms were active which meant that we had a very small window of working time to complete the project on time and schedule. Godrej & Boyce deployed additional manpower to ensure that the timelines were met. We couldn’t just come to the site without the proper preparation because IIMK is at a remote location which meant that we didn’t have access to additional resources. So the planning on our end was done in a meticulous way. We stationed project engineers and a number of technicians nearby.” 

Reviewing the project, Sharma concludes: “AV over IP would be the obvious improvement if we were designing this project today. And perhaps the spaces could have benefitted from better speaker selection. In hindsight, if we had selected speakers with narrower angles of coverage, we could have achieved an increase in performance (better gain before feedback). But on the whole, I think we have achieved the client’s aim of creating learning spaces where technology is an enabler rather than something that takes centre stage.”

Quotes :

Hurrairah bin Sohail finds out how engaging in extensive proof of concept activities helped 3CDN and Godrej & Boyce bring Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode’s vision of a ‘microphoneless’ classroom to fruition.

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