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When the University of Technology-Sydney (UTS) built a Superlab facility for its students to conduct experiments, the notion of teaching en-masse in a noisy, reverberant underground facility appeared a lost cause. Yet as the biggest and most flexible Superlab in Australia, the unique facility was designed to run multiple classes at the same time. Accommodating up to 220 students, each of whom is provided with a workbench and computer station, the 170-foot (52-meter) long Superlab can be configured to allow up to 12 classes at the same time.

“We wanted to build in flexibility, so students could wear headphones with microphones, allowing us to isolate them and talk directly about what they’re doing,” explains UTS’ professor Nicolson. ‘The goal was for each student to hear only what their instructor was telling them, while they’re in the same room as other students doing different experiments in other disciplines.”

SIDEBAR: Each Digi-Wave DLT transceiver is slim, lightweight, robust and simple to set up — perfect for UTS’ requirements. With the push of a button, students access two-way communication for immediate interaction or Q&A for which the transceiver’s 300-foot (100-meter) range ensures perfect operation in the 2.4GHz ISM band utilizing FSK modulation with frequency hopping software to reduce interference potential.

A schematic plan of the laboratory was drawn up consisting of 26 tables with eight students positioned at each. Associated with this, up to 12 individual teaching stations were added to provide up to 12 individual groups of students. The potential to teach one large group from the same teaching position was also designed into the master plan. Crucially, the entire room locks out any other networks, ensuring no interference can affect transmissions.

“The initial idea was to provide the students with streaming video together with wireless audio so that they could hear the teacher’s presentations and engage in talk-back,” explains senior project manager Rob Hardy. “We looked high and low for a solution and eventually sourced a Williams Sound Digi-Wave™ system with 12 DLT transceivers for each teaching position across the room. We further separated the students into two tables so that 16 students in total can receive signals from any of the transceivers. We then separated the students into groups so they could receive teaching lessons from anywhere in the room via the local transceivers that can be fed to any position.”

“In this room we were a little restricted with the wireless,” further explains Hardy. “We ended up using the 2.4 GHz bandwidth and had to cut off all the other available wireless for the students, leaving the Williams Sound system as the exclusive system, although the 5GHz band is available for mobile devices. It’s brilliant for academics, as they can communicate collaboratively and understand the teacher clearly.”

The Digi-Wave transceivers feature an LCD on the front panel, displaying battery level, mode, time, channel number, group number, and the number of other DLTs with the talk button on. The transceivers have a battery life up to 14 hours per charge and are constantly powered between lessons on Digi-Wave multi-bay docking stations.

“The DLT transceivers receive any of the lessons from any of the teaching positions from throughout the room,” continues Hardy. Teachers preside over their lessons from their virtual Crestron control panel, allowing them to drag and drop devices onto their touchscreens. Students can watch the video content from their dedicated all-in-one PCs or from 12 wall-mounted displays associated within each teaching area. Clearly visible LEDs in each teaching position light up amber or blue should a student wish to receive help or have a question, clearing the way for dialogue via the Digi-Wave DLT transceivers worn on lanyards around their necks. “The signal strength of these is very robust,” continues Hardy. “The DLTs are kept on permanent charge in the drawer, while the students bring in their own headphones, plug them into the DLTs, and they’re ready to go.”

“At first, the teachers were a little apprehensive in adopting the technology. However, once we properly demonstrated it to them, the transformation has been remarkable.”