Belfast Met Launches New Virtual Classroom

Belfast Metropolitan College have launched brand new digital technology to deliver engaging teaching and training experiences through hybrid learning.

The Met LIVE WeConnect Studio will enable Belfast Met to deliver its diverse curriculum offer for Further and Higher Education and Work Based Learning anywhere in the world in real time, whilst recreating the atmosphere of a real classroom.

The cutting-edge technology was developed by local audio-visual specialist company, Niavac and fully funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE). A purpose-built studio environment will see participants join a live, dynamic and interactive environment, under the direction of a Belfast Met LIVE presenter, regardless of their geographical location. Located at the College's e3 campus on the Springfield Road, the 6-screen Met LIVE studio can facilitate up to 36 seats in the virtual classroom, enabling participants to collaborate in a way that is realistic to a physical classroom evironment.

Met LIVE we Connect Virtual Classroom Photo
Louise Warde Hunter (Principal and Chief Executive of Belfast Met), James Conlon (Managing Director of NIAVAC) and Gordon Lyons (DfE Minister) at the launch of the Met LIVE weConnect Virtual Classroom

Embracing Transformation

Based on imaging and digital projection specialist, Barco's weConnect platform, Met Live provides an engaging experience for both learners and tutors with those learning appearing life-size on screen, enabling tutors to read facial expressions and body language, just as they would in the conventional classroom. Tutors can actively visually interact with their learners, as students are highlighted when they speak and individual participant cameras also allow learners to see their tutors from their own perspective as opposed to an impersonal front-facing camera. The virtual classroom also facilitates breakout rooms for group collaboration, with tutors able to drop-in to each room to monitor discussions, challenge thoughts and outcomes and promote participation amongst students.

Speaking at the virtual classroom's launch, Department for the Economy (DfE) Minister, Gordon Lyons commented:

“I am very pleased to visit Belfast Met’s e3 campus today to view its new virtual classroom first-hand. While remote learning through online platforms has become the norm during the pandemic, this new virtual classroom is a truly innovative step forward for learners, a first for Northern Ireland, and takes the virtual learning experience to a new level. My Department has worked closely with the college to bring this project to fruition and I wish the college and its students well as they benefit from the new facility well into the future.

“I also congratulate NIAVAC on securing a significant contract to provide this new technology to Belfast Met and to two other local colleges, North West Regional College and South Eastern Regional College.”

James Conlon, the Managing Director of NIAVAC Ltd. added:

"Engagement is the underlying ethos of weConnect and Niavac are proud to deliver this learning innovation into Belfast Met. Encompassing hardware from brands such as Barco, NEC, Biamp, Clevertouch and TV One this high specification design reflects the forward-thinking approach of the College.

“The Met Live project is part of a series of cutting-edge communication solutions that NIAVAC Ltd will be delivering to Belfast Met as part of a multi-year Audio-Visual partnership with Further Education Colleges across Northern Ireland.

“The contract covers the supply and installation of professional audio-visual equipment across all of Belfast Met’s campuses, and to date, NIAVAC Ltd has supplied and installed over 150 interactive Clevertouch displays and 40sqm of Absen LED Video Wall in addition to the weConnect software solution.”

Future Use

In January 2022, the College's Centre for Skills and Apprenticeships will utilise the new virtual classroom for those starting out on their career path with the delivery of the upcoming NICSHR Operational Delivery Apprenticeship Scheme (ODAS). The Met LIVE Studio will play a key role in enabling ODAS apprentices to link to live, engaging, interactive sessions with peers and tutors alike, no matter what their location.

Louise Warde Hunter, Principal and CEO of Belfast Met said:

“We are delighted to be the first in Ireland to introduce this virtual classroom technology to ensure our students and tutors remain connected no matter their geographical location.

“Our virtual classroom provides tutors with a new way to engage students, not just here in Belfast, but anywhere in the world, and to adjust teaching without the time and travel pressures, or other distractions that can occur with a real classroom situation.”

With lockdown restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic accelerating the embracing of hybrid learning, the Met LIVE studio will further enhance and develop the College's digital manifesto and transformation to deliver innovative learning interactions to its students. Its deep level of engagement sets it apart from other remote communication technologies that many have become accustomed to in the last 18 months and this innovation may well prove to be a valuable asset for years to come, amidst the ever evolving education landscape.

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