Extended classrooms – bringing schools together
VO Zeeuws-Vlaanderen is a foundation for secondary education formed by three regional schools within the province of Zeelandic Flanders (in Dutch: Zeeuws Vlaanderen) in the Netherlands – Zwin College in Oostburg, Lodewijk College in Terneuzen and Reynaertcollege, including the college’s Practice School, in Hulst. The foundation is responsible for delivering high-quality education and to cross-pollinate best practices across the regional schools.
A persistent decline in the population over the past several years has particularly impacted the education system of the region. There are fewer students, teachers and resources available for the regional schools to be self-sufficient organizations of their own. In addition to the local residents, regional employers also value having schools in the vicinity for the purposes of talent retention and acquisition. With a clear vision
and government’s support, the foundation sought out to enable each of the three schools, and came up with the concept of Extended Classroom – connect the schools’ classrooms live and use the teaching resources available at one of the three schools at a time.
An extension of distance learning or hybrid learning of a new era, “extended classroom” connects live classrooms at the three school buildings – Zwin College, Lodewijk College and Reynaertcollege. This means pupils attend from dedicated classrooms at their own school buildings, but only one teaching staff provides lessons to all classes at the same time. The teacher is typically in attendance at one of the three school buildings and the other two schools’ classrooms are connected over video. This way, VO Zeeuws- Vlaanderen is able to stretch their limited resources for the benefit of all pupils.
Inside the extended classroom
The key technology challenge was to install something that is easy to set-up and use. Teachers needed the flexibility of intuitive technology that does not pin them to one spot of the room and allows them to walk and talk in a natural way. This is specifically required for the benefit of the students attending from the classroom where the teacher is physically present. Students attending the lesson over video required high-quality audio and video for a like-for-like experience and to not be disadvantaged in comparison to those in attendance at the classroom. It was also important that any extraneous noise can be filtered out from each classroom’s feed so students can concentrate on the lessons being delivered. Many students are in attendance at each site and unwanted noises, such as rustling of paper or a random cough, only create more disruption over video.
In order to craft “extended classrooms”, VO Zeeuws-Vlaanderen implemented Poly Group 700, EagleEye Director II cameras, EagleEye IV cameras and Ceiling Microphone Array across the classooms at the three schools. Poly MeetingAI feature works across Poly solutions – extraneous noises can be removed via Acoustic Fence technology, and any non-human noises are automatically muted using NoiseBlockAI technology. To complete the set-up, five large screens were placed in each room — an interactive whiteboard touchscreen for content-sharing at the front of the classroom, two video screens on either side of the whiteboard, and the remaining two video screens at the back of the classroom.
Rise of a new generation of classrooms
Zeelandic Flanders is not the only region that is seeing a negative growth in its population. Shortage of experienced teachers for certain modules is another pain-point for many schools, and making the teaching staff commute between sites only costs more time and money. Having seen the success of VO Zeeuws-Vlaanderen’s project, other regions such as South Limburg have also raised interest in creating “extended classrooms” of their own.