North Carolina State University has been a leader in distance learning for nearly 40 years. Today, NC State supports almost 50,000 online and distance learning students around the world, and several of their online programs are rated in the top 10 by U.S. News and World Report (the leader in college rankings) and other reporting agencies.
NC State DELTA (Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications) coordinates the production of all distance-based credit programs and courses for the university. The DELTA team promotes high-quality education by extending the reach of the faculty, harnessing technology to provide ready access for all learners.
What has always set NC State apart is its broadcast-standard approach to production of its distance education courses. The program’s original workflow was created with a real-time production process, which included live transmissions and synchronous connections for designated courses every semester.
Studio Classrooms, now referred to as media-enhanced classrooms, were used for traditional on-campus teaching, while also serving as full production studios with specialized lighting, a production switcher, character generators, desktop or ceiling microphones, and up to six cameras where required.
As the distance education programs grew, NC State began to see annual enrollment increases of 15% to 20%. The rapid growth called for a swift transition from a control room model with dedicated technicians or video directors, to a centralized infrastructure.
One challenge was how to repurpose existing fiber previously used for microwave transmissions. With a centralized control room (CCR) located at Ricks Hall Annex at the heart of the main campus, all existing fiber runs had to be rerouted and more runs added to link multiple buildings ― with two located more than 10 kilometers away on NC State’s Centennial Campus.
Fiber links were being used simply as single-mode, point-to-point connections, providing the capacity for just four video signals per classroom and placing serious limitations on the number of signals that could be transmitted back to the CCR. The AV design solution was to put a multiviewer in each classroom and send quad-split screen feeds over the fiber to the CCR.
Moving forward, the DELTA team determined they needed to upgrade to a standards-based open architecture that would allow much greater flexibility for the next generation of remote monitoring and control in the CCR and would keep the door open for future developments.
Working with the AV integrator and Imagine, the new system was up and running quickly and the DELTA team was ready to support classes within their 45-day window.
“We are very proud of what we have achieved, says Tony Pearson, senior associate director, Video Communication Services from the DELTA team at NC State. “When we bring visitors into our CCR they are genuinely impressed by what they see.”
The system is designed to support eight monitoring stations, of which seven are currently in operation, and comprises 25 to 30 encoders that can be monitored at any time, from any of their facilities. All workstations include tallies and talk back for each classroom so if there is a problem the instructor simply pushes a help button. The technician can then use a reverse video feed to appear in the classroom and talk through and resolve any issue quickly.”
“The Imagine ST 2110 IP network gives us a bidirectional distributed system that makes the whole campus one giant router,” says Tony. “We use PTP timing and AES67 audio, so we can put together the video and the audio resources any class needs and instantly reconfigure for the next one.”
By deploying an open-standard, SDI-to-IP hybrid system, the DELTA team was able to replace equipment that had reached end-of-life status and continue using their SDI legacy gear as part of the new architecture. It has also moved the team from a highly constrained system to complete flexibility today, and even more important, secures the installation for the future.
“What I am most proud of is that we have implemented a system that is transparent to the end users,” says Tony. “Our faculty just goes along with their teaching, and everything works behind the scenes.
“That is the beauty of the system we designed with Imagine Communications solutions. We now have the flexibility and scalability to continue making NC State and DELTA the leader in distance learning.”
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