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Belfast Met launches Ireland’s first Met LIVE weConnect virtual classroom


Published: 28 October 2021

Belfast Metropolitan College has today launched Ireland’s first Met LIVE weConnect virtual classroom featuring cutting-edge digital technology which will enable the College to deliver engaging, successful teaching and training experiences through virtual and hybrid learning solutions.

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

Fully funded by the Department for the Economy, the Met LIVE Studio supports Belfast Met’s ambition to accomplish great things for learners, for the College, for business and industry partners, for communities, and for the city of Belfast and beyond. The Met LIVE studio will further enhance and develop the College’s digital manifesto and transformation to deliver effective and innovative learning interactions to its learning community.

Economy 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.”

Located at the College’s e3 campus on the Springfield Road, the state-of-the-art 6-screen Met LIVE Studio can facilitate up to 36 seats in the virtual classroom, enabling those taking part to come together in a way that is realistic to a physical classroom environment.

The 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.

Based on Barco’s weConnect platform, Met LIVE provides a front row experience for both learners and tutors with learners appearing life-size on screen, not just as a thumbnail gallery view. This allows tutors to read facial expressions and body language, just as they would in a classroom situation.

The virtual classroom allows tutors to visually engage with learners – active students are highlighted when they speak and can raise their hands digitally should they have a question. Individual participant cameras allow remote learners to see the tutor from their own perspective rather than an impersonal, wide-angle front-of-room camera.

Breakout rooms allow learners to collaborate together in groups and tutors can drop in and out to assess, monitor and challenge thoughts and outcomes, just like a real classroom. This deep level engagement is what sets Met LIVE apart from other technologies offering remote communication.

In January 2022, the College’s Centre for Skills and Apprenticeships, will utilise the new virtual classroom to facilitate the journey for learners starting out on their career path with the NICSHR Operational Delivery Apprenticeship Scheme (ODAS). The Met LIVE Studio will enable the ODAS apprentices, no matter their location, to link to live, engaging and interactive sessions with their course peers and presenter.

Louise Warde Hunter, Principal and Chief Executive of Belfast Met said: “Covid-19 has led to many significant changes in the way we live, learn and work and the need to quickly adapt, at pace, how education is provided has been a priority of education institutions around the world.

“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.”

The custom-designed Met LIVE studio technology has been designed and delivered by local AV integrator and Barco’s Gold partner in Ireland NIAVAC Ltd.

James Conlon, Managing Director of NIAVAC Ltd added: As Benjamin Franklin once said; “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”. 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.”

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