Background: 

Wartburg College is a liberal arts college with a campus in Waverly, Iowa and an urban studies program in Denver, Colorado. A small school that prides itself on its sense of campus community and small class sizes, Wartburg College turned to the Meeting Owl to enable its campus for hybrid and distance learning and keep students safe during the 2020-2021 academic year.

Challenge:

Like other colleges and universities across the U.S., after having to quickly roll out distance learning for students in the spring semester of 2020, Wartburg College spent the summer of 2020 planning for the upcoming school year in a way that would keep students and faculty safe and healthy while still ensuring that students felt engaged in their classes and community, no matter where they were learning from.

Dr. Loni Abbas, Assistant Vice President for Information Technology Services and Chief Information Officer, explained:

“Our students told us that, after going fully online in the spring, they really missed seeing their classmates and feeling like they were a part of a community. Because we’re a smaller school, students build relationships with their professors and classmates, we didn’t want to go fully online for the 2020-2021 school year unless we absolutely had to.”

Wartburg initially wanted to open up their campus with as many face-to-face class offerings as possible, knowing they’d have to put safety measures in place to protect students and faculty members. But between international students who were unable to travel back to the U.S., students and faculty members who couldn’t be in classrooms with other people due to health concerns, and Wartburg’s plan to quarantine students who tested positive for COVID-19 or who were exposed, Loni knew Wartburg would need to be prepared for hybrid and distance learning in the inevitable event that not all students were able to attend class in-person.

Although about 50% of classes are currently taught face-to-face at Wartburg, the other 50% are taught either fully-online or in a synchronous hybrid format (with some students in class and some students in their dorms or homes). Once Loni raised her concerns in preparation for hybrid and distance learning, the Wartburg College Cabinet tasked her with finding the right technology solution, which brought her to the Meeting Owl.

Discovery:

Loni was already familiar with the Meeting Owl after researching it for a conference room solution a couple of years ago, and she re-discovered it in 2020 when she was looking for a hybrid classroom camera. In addition to the Meeting Owl, she also evaluated wall-mounted cameras that would sit at the front of the classroom, and other robotic camera options such as the Swivl that were designed for streaming classroom instruction.

“I knew a wall-mounted video conference camera wouldn’t give us the immersive experience our students needed. Our students wanted to be able to see and hear each other and feel like they were a part of the classroom, even if they weren’t in the classroom. We also needed a solution that would be relatively easy for our faculty to use and that was cost-effective so we could outfit our entire campus because we did not know which classes would be impacted. The Meeting Owl checked all of our boxes.”

Once she pitched the Meeting Owl to the Wartburg Cabinet and received budget approval, Loni purchased 60 Meeting Owls to outfit all of Wartburg’s classrooms for hybrid learning and social distancing in the classroom.

Unboxing and Setup:

Part of the appeal of the Meeting Owl for Loni was that it’s an all-in-one camera, speaker, and microphone, which means fewer pieces of technology to set up, install, and train faculty to use. Thanks to her colleague, Tim Greenwald, Learning Spaces Support Specialist, Wartburg was able to get classrooms set up for hybrid learning in short order so they could start training professors on how to use them.

According to Tim:

“The setup process was so simple, I didn't even have to call or contact Owl Labs’ support team. Everything was simple to do, and I was able to walk through it all right on the mobile app.” 

Wartburg Information Technology Services (ITS) staff unboxed the Meeting Owls and configured each one with a mobile device using the Meeting Owl app to set up the name and a password. Then, they placed them in classrooms with a USB cable connected to the classroom computer and a security cable to keep them locked down. They were either placed near the front of the room or on the lectern, depending on the space.

Most of Wartburg’s Meeting Owls aren’t connected to the school’s network, so Tim is responsible for manually updating them when their Meeting Owls have new software updates and enhancements available. Some of their Meeting Owls are connected to the network so they can help beta test new software features as part of the Owl Labs Beta Community and decide which features they want to train faculty members to use.

Next on Loni’s list was getting faculty members up-to-speed with the newest members of their classrooms, which was an easy process too. After printing out and posting FAQs about the Meeting Owl in each of the classrooms, Loni and Tim held multiple professional development sessions and 1:1 training sessions to introduce faculty to the Meeting Owl and demonstrate how they’d be using it during the school year. Loni explains:

“After using Zoom for the end of the 2020 Winter and May terms, it wasn’t a huge learning curve to get our professors familiar with using the Meeting Owl. I make myself available for ad-hoc Meeting Owl training, but most faculty don’t need it anymore!”

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The Meeting Owl Pro in a Wartburg College art classroom

Problem Solved:

The Meeting Owl has been getting rave reviews from students and faculty alike since classes at Wartburg started up again in August 2020. They have a careful policy in place to test, track, and isolate students who’ve tested positive or come in contact with COVID-19, so students know that no matter where they’re learning from, they can be assured that they’ll be able to be seen and heard by their professors and fellow students.

Another challenge the Meeting Owl is helping to solve is ensuring that social distancing is possible in Wartburg classrooms. In some larger class sections, such as one that Loni teaches with 25 students, all students can’t safely be in the same classroom while remaining six feet apart. Because of the Meeting Owl, Loni can split her class into three groups so they can rotate between attending class remotely and in-person without feeling like they’re missing out on anything.

According to Loni:

“I love that the Meeting Owl is a “follow me” camera so I can move freely during classes and don’t have to adapt my teaching style to stay within a certain area of the classroom. The Meeting Owl’s audio pickup works great even while we’re wearing masks and we know that long-term, when Covid-19 isn’t our main concern, we’ll still be able to use the Meeting Owl for distance learning, meetings, and conferences.”

“The Meeting Owl helps encourage our students to stay home if they’re not feeling well and not risk spreading germs to others. On a residential  campus where it’s imperative that we take social distancing seriously, the Meeting Owl has had a huge impact. Long-term, we have the tools to accommodate students who are unable to be in the classroom and still deliver a high-quality synchronous learning environment, with the help of the Meeting Owl.”

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The Meeting Owl in a Wartburg College classroom

To learn more about how our customers are using the Meeting Owl to navigate the challenges of COVID-19, read more case studies here.

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