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EPISODE 51: SMARTER CLASSROOMS
TOPIC SUMMARY AND GUEST:
Most of our listeners probably know Qualcomm as a leader in the wireless/mobile communications technology space. But you may not know that this company has a group devoted to serving the academic market.
In fact, over the past few years, while educational institutions were disrupted by the pandemic in countless ways, Qualcomm has been responding with highly innovative solutions designed to drive more intelligent hybrid learning experiences. In short, they’re building smarter classrooms.
Today, I’m excited to explore these solutions in more detail with Ashok Tipirneni, Head of Product Management for Qualcomm Smart Cities and Smart Connected Spaces. Join us as we discuss the digital transformation methods and tools Qualcomm uses to make smarter classrooms successful.
SMARTER CLASSROOMS – KEY TAKEAWAYS:
- The pandemic shook schools to the core, but ingenious organizations stepped up with better ways to support new educational realities. One of those companies is Qualcomm, which is on a mission to power hybrid learning with smarter classrooms.
- To be effective, hybrid education solutions must easily fit into an organization’s existing infrastructure, but also be flexible enough to adapt as technology standards change over time. That’s one of the key strengths of smarter classrooms.
- The education market requires affordable solutions. That’s why Qualcomm developed a special “Education-as-a-Service” subscription pricing model. This puts smarter classrooms within reach for institutions of all sizes – even those with limited budgets.
SMARTER CLASSROOMS – Q&A HIGHLIGHTS:
Welcome, Ashok. Could you tell us about Qualcomm’s overall mission, and how your group fits in?
Absolutely John. At Qualcomm, we are very passionate about creating foundational technologies that improve how people communicate as individuals and as a society. Most people know Qualcomm for connectivity solutions based on 2G, 3G, 4G, and now 5G wireless tech.
Under that big umbrella, my team falls under IoT Services, which involves anything XaaS, or “X-as-a-Service.” We cut across multiple Qualcomm technologies to stitch together complete end-to-end solutions for each of the industry segments we serve. And education is one of those key priorities.
Could you define your role as head of product management for your group?
Sure. There are two sides to my responsibilities. The first side is customer-facing. I make sure we understand the requirements of our end-deployed customers and we build products and services that address those requirements. And because these solutions cut across multiple industries, I also ensure that our partner ecosystem can bring these solutions to the table.
On the other hand, I’m also in charge of the roadmap. So I must focus on what comes next, how we are meeting ever-changing industry needs, and making sure we continue to bring best-of-breed solutions to market.
And in the smart cities segment – especially in the education segment – we are very passionate about developing solutions that are self-sustaining in the long run. So I act as glue between all parties to provide clear direction, not only for the products we offer today but also in the near future.
Sounds like a great position! Could you tell us more about your education market agenda, and how smarter classrooms fit into that mission?
We are focused on solving some technology puzzles that have been confounding educators. Whether it’s for a small school or a university, we want to provide solutions that meet three foundational criteria. They must:
- Be easy to use,
- Lower the barriers to adoption, and
- Be viable in the long term.
And in the education market, in particular, our goal is to overcome the digital divide that exists today – whether it’s inside a school classroom, or in a city outside the classroom. We want to support any learning opportunities students have, wherever they may be.
I see. So, how has the pandemic shifted your focus towards smarter classrooms?
Well, two years ago, teachers who had always been comfortable in a classroom suddenly felt like fish out of water. Schools shifted to Zoom calls and online file sharing spaces. But this disrupted the natural way teachers teach and students learn.
One primary challenge was how to bring the instructional process back to some kind of normalcy. So we looked at how to leverage our existing technologies to help address that need.
Right. What other issues do smarter classrooms tackle?
Another challenge was how to make the educational experience more seamless for students – whether they’re located at home, in the classroom or somewhere else.
Of course, we couldn’t remove all barriers. But we did stitch together multiple existing technologies into a solution for hybrid learning that makes the educational experience more natural for teachers and more engaging for students. And this can work in K-12 schools, as well as at universities that are expanding their virtual learning presence.
Could you illustrate how these smarter classrooms work?
Sure. For example, we created a completely wireless teacher support podium that not only lets an instructor move freely within a classroom, but also enables her to bring her own lesson plan content to the fore, so it’s just as easy as using a computer or a laptop.
And because we are big believers in devices that solve multiple problems, we ensured that this podium not only wirelessly sends the instructor’s screen to a digital whiteboard, but it also shares that content with students who dial in remotely.
And what about situations where dozens of students are participating remotely? How can they engage with the instructor more effectively? That was a big challenge.
So we developed the capability for a teacher to create groups of students in near real-time. And regardless of whether a group member is present in the classroom or remote, they can share their own screens in real-time, while the teacher guides each group.
Students have been blown away by how seamless these smarter classrooms feel. And teachers can devote attention to individual pods of students who now collaborate very easily.
And another concern for teachers is how to monitor dozens of students. Imagine having to deal with 40 video feeds at the same time and audio is everywhere. It feels so chaotic.
So we built-in some software tools to help teachers pay attention in a more systematic way. For example, say a student opens a browser window on top of the video learning experience. The instructor automatically receives an alert. This kind of thing makes it much easier and more seamless to manage a classroom.
Definitely. So, how well do smarter classrooms work with existing systems?
We made our platform truly open. That’s because we found that all the schools we researched already had some kind of learning management system. Some also had safety and security systems in place, as well.
But if there’s no glue connecting all of this stuff, the learning experience will be very kludgy. So we added instructional technologies and personalized learning navigation tools, making sure these can integrate with whatever a school might already have.
Also, all the things we take for granted are open. In other words, the assessments, the curriculum, the analytics can all be integrated with whatever system a school already has, and any additional hardware we include works very seamlessly with existing hardware and software.
Nice. So let’s talk about pricing for these smarter classrooms. Schools need to be thrifty. How does your “Education-as-a-Service” model overcome cost barriers?…
…FOR COMPLETE ANSWERS TO THIS AND MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT SMARTER CLASSROOMS, LISTEN TO THE FULL 30-MINUTE PODCAST!
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