The University of Insubria – with primary locations in Como and Varese, Italy – was officially established in 1998, though its origins go back further. Home to over 12,000 students, 400 faculty members, and 320 technical and administrative staff across seven departments, it aims to provide high-quality education and facilities that prepare students to enter the job market with the requisite knowledge and skills. It also emphasizes top-level research between national and international groups, across interdisciplinary fields.
Following a recent funding resolution by the Lombardy Regional Council, the university had the opportunity to invest in new technologies for integrated teaching.
Insubria wanted to upgrade its AV equipment, to better support hybrid learning following the COVID-19 lockdowns. At the same time, the academic deans, who were concerned to differentiate Insubria from an online university, wanted these tools to help stimulate the return of students to the classroom.
“We were aiming for a simple solution that would ensure fluidity between remote and in-person students, so that there could continue to be a choice of the most suitable teaching delivery mode,” explains Luca Mondini, Front and Back Office Service and User Support at the University of Insubria. “Being a distributed university with locations scattered throughout the Insubria area (between Milan and Switzerland), we have always relied on audio-video communication tools. Previously, meetings and distance learning could be handled with systems such as Polycom. But with the arrival of a large number of users due to the pandemic, when we went from 12 simultaneous connections to 250 or more, such systems no longer held up.
“Our critical points were the lack of integration between new technologies and existing platforms,” he continues. “For example, Teams made it difficult for remote learners to interact transparently. It was difficult for the teacher and students to hear each other mutually and intelligibly.” But as importantly, to ensure adoption, ease of use was key, so, as Luca puts it, “the technology wouldn’t become a burden on the teacher.”
Kramer was chosen for the Insubria learning spaces retrofit after extensive scouting, with Luca citing the “excellent price-performance ratio” as a crucial factor. The university prepared exact specifications for the equipment and its placement, and Adicom Group installed it in 25 classrooms, 5 lecture halls, and 10 mobile studios (used for recording lectures), across three campuses.
“The university was strongly leaning towards Kramer, and I must say that I would have chosen Kramer as well,” says Andrea Fincato, AVC Project Manager at Adicom Group. “Kramer is a vendor we know well and with whom we’ve been collaborating for years. Also, we were supported by the Italian Kramer staff throughout.”
In terms of practicalities, the system was entirely analog, so everything was redone by Adicom, including replacing the wiring to support digital HDBT. Adicom installed a Kramer VS-62DT matrix in the medium and medium-small classrooms, installed racks, and supplemented them with the necessary equipment.
As Andrea elaborates in describing the integration processes and decisions: “The heart of the system is the VS-62DT matrix implemented in all classrooms. Another specificity is HDBT transmission (TP-583T and TP-583R) for all the projectors. And in some classrooms, where there were multiple projectors, HDMI output was used so that it could be rebroadcast with two (VM-2DT) or four (VM-4HDT) dedicated HDBT lines addressed to the projectors. This all was complemented by the adoption of RC-208 control keypads to provide a simplified user experience.”
Both faculty and students at Insubria appreciate the new possibilities that the Kramer AV systems offer, especially in accommodating hybrid learning.
The Kramer keypads provide maximum simplicity, so that teachers interface with an identical and recognizable control dashboard that always behaves the same way, no matter what is behind it. As Luca says: “Complexity had to remain within the rack, but at the same time the teacher needed to benefit from rich possibilities of tools use – from the Microsoft Surface whiteboard, to the use of Wacom-like technologies, to the PC in the room, to the document camera.”
“The goal was to give teachers the opportunity, respecting their different ways of working, to use all devices: room camera, desktop camera, laptop camera. In short, everything needed to provide an AV system that fits their habits so that they can teach hybrid classes,” Andrea expands.
In addition, the new AV equipment supports the university’s desire to return students to campus. “At the moment, we’re experiencing a turnaround; 99% in-person and 1% remote, though students still want the ability to follow classes remotely,” says Luca. “One of the main advantages of being properly hybrid-equipped is that the university has not had to suffer declines in the number of enrollments or increased dropouts due to students’ inability to continue studying remotely. Instead, we’re now able to ensure that lessons are always delivered with the same degree of involvement, regardless of where the students are.”
Luca rates Kramer as excellent for ease of use, describing, as an example, how the RC-208 keypads are used to control the inputs of a 6×2 matrix. “We opted for buttons with icons so we could make usage accessible to anyone; and we equipped the console with a QR code that the teacher can frame, to view the user guides – in an illustrated comic format – of the advanced instrumentation,” he explains.
He’s also quick to point out his appreciation for the easier IT management enabled by a fully connected system across multiple sites. “We connected all equipment with their respective management systems to dedicated VLANs, then built a centralized server where we inputted Kramer solutions for programming the matrices and keypads, so that everything now works exactly as it was supposed to, and I can control everything from one place,” he says.
Andrea further notes that many Kramer products allow for the integration of multiple features, which speeds up and simplifies the installation phase, making for another simplicity advantage. For example, the VS-62DT matrix switcher and HDBT transmitter are already combined, avoiding the need to add external elements.
Overall, the university is extremely pleased with the value for money and the reliable, robust performance delivered by its Kramer AV solution. Over the next five years, it plans to continue its goal of 100% coverage, finishing the new auditorium and upgrading an additional 10 classrooms per year.