Saint Mary's School News

Classroom Owls offer innovative technology to enhance hybrid learning experience

Owls have long been a symbol of wisdom, knowledge, and fierce intellect. They also have the extraordinary gift of nearly 360-degree vision. So, what better technology could there be than an Owl, a smart conference camera now in use in Saint Mary’s classrooms, that captures 360-degree video and audio for engaging distance learning for those students unable to be on campus for in-person classes due to international travel restrictions or extenuating circumstances.

Saint Mary’s has 35 Meeting Owls across campus this fall, enough to equip each classroom teacher, counseling group, and community-building group with their own device. An Owl is even being used in the Chapel for broadcasting services to advisory groups across campus.

As Saint Mary’s engages in a hybrid learning model this year, including both in-person and online learning, the school continues to innovate and design the academic program to deliver the excellent education Saint Mary's students have come to expect and value.

The Owl technology benefits all students and teachers – international students learning at home as they await such time they can return to campus, students who are absent from class who can join the class live or watch the recording, those few who may have to quarantine/isolate for a period of time for various reasons but are able to join in virtual learning, and the students and teachers in Saint Mary’s classrooms as they better connect with those learning virtually. Teachers may also enjoy using it when we return to virtual learning for all students at the end of the semester to broaden the scope of their presentations.

“Essentially, the Owl is an external camera/microphone/speaker system with a 360-degree camera that has audio tracking features,” says Ann Marie Davis, human-centered design specialist team lead and instructor of science. “So, as individuals use their voice in the classroom space, the Owl picks up the audio and pans to the person speaking. This allows the potential for a more dynamic experience for the students who are learning virtually. The high-quality speaker system makes it sound like our virtual students are with us in the classroom.”

Powered by the Owl Intelligence System™, the Meeting Owl automatically shifts the camera to focus on whomever is speaking. The result is an experience for the virtual learner that nearly feels like being in the classroom. Any classroom becomes a hybrid classroom with the Meeting Owl. The Meeting Owl provides a fully immersive distance learning experience.

More than 2,000 schools, colleges, and universities around the world use the Meeting Owl to connect students and educators. The technology supports increased student engagement and facilitates hybrid learning to connect to students who cannot join class in person.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and with feedback from students, faculty, and parents, Saint Mary's continues to enhance both its in-person and online learning experience through a design process created to ensure a meaningful educational experience for each and every student.

Saint Mary’s began the 2020-2021 school year with two weeks of virtual learning for all students before resuming in-person learning for most students from September 8- November 20. The school will finish the fall semester with a period of virtual learning for all students between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday breaks to minimize travel as the pandemic continues.

Committed to providing girls with a challenging and comprehensive educational experience, Saint Mary's has long employed technology to ensure learning continues through hurricanes, snow days, and other mitigating circumstances such as the current pandemic. The new Owls technology is one more asset in our toolbox to sustain academic excellence at Saint Mary’s School through any circumstance.

“Providing teachers and students will the best tools available has always been important, and Saint Mary’s continues to recognize and support this,” says Ms. Davis. “Equipping each teacher with an Owl Pro camera has ensured a more engaging and dynamic classroom experience that benefits every learner, regardless of where she is on campus, down the street in Raleigh, or around the world. In short order, our faculty have embraced the Owl cameras and continue to grow in their expertise of delivering engaging, meaningful, and inclusive learning.”

Note: Saint Mary's has opted for in-person learning this fall, with the expectation that all students who can be on campus, will be. The only students learning remotely are those international students not able to travel to campus due to travel restrictions, those with special circumstances, and students who are temporarily in quarantine/isolation.

by Mary Virginia Swain '77C