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Here’s what the future of classrooms looks like



With the onset of the pandemic, students, and teachers across the globe suddenly found themselves struggling to adapt to online learning experiences, from dealing with Zoombombing to gently reminding everyone to wear pants to class.

But it’s not just about adapting to the strange circumstances we find ourselves in. For a while now, classrooms have been due for some much-needed disruption. COVID-19 has sped up the need for new solutions and many are seeing this as the right time to finally reset and rethink the classroom experience altogether.

With an annual front row seat to the latest in AV tech, we spoke with Mike Blackman, Managing Director of Integrated Systems Events, to get his perspective on where innovation is needed most.

“With COVID-19 preventing students from coming to classes or lectures, technology has – as in other aspects of life – stepped in to provide a solution. And, as elsewhere, the pandemic has served to accelerate existing trends – forcing the adoption of solutions that some schools, colleges, and universities might have been reluctant to try otherwise.”

From hologram professors to virtual field trips to the Amazon, here are a few of the trends that could shape the classroom of the future.

EdTech puts students in the teacher’s seat

Thinking back to when you were in school, the idea of studying from home probably sounded like a good time to get some valuable gaming hours in, discover daytime TV, stare out the window, and [insert anything other than school]. One of the biggest challenges faced by students has been just finding the motivation to sit down and study outside of the classroom. 

The problem with online lectures, and even the traditional classroom setting, has always been that, in a class of 300 or even six students, not everyone will be engaged all of the time. But studies show that actually giving students the option to choose what they want to study can increase self-determination and intrinsic motivation. 

“With the pandemic generally reducing the amount of time that students can spend with their teachers, even over video, there’s been more of a move towards helping students discover things for themselves as opposed to simply being told them,” Blackman said. 

However, other studies warn that, to be motivating, these choices need to be relevant to the students’ interests and goals, not be too numerous and complex, and be in line with the student’s cultural values. 

What we’re seeing now is a shift towards individualized, self-paced, student-driven learning with the rise of Skillshare style video libraries and Duolingo style tutoring apps including Byju (which offered its app for free during COVID), Edmentum, and Wizenoze.

And it doesn’t stop there. New technologies like AI-based chatbots are already being used as teaching assistants and math tutors, allowing students to get feedback in real-time. 

Taking it a step further, in 2018 New Zealand based companies Vector and Soul Machines launched Will, the first AI-based avatar teacher programmed to have interactive conversations with primary school students about renewable energy. (Finally, someone who won’t get tired of being asked “but why?” fifty billion times.)

As a human-to-AI interface, the more a bot like Will interacts with people, the more his responses, mannerisms, etc. begin to feel more real. And, the cool thing is, adaptive learning tech could help these bots create more personalized learning experiences for each individual they interact with. In fact, Soul Machines believes bots like Will could one day help address teaching gaps in the developing world. 

Technology makes distance learning more accessible

Imagine you’re watching a lecture and your professor says, “here’s what’s going to be on the exam,” just as your video freezes or your internet crashes. It’s clear that note-taking and following a full class online is difficult for everyone, but it’s not just about freeze-framed professors.

While the quick switch to online learning provided an alternative for some, it also brought the issue of accessibility to the forefront. Students with hearing impairments and those with limited access to Wi-Fi, a computer, or even just a quiet place to follow classes have suddenly been left behind. 

During the AVIXA Higher Education AV Conference at ISE 2020, accessibility and inclusion specialist Alistair McNaught highlighted the importance of building AV and multimedia education tools that are inclusive for all students and in compliance with regional and national web accessibility regulations. 

What this means in practice for online learning is making sure real-time closed captioning, accurate transcripts, and clear video recordings are made available. While some platforms like Zoom and Youtube have built-in closed captioning options, they’re often hit or miss. And when it comes to transcribing lectures from professors with any sort of accent, you can pretty much forget it.  

Luckily, new tech is here to help. This year ISE exhibitors including Matrox and Mediasite by Sonic Foundry demonstrated advanced lecture capture systems that produce high-quality recordings that can be shared, reviewed, and integrated with learning materials. Meanwhile, Epiphan introduced LiveScrypt, an AI-based speech to text tool that provides more accurate real-time captioning that can be streamed to the web and connected devices.

Full accessibility is and will continue to be an issue for students as globally around 826 million students don’t have access to a computer at home. This is one of the biggest challenges EdTech startups, educators, and society will need to tackle and find new solutions for going forward. 

Down with chalk and talk

According to Blackman the main trend in recent years has been “the move away from the old ‘chalk and talk’ model, where the teacher is the source of knowledge, to more blended learning styles. This also represents a move away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach using, for instance, small group working, where different groups may be given different tasks more suited to their abilities or interests.”

In fact, a study by Harvard University found students actually learn more during active learning sessions than they do from traditional lectures. What’s more, employers, researchers, and parents are advocating for a stronger focus on developing soft skills like teamwork, communication, and emotional intelligence alongside hard technical skills. For example, in the UK, 88% of young people, 94% of employers, and 97% of teachers think life skills are just as, or more, important than academic qualifications. 

Instead of long, drawn-out lectures, classes will be centered more around project-based group activities that allow students to select topics of interest and break out into collaborative groups. IoT integrated devices and Interactive Touchscreens have already been facilitating group work by allowing everyone to easily connect their devices, share, and create. 

Of course with social distancing still essential in many parts of the world, VR, AR, and MR solutions are stepping up. Imagine going on a field trip to the Roman Empire or learning about nature conservation in the Amazon with students from around the world. 

A number of studies already show that using Augmented Reality in the classroom can lead to deeper student engagement, better learning performance, and increased motivation. 

Google for Education is one of the best known VR and AR providers now, but there are a number of smaller companies doing some innovative things in this space. Check some of them out at next year’s ISE 2021.

Teachers join the force

It’s not just students who’ll get to enjoy the new tech advances coming out. Instead of hopping on a plane to give visiting lectures, in the classroom of the future professors will simply be able to sit back and project themselves hologram-style to lecture halls across the globe (even giving lectures in multiple locations at the same time). 

Sound a little too Obi-Wan Kenobi for you? Imperial College Business School already started offering hologram led lectures in 2018.

TNW caught up with Dom Pates, Senior Educational Technologist, at City University of London, who gave a workshop on holographics at ISE 2020. According to Pates: 

“Aside from the obvious novelty of holographic technologies, the primary benefit of them is that it’s the closest experience for an audience to feeling that the remote speaker is physically present in the room. In the example from my workshop, the screen that the holographic presenter was appearing on was seemingly invisible, the image of them was life-sized and in three dimensions, and the audio matched the high quality of the image. This brings a degree of flow to the experience, and makes it much easier for the learners in the physical room to focus on the subject matter rather than the technology.

As Pates explained, using holographic technology offers a far superior experience to Zoom streaming:

“Delivering a lecture over a web conferencing platform like Zoom as a substitute for one in a physical lecture theatre is inherently inferior if it just substitutes the room for the platform. If teaching is done live and online, it’s necessary to build engagement considerations in much more than it might be in a physical learning space, as it’s harder for learners to remain fully engaged in an hour delivered on screen than an hour delivered in a room.”

However, there is one challenge professors looking to become a hologram should keep in mind:

“For the lecturer, their audience is now on a screen in front of them rather than in the room, so it’s more difficult to pick up on the cues you’d get from an audience in front of you.”

AKA, finding strategic sleeping positions during early morning lectures will be easier than ever.

Classrooms get an upgrade

To fit this new reality, students and teachers will need more than just the standard classroom with rows of desks. 

“Another major trend is the ability of teaching spaces to reconfigure themselves. Some higher education establishments have large, multifunctional learning spaces that they use to accommodate different classes or lectures of various sizes at the same time. This requires the video and especially the audio in the room to be reconfigurable to suit a variety of layouts. In the COVID era, social distancing is bringing its own requirements for flexible room arrangements,” Blackman told TNW. 

If you’re wondering just how much of a difference an educational environment can make, studies show that classroom design can alter academic progress over a school year by 25%. 

At ISE 2020 Piet Van Der Zanden, Associate/Analyst at Delft University of Technology, gave a talk on the University’s Interactive Education Spaces Configurator. This interactive tool allows them to easily reconfigure learning spaces based on the activity and also improve readability, sightlines, seating capacity, and accessibility. 

But, along with improved visibility, flexible spaces will also need to be equipped with the right tools to ensure sound quality reaches everyone. This year Humantechnik, Williams AV, and Opus technologies showcased their induction loop amplifiers and other systems built to help learners with hearing difficulties block out background noise and amplify a lecturer’s voice.

We still don’t know exactly what the classroom of the future will look like, but events like ISE can give us some clues. 

“Exactly what will be on show at ISE in 2021 we don’t know yet, but our exhibitors always push the boundaries of what’s possible – so the excitement is guaranteed,” Blackman said. 

This article is brought to you by ISE.

Published August 10, 2020 — 11:59 UTC



Market Analysis Report (24 Sep 2020)

DACOM Summit Announces CFTC Commissioner Dan Berkovitz as Keynote Speake | Winklevoss Twins’ Gemini Exchange Now Allows Buying Crypto With British Pound | Leading Crypto Payments Platform Wirex Announces Launch of $1.2 Million Crowdfunding



Leading crypto payments platform Wirex has announced its first crowdfunding round, aimed at raising £1 million ($1.2 million) with the intention to scale-up in the coming months. 

In a press release, the fintech firm detailed it is giving customers and fans the opportunity to invest in it via the crowdfunding round, to which pre-registrations are now open. The crowdfunding round is expected to be “one of the largest and most successful campaigns” carried out by the equity platform Crowdcube.

Pavel Matveev, CEO and co-founder of Wirex, said the decision to crowdfund came at a crucial period in the company’s development. He said:

“Wirex has been making huge strides in changing the financial landscape, by making it easier for everyone to access cryptocurrency and spend it in the everyday. By offering a platform that bridges the traditional and digital economy, we are helping to encourage the mass adoption of cryptocurrency for future generations.”

Since 2014, Wirex has become a popular platform for crypto-enabled payment solutions and providing businesses and individuals an alternative to conventional finance. 

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Brazil’s Rainforests Are Getting a $182 Million Blockchain Boost

The world’s largest meat-processor aims to use blockchain technology to curb the country’s rising deforestation.



In brief

  • A Brazilian meat-processor announced a $182 million fund on Wednesday to curb deforestation in the country.
  • The firm will invest over $44 million until 2025 and expects other companies to match funding efforts.
  • Deforestation has hit record levels in Brazil, which is facing backlash for its failure to control the concern.

Brazil-based JBS, the world’s leading firm for meat processing and packing, said Wednesday it would deploy blockchain technology to combat the rising ill-effects of deforestation by meat suppliers in South America, according to news outlet Reuters.

The firm vowed to monitor its entire supply chain using blockchain by 2025, amidst widespread concerns from environmentalists about rapidly diminishing forest cover in the country. Brazil’s meat industry, among others, is said to contribute to deforestation as meat producers clear out vast areas for cattle pasture.

So far, meatpackers in Brazil, such as JBS, have ensured they do not source meat from farms that illegally cut forests. However, such a system just monitors and measures activity from its final suppliers—leaving space for indirect suppliers (which supply to JBS’s suppliers) to evade such monitoring and eventually manage to sell their product to firms like JBS.

Brazil rainforests are facing a threat from local industries. Image: Shutterstock

But blockchain technology could present a solution for that, said JBS. It launched a $182.77 million fund yesterday to foster social and economic development in the Amazonian rainforest region, aiming to invest over $44 million in the next five years, and another equal amount from then on to 2030.

Other local and international firms are expected to join the project and contribute the remaining amount, the report noted.

The funds will allow JBS to build an expansive blockchain system that tracks every supplier on its meat supply network, both direct and indirect. “Currently, the company does not monitor indirect suppliers and no company does so. But we plan to close this gap using technology,” said JBS CEO Gilberto Tomazoni.

Tomazoni added the firm’s 50,000 direct suppliers were, however, already monitored. Meanwhile, JBS is expected to launch the system in 2021, starting in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. 

The development comes at a time when global meat importers, such as Norway, have threatened to pull out their investments from Brazil if the country fails to curb deforestation, noted the report.

Deforestation has remained a global concern since the last decade, with regions like the Amazonian rainforest in South America among the most affected. Data from last year showed that Amazon deforestation hit levels last seen in 2006. So, it will take a major effort to turn the situation around.

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Iran Is Ripe for Bitcoin Adoption, Even as Government Clamps Down on Mining



Iran-based bitcoiner Zahra Amini was used to answering questions on cryptocurrencies, but usually about their relationship with crime. So when a 70-year-old man recently asked her to explain crypto because he no longer wanted to rely on the national rial, Amini felt something had changed. 

“If people that age are thinking about storing their wealth in anything rather than the national rial, it’s because they are just losing confidence in it, and more and more people are looking for alternatives,” Amini told CoinDesk. 

Bitcoin is increasingly relevant in Iran as the country suffers from an economic downturn fueled by U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic. Bitcoin’s independence from government control makes it an attractive option for individuals hoping to hold on to the value of their earnings as the rial suffers from inflation

Read more: Iran Concerns May Be Driving Trump Administration’s Talk of New Crypto Rules

Amini openly advocates for bitcoin and joked that she wouldn’t mind stopping people in the streets to tell them about the cryptocurrency. Speaking to CoinDesk, fellow Iranian and “bitcoin maximalist” Ziya Sadr went so far as to say that holding wealth in rials can mean losing money everyday

Iran’s famously repressive government has not snuffed out cryptocurrency. It has recognized bitcoin mining as a legitimate industry that could bring wealth into the country, though it risks suffocating it with too much regulation. The country’s central bank has also endorsed the creation of a national digital currency.

U.S. sanctions

After the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018 and reinstated economic sanctions, Iran’s economy fell into an ongoing recession. Its national currency, the rial, lost over half of its value against the dollar. In June 2020, with the pandemic putting pressure on economies across the globe, one dollar was worth more than 66,000 rials. By August, Iran’s year-on-year inflation rate rose over 25% despite President Hassan Rouhani’s government trying to curb it, which included replacing its local currency with the toman (each worth 10,000 rials). 

Although bitcoin may help Iranians circumvent U.S. sanctions in certain cases, it is now showing promise as a hedge against inflation. Some Iranian students abroad are using bitcoin to pay their tuition, and a convenience store in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kurdish province, is now accepting the digital currency as payment. According to data provided by Iranian bitcoin exchange EXIR, the platform saw a 200% increase in users over the past three years. 

Read more: FinCEN Blasts Iran’s “Malign” Use of Crypto to Bypass Sanctions 

The platform, launched in February of 2017, now serves over 63,000 users. A new Chainalysis report on the geography of crypto revealed Iran as the second highest-ranking country in the region for crypto adoption, placing 52nd on the Global Crypto Adoption Index. 

“I know people from my family who were killed for holding gold. So I know what bitcoin offers to us.”

While Iranians are quietly exploring new use cases for what Amini calls “magic money,” the government has been hyper focused on regulating the local bitcoin mining industry, whose growth is partly due to cheap, subsidized electricity. Bitcoin mining was legalized last year and Iran still appears to be a mining hub with the government approving over 1,000 mining permits since then. But government scrutiny and compliance requirements are making it difficult for miners to operate. 

What bitcoin offers

Ehsan Ghazizade launched Tehran-based crypto exchange EXIR in 2017, the same year bitcoin had its historic bull run. Back then, Iranians could register on international exchanges like Bittrex and Poloniex, Ghazizade told CoinDesk. But in 2018, the U.S. government exposed the identities of Iranians involved in a crypto hack. Last year, the Helsinki-based LocalBitcoins peer-to-peer trading platform cut off Iran-based users from accessing its services after suspicions arose that Iranians might be using crypto to circumvent sanctions.

Read More: Binance Warns Iranian Traders to Withdraw Crypto Amid Sanctions

In such an atmosphere, Iranian users started looking for a local platform to invest and trade their crypto assets without missing out on bitcoin price jumps, Ghazizade said.

Even though the number of users on his platform grew quickly over the three years, EXIR’s trading volumes tell a different story, showing a drop in 2020 despite the inflationary rial and the bitcoin price run.  

“Because the bitcoin price fluctuation in Iranian toman is very high and most Iranian users cannot trade in huge amounts, we have grown in the number of trades but saw a drop in total volume at this time span,” Ghazizade said. 

The self-described “bitcoin maximalist” Sadr, for example, does not trade bitcoin at all. He gets paid in bitcoin for providing tech services for companies abroad. The pinned tweet on Sadr’s profile is a list of payment methods he cannot use from Iran like Visa, Master, Apple Pay, and PayPal. So whenever bitcoin is accepted as a payment method, mostly on the internet, he uses the cryptocurrency. 

Bitcoin provides privacy in transactions, and is not completely vulnerable to censorship from the government, Sadr said. He primarily uses bitcoin to purchase virtual private network (VPN) services so that he can bypass internet censorship to access apps like Telegram, which are banned in Iran. He also buys digital merchandise including game accounts and gift cards. 

In 2017, before U.S. sanctions, Iran set the poverty line at around $480 a month. At the time, 33% of the population (24 million people) fell below the line. Even for Sadr, who earns a decent living, purchasing a smartphone costing upwards of $200 is a difficult task. 

“If you get paid $500 a month in Iran, you’re on the wealthy side,” Sadr said. 

He prefers to store his earnings in bitcoin because he has the option of storing it electronically. In addition to the cap imposed on dollar or euro deposits that can be held in regulated banks in an effort to support the rial, a general distrust in traditional banks has led to people storing U.S. dollars under mattresses at home. But physically holding dollars or gold comes with its own risks of robbery and violence. 

“I know people from my family who were killed for holding gold. So I know what bitcoin offers to us. If I’m changing my income to bitcoin, it’s because I don’t want to get into trouble holding it physically and I don’t want to lose the value of my money,” Sadr said. 

Regulating banks and exchanges

In 2018, the central bank of Iran (CBI) banned the country’s banks from dealing in virtual currencies. According to Iranian crypto lawyer Arman Babagol, the ban was in line with most other jurisdictions concerned about money laundering and terrorism funding. But there was also the added fear of a digital currency undermining the rial: the government debated banning Telegram when it announced its initial coin offering (ICO) in 2018 for the “gram” token.  

Iran ultimately didn’t ban citizens from dealing in cryptocurrencies, but warned them of accepting the responsibility of risk should they decide to use it, Babagol told CoinDesk. He said that as one of the few attorneys in the country familiar with crypto-related laws, he is now inundated with crypto scam cases. He also handles mining cases, and one took him from Tehran to the Pakistan border to help a client that was accused of stealing electricity from the grid to power bitcoin mining. 

Read more: Iran’s Crypto Regulations:What’s Happening Behind Closed Doors

Right now, crypto exchanges don’t need a license to operate in Iran, Babagol said. Ghazizade confirmed this but doesn’t feel that will be the case for long. This year, amid fears that the pandemic will encourage capital outflow, the Iranian government is looking to tighten rules around cryptocurrencies under currency smuggling and foreign exchange laws to protect the rial against further devaluation. 

Even before sanctions came into place, the government began looking into the creation of its own national cryptocurrency. This state-backed currency would not be decentralized like Bitcoin, and could potentially even lead to the prohibition of unapproved digital currencies. Last year, four of Iran’s leading banks partnered with blockchain startup Kukonos to kickstart project “PayMon”: Iran’s own gold-backed digital currency. But Soheil Nikzad, who worked on the Kukonos project, told CoinDesk that the PayMon initiative has slowed down pending government approval after passing the regulatory sandbox.  

Borna, a second cryptocurrency project directly funded by the central bank of Iran, is developing the infrastructure to support a digital currency. 

Regulating mining 

Meanwhile bitcoin mining continues, but with restrictions. 

In 2016, Omid Alavi watched his brothers mining bitcoin from their home in Iran, and saw a business opportunity. A year later, the brothers had already branded their company Vira Miner and were opening industrial mining farms equipped with thousands of imported ASIC Antminer V9s

At the time, mining was not regulated and subsidized electricity costs were as low as $0.006 per kilowatt-hour. This piqued the interest of Iranian miners despite the fact that the country didn’t produce its own mining rigs. Equipment was mostly smuggled into the country from China, Alavi told CoinDesk. By the summer of 2019, he was overseeing up to eight farms. 

“Back then, it was a miner’s paradise,” Alavi said. 

The government grew increasingly aware of the large spikes in electricity consumption by mining farms like Alavi’s. Last year, deputy minister of electricity and energy Homayoun Haeri proposed miners should not be allowed to tap into the heavily subsidized electricity meant for citizens at no additional cost or tax. Days later, authorities shut down two mining outfits following a power spike and seized over 1,000 machines from two abandoned farms.

Yet in July 2020, less than a month following the incident, Iran declared bitcoin mining legal, and the industry came under the jurisdiction of Iran’s ministry of industry and mines. Haeri announced the government will vote on modified electricity rates for miners.

Read more: Iran May Fund Car Imports With Cryptocurrency Mining

According to Alavi, the following month, the government stormed his farms and seized over 6,000 machines. The incident cost him over $5 million and he is working with a non-governmental blockchain association to negotiate the return of his rigs even though their value has since depreciated, Alavi said. 

Now, Vira Miner has one of the 1,000 or more permits issued by the government to set up a farm. Local news reported around 14 farms have set up shop with these licenses. However, Alavi said miners need a second license to actually start operations. He is still waiting for one. 

Now that mining is legal, Alavi said he has to pay a tariff of over 20% on future imported mining equipment. Mining operations are fined for using subsidized electricity and equipment suspected of being smuggled into the country. According to Alavi, the ministry of energy is selling gas to bitcoin miners at 500 times the price it’s sold at to regular power plants. He also said that electricity rates are now higher for miners, costing up to $0.09 per kilowatt-hour. Earlier this year, the government gave miners a month to register in an effort to mitigate equipment smuggling and illegal mining.

In April 2020, the government licensed a Turkey-based company called iMiner to launch a bitcoin mining operation in Iran. The firm allegedly sank $7.3 million into setting up its mining facility in the country.

But a Telegram group with over 81,000 members is accusing the firm of running a Ponzi Scheme, paying initial investors with funds from new investors without actually mining anything. Prominent Iranian bitcoiners including Alavi and Babagol recently joined an advisory YouTube panel that openly accused the government-approved company of misleading investors.

“Between last year and now, [Iran] became a hell for miners,” Alavi said. 

Mining continues, however, with Iran having a 4% stake in global hashrate (the amount of computing power a country contributes to mining) and Iranian power plants selling excess power to mining operations.   

Meanwhile, veteran bitcoiners like Amini and Sadr are witnessing how crypto is actually changing lives. Adoption is small and slow, but it’s nonetheless increasing, Sadr said. According to Amini, people from the crypto community may come into the space to simply buy VPN or a book that they cannot buy otherwise. 

“But then, you can see some concerned mother who just wants to send some money to her child studying abroad,” Amini said, adding:

“You know, bitcoin is just more usable and more people are coming to this space not because of the technology, but because they don’t have any other option. We could consider this a beautiful thing.”


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