Video Collaboration Platform
The Covid-19 pandemic forces the vast majority of America to shelter in place at home. So video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Skype and Webex enjoy exponential growth in those using their services. And recently my friend Jeff Brathwaite asked me to help him test out masheme.io. His employer George Washington University uses the video collaboration platform as they transition from traditional classrooms to online learning.
I sit in on a million Zoom meetings, Skype meetings and Webex webinars. But the mashme platform, called The Room of the Future, proved a real eye opener to me. It provides a more immersive experience. You feel like you were actually in the classroom. More and more of us do more work from home and online collaboration. So I spoke with mashme CEO Victor Sanchez. And I heard more about how universities use this immersive experience to deliver a more collaborative digital learning environments. How may they transfer into business environments.
Room of the Future
Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To hear the full conversation and to see Victor show off some of the room of the future watched the video, or click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.
Small Business Trends: So this is the room of the future from an online professor kind of perspective. Talk about what we’re looking at here.
Victor Sanchez: Basically you are watching are 48 4K screens connected to a very powerful computer able to render that. And in this particular instance, up to 120 students, the room is so big, I couldn’t get it with my camera. So, there are computers outside of the images. This is one of the largest ones that we have installed in Banco Santander, which is one of the largest bank in Europe and Latin America, in their training center.
Video More than Just Faces
You can see several things. mashme has something that we call site maps and you will see that we don’t only have faces. We have the chat, we have the raise hand blog. We can see on the right the results of a leading poll. And you can see this kind of a simulation where you can see what everyone voted for with a color-coded response. We have the time of the classroom and many other aspects.
On the front, we have one camera that’s a robotic tracking camera that can follow the teacher around. If you are like me, I really like to move when I’m in a classroom. So, I want to be able to do the same thing. And if you take a look at the size of the head of the teacher and the size that you see on the screens, the room was designed to have these one-to-one face to face experience. And actually, everyone is on the first row on the room of the future.
It’s kind of overwhelming the first time, which is why we put so much dedication to every single aspect of the UI to make the teachers feel empowered on, Oh my God, I want to ride this horse. And because we don’t want the teachers to be afraid of the technology. This is why you come in, you punch your code and it’s launched automatically. Our trainings are a day long. Starting using this solution is very, very easy.
Video Collaboration Platform Improvements
Small Business Trends: What are the two screens at the bottom of the big screen?
Victor Sanchez: Very important. There’s two things that every teacher likes to see. The first one is themselves. That’s to make sure that we are looking good. And the second one is a copy of your content. So, basically that’s your confident monitors. That ability to have a little bit of extra context. You can put whatever you want and even every time that you launch the room of the future, the configuration of the different elements could be different depending on what you are doing.
So, let’s say for instance, I don’t know, I have a remote speaker that is going to connect from, I don’t know, his hotel in Japan because he got stranded. So, I want him on a three by three a square in the middle of those screens, and have a very high quality. And then, I want my students on the sides, smaller so I can actually, in every session, I can rearrange depending on the usage. And that’s actually made the platform very flexible and one of the things that our customers like about us.
Small Business Trends: Talk a little bit about how the interaction works between students and the professor and also between students and students.
Looking At Camera Installation
Victor Sanchez: That is one of the things that we are most, most proud about. When we take a look at the room of the future, and again it comes in many shapes and forms as I mentioned, but from the student perspective, we have two cameras inside the room, at least. In our most simple installation, we have two cameras. I already talked about the camera in the front. There is also a panoramic camera in the back where you can see the whole room. In some occasions, depending on what you’re having there, and I’m going to just real quick play a video on my back while I speak because it’s going to allow me to show you a little bit more.
This is another of our proud customers. This is from Colorado State University. And let me show you a little bit on how that room looks like. So, that room, and we’re going to see it in a moment, this room, what we see is the students are sitting down. So, you have students that are going to be sitting in front of the wall and that they are treated exactly the same…
Colorado State is a very good example because on the back they have this additional row of faces that are very, very far away, in this case. What those students see? They see a panoramic camera so they can see not only the wall, but their peers and the teacher interacting with the real space.
Integrating Features and Applications
Very important since some of our customers actually teach many different skills. That’s not the case in a lot of our customers. So, as a remote student I can see either the camera on the back, the camera on the front, both at the same time and of course the contents in the middle. Up to 75 features and applications integrated in mashme with our patented technology called the Shared Memory.
The Shared Memory is basically a way to share an application at a very low latency, the same low latency that we have for the video. So, up to 200 students, and the teacher of course, can manipulate that content in real time as they are working. So, that’s how we are doing those aspects.
What our teachers are telling us about their students is that they are more engaged than ever.
Small Business Trends: What do the students see? How would you describe the students’ perspective of this kind of online experience?
More About Video Integration
Victor Sanchez: For them, I believe it’s more about the interaction. You mentioned before, the student to student experience. So, one of the things that our customers do a lot is they launch the room in advance as it will happen on a regular classroom and the teacher is not even there. And the students start collaborating, talking to each other and even when the class is over they do the same thing.
So, that ability, where essentially, you’re going have a massive large classroom, but depending on where you are on that wall, you are talking to each other. We have a bubble of images of real customers that they have sent us where they try to high five over the screens because they can actually see each other.
So, that feeling of I’m part of something, I’m part of that physical space, it helps quite a bit on the engaging part. And then the other feedback that we have from students is that because of how easy is to get in and out of the platform, no installations, no setups. If I’m paying, I don’t know, a ton of money for my masterpieces or my master classes, for every class I need to spend 15 minutes at the beginning trying to set up the configuration, that university owes me money at the end of the year because I lost a ton of time on that online part. So, this kind of ease of use, for both the teacher at the student, is truly important for us.
More About the Room of the Future
Small Business Trends: What about the Room of the Future from a more business oriented perspective?
Victor Sanchez: Absolutely. We started with the EdTech vertical, but I never call it vertical because for me, any company in the world, and we have some of our customer Swift, PepsiCo, banks and things like that, KW, the real estate company. All of them have something in common, a distributed force or sales force or team of any kind and the need to push the skills down to your organization. Nowadays there is no employee of any multinational company or any American business in several states that they don’t have that need of communication, that need of training, that need of making the skills happen for your peers.
And in this case, where we are seeing this massive shift, there is two aspects to it. One is are you secure enough? Is my data going to be safe? Are you going to be selling my data outside for some reason? So, one of the things that we did, from the management perspective is, we come from Europe, GDPR, if you don’t know what it is, you will know soon, on that aspect.
The Excitement of Trying
And the second one is you have this excitement of trying things and that’s something that is very unique of the American market. Everywhere else is like, I don’t want to touch it. I will break it. The US is not like that man. The US wants to try and that’s what makes the US such a special country. And this is why I’ve been in love with the US since I was a little kid. And, one of the reasons is that, you are not scared of trying new things and it shows everywhere.
But, on the other side, there is that corporate fear that, Oh, I need to be careful on this. So, I wanted to provide a secure platform, but also put that excitement, give you that chance to transform how your business works. And now, COVID-19 did many bad things. This is going to be a scary time for sure, but it’s going to make lasting changes on how people see education and the workplace for sure.
Different from other Video Collaboration
Small Business Trends: How is this different from what we’re seeing with folks using Zoom? Zoom is pretty easy to get going and use, but to me it feels like the immersive experience that mashme has may be more suited for the educational industry. But, what kinds of business industries do you see maybe able to leverage this immersive experience that you’re providing over kind of the basic needs for video conferencing that a Zoom has?
Victor Sanchez: So for me, if you compare it with Zoom, other than obviously the quality that you need to showcase the resolutions that we do it, immersion means something else for me. Because these are immersive experiences of being surrounded by those faces and even when you are outside looking at yourself inside a community of people. For me, it works very well in places where face to face matters.
Most of my Zoom meetings, before I was a CEO of this company or before I did other things, most of my Zoom meetings I could have had a call bridge. It wasn’t, that face to face experience, it wasn’t that important. But, with my teachers, with my peers, I want to make lasting relationships with my peers on that classroom. With my work peers, some of them that I don’t know at all. I want to build lasting relationships. So immersion for me means trust. Immersion for me means confidence. Immersion for me it’s being part of that group.
So, on short term basis, and again, if you are going to have Zoom meetings and then you’re going to be back and you’re going to see each other at the company, mashme wasn’t designed for that. mashme wasn’t designed for… Like Queens University Belfast, they have Chinese students that have never seen that campus, have never met any of those Irish beers, but it doesn’t matter.
They make lasting relationships and that’s what immersion means to us, on that aspect. It’s not about the technology, it’s not about the quality, it’s not about the EdTech features, it’s about that human connection. That’s what we were trying to achieve and immersion is not a list of features, but it’s about the human experience. That’s what happens as a consequence of those technical features.
Small Business Trends: What does this kind of create, in terms of needs, for these colleges, and experiences that they’re looking for due to the coronavirus situation?
From our Customer’s Perspective
Victor Sanchez: I don’t want to be trivial with the situation, but to be honest, from our customer’s perspective, the only thing that have changed is the amount of hours and the traffic that they put on the platform. Our customers have been using this platform in this way for a very long time. So for them, most of them, they just been ramping it up.
In the last two and a half weeks we have seen a four X multiplier, we have 400% of traffic, 400% of people connecting every day to the platform. So to be honest, for them it’s the same that they were doing. But, in terms of changes, what they are doing right now is they are virtualizing the whole experience.
We have teachers at home using their TVs to have their own mini wall, on those aspects. But, they are using the same technology. So, what we are seeing is a very stable ramping up, kind of trying to get and catch up to have instead of something online or these four programs are my online programs. Now, everything is online.
And the good thing is that they were already trained, they were already familiar with the platform. So, it’s been very easy for us to scale them up to where they needed to be. And on that aspect, what we have seen is those who are already online or hybrid courses, they even saw that much of an aspect. And then, what we are trying to do is accompany as much as we can, the new teachers and the newer students that are kind of stepping up onto this new world.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.
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