The University of Central Florida has championed distance learning since 1982, back when lectures were recorded on scratchy VHS and Beta tapes. The commuter college is the nation's third-largest university and is committed to transforming Florida from an economy tied to travel and tourism to one that's powered by high-tech. In service of that goal, distance learning makes engineering and other specialized courses available in any pocket of the state.
About five years ago, the school's engineering department decided it had outgrown its homemade system for distributing lectures over the Internet. Looking to expand its available content dramatically and still slash costs, the university turned to Tegrity of Santa Clara, Calif. Al Ducharme, the school official in charge of the system overhaul at the time, found he couldn't afford to splurge on hardware, much less outfit a host of brand new multimedia classrooms.
"The only solution out there that was all software was Tegrity," said Ducharme, UCF's assistant dean for distance and distributed learning. "It was the absolute most amazing success story for me. Now we typically record 7,500 hours of lectures over the course of the fall and spring semesters. It's an enormous amount of content that we push out, and with a smaller staff."
The Tegrity system was expanded to the rest of the college last summer. Students can instantly access lectures from their courses through a computer browser, iPod or wireless device. Instructors require little training. To get started, they access Tegrity through the course management system, wait a second or two for the system to recognize a webcam or other external video source, enter a lecture title and begin talking to the class. Recording is automatic, and the system creates a database of searchable terms from the professor's remarks.
"One of the key aspects of Tegrity for UCF is that it's highly-scalable, meaning we can deploy it across our large student population in a cost-effective manner," said Don Merritt, interim director of UCF's Office of Instructional Resources.
UCF officials praised the system's powerful management tools. A search tool allows students to track terms like "quadratic equation" in any lecture they've had that semester. From there, they simply click on the link and the lecture goes to the precise point where the professor discusses the term. During routine playback, students can bookmark sections that a teacher has indicated will be on a test or flag spots that confuse them for later review.
"It's probably worth double what we pay for it," Ducharme said.
Instructors can review data from the system, too. Professors can track sections that multiple students have bookmarked as confusing, so future lectures can be improved for clarity. Tegrity's research shows that most students spend roughly 15 minutes going over hourlong lectures, so the review process is usually highly specific. Professors can tell exactly which parts of the lecture draw the most interest, and they can also see which students haven't tapped into the lecture at all.
"That's immediate feedback for an instructor, and no one's had that before Tegrity," Ducharme said. Teachers can also use the system to teach remotely, something that can add richness to the curriculum. Ducharme teaches optics and was in Spain for a distance learning conference when he had a brainstorm.
"I thought it would be cool if I recorded a lecture on wave motion and the wave behavior of light from the beach at Barcelona," he said. So he did?and his students loved it.
For more information, visit www.tegrity.com.