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Funding Capture

Lecture capture technology is increasingly crucial. Here's how to make the investment happen.
University Business, Jul 2011
Campus leaders at Saint Michael's College act with the understanding that lecture capture provides better service to students who might need academic support or who have had to miss classes due to illness or other reasons.

Students love lecture capture. Also enamored are administrators and faculty with active systems. Surveys and data collected from various institutions have shown it improves engagement and student outcomes. Just one example: Of first year medical students involved in the Mediasite pilot program at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, 88 percent agreed the system helped them achieve their educational goals.

Faculty members at other institutions have shared anecdotes about students being more engaged in classroom discussions because they know they can review the lecture and take notes after class. "It's an excellent add-on to a course," says Vince Kellen, CIO of the University of Kentucky, referring to content created with their Echo360 system. "You can review a lecture and have an 'ah-ha' moment. That is where learning happens. This is very simple and basic, but it can be very profound."

The systems can also be used to enhance learning by making the world smaller. Penn State's central IT leased a small generator-powered satellite uplink so students traveling in a remote part of South Africa could use the Adobe Connect system to communicate with students at home in University Park, shares John Harwood, associate vice provost for IT at Penn State. "How cool is that?"

Despite all these accolades, how do you justify investing heavily in technology during these times of tough budget cuts? The big-picture argument is that lecture capture is becoming an essential technology in higher education and the undeniable benefits to student learning helps ease the path. Here are ways administrators are finding the funds.

Determining whose budget pays for the system depends on campus culture and adoption, says Anthony Rotoli, business development manager for higher education at CDW-G. Initially, individual departments might fund their systems; as usage becomes more widespread, the central IT department gets involved. "When they start small, it moves faster than they expect," he cautions.

Institutions that intend to scale lecture capture across multiple departments or an entire campus can realize economies of scale that may make it beneficial to use centralized funds, says Rosemarie McElwee Console, director of education and strategic partnerships with Panopto.

Depending on the system, backend control rooms can allow IT staff to edit lecture content or enable professors to publish lectures themselves from a desktop.

Also, if campus constituents are already dedicated to the idea of lecture capture, then centralized funding allows for rapid deployment of a system to all areas of campus. "I think central funds to get the ball rolling and then distributed funds [thereafter] is a good model," says Kellen. Upfront money to cover the infrastructure made it possible to rapidly expand their installation from four classrooms to 36. "That allowed us to get leverage because of the scale. It allowed us to adapt more quickly."

Using central dollars makes sense when there is demand across campus, agrees Harwood. It also ensures standardization on one system, which might make it easier for IT to troubleshoot.

On the other hand, if people are still feeling their way with the technology, a decentralized model has its advantages, because installations can be more targeted and early adopters don't have to wait for the rest of campus to catch up. "The system works out great for us," says Eric Coffman, manager of application development at the West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, of the Camtasia Relay system from TechSmith. "I think it would work for the campus as a whole, but getting all the decision makers together hasn't happened. There isn't a broad implementation."

When administrators at Ashland University (Ohio) decided to deploy Mediasite, the IT department purchased the streaming server, while individual departments bought the units, explains Thomas Kemp, director of instructional technology and learning management. "If IT or the library always funds the technology, there might not be buy-in from the academic department to use it," he says. "We want to make sure we are spending our dollars wisely. If they fund it, they will be more likely to use it."

'There isn't as much of an economic penalty to going your own way with lecture capture as there would be with buying an ERP. If you wait, you never know what wonderful lectures might be missed.' -Sean Brown, Sonic Foundry

Although the IT department will always prefer standardization, eager departments shouldn't be held back. "There isn't as much of an economic penalty to going your own way with lecture capture as there would be with buying an ERP," points out Sean Brown, VP of Higher Education with Sonic Foundry. "If you wait, you never know what wonderful lectures might be missed."

Some institutions might not have the funds to invest in a new technology, or might not want to risk valuable budget dollars on a technology that would be an experiment on their campus, even though it has been proven elsewhere. In these cases, funding can come from a variety of places:

  • Grants: Lecture capture helps enhance any grant focused on learning outcomes and 21st century learning because it is a technology-based system with proven results, say experts. "Lecture capture rises to the top as an academically focused technology to improve programs," says Brown. "The nature of lecture capture allows it to be woven into these grant programs. It helps increase the value and effectiveness of the results being promised in the grant request."
'This is critical architecture. It's like a light; it's either on or off and it's usually always on.' -Vince Kellen, University of Kentucky

Before embarking on a large project at Saint Michael's College (Vt.), officials try to get grant money for a pilot program, says CIO William Anderson. "If that is successful, we try it out with the target users, then we have a case for making it the next big project."

When installing distance learning classrooms in the College of Social Work at the University of Utah, Director of Operations Matt Harting combined grant and budget money from the department, with Instructional Media Services funding making up the shortfall.

But using a grant takes careful planning on the part of the institution and the vendor. "Using grant money creates a challenge because it's one shot," says Mary Young, director of marketing with Echo360. "Schools are coming to us with grant money and [we are] creating contracts where they pay ahead."

  • Major donors: Lecture capture is a good fit for donors interested in academics and learning. "Stephen Ross, the benefactor and person our school is named after, wanted a '21st century structure designed to help catalyze business education by supporting our unsurpassed commitment to action-based learning,' " shares Edward Adams, chief technology officer and director of computing services for the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Ross believed action-based learning is a creative and interactive experience that integrates individual preparation, team-based projects, and classroom discussion, while utilizing advanced information technology.

"It was his emphasis on 'advanced information technology' that was the driving force that led us to Mediasite. I feel it took something as significant and transformative as our new building to get the school thinking about enterprise-wide technology solutions," Adams says.

Lecture capture installations range from simple to sophisticated, allowing for just the professor to be captured or the students in the classroom as well.

  • Lecture capture system donors: If a donor can't afford a named building but wants something more innovative than a named classroom, consider having the person fund the lecture capture system, suggests Young. A logo or message can be displayed before the program starts. Brown has heard anecdotal stories of banners inserted into basketball games. "I haven't seen it for the academic lectures, but I'm seeing talk in the athletic department about the potential," he says.
  • Budget shifts: Careful planning can allow funds to be reclaimed from other areas of the budget, says Rotoli from CDW-G. Budgets related to faculty traveling to other campuses is a logical change. He also knows of schools using lecture capture to increase enrollments without adding physical space. Young has heard of schools using the system to offer distance ed courses over the summer so their students stay enrolled rather than attending a local college when they go home.

While some technologies can bring budget surprises down the line from add-ons, maintenance and support fees, and refresh costs, the lecture capture business model already includes those fees in the upfront costs. "It is different from historical technology where you had refresh cycles and such," says Rotoli. "The business model for lecture capture is to include those costs in the units."

Also, having learned from other technologies, campus CIOs know to budget ahead based on total cost of ownership. "We've had projects around campus get caught short and we just don't risk it any more," says Anderson. At Saint Michael's, officials don't undertake a project unless they can support it long-term, he notes. Some of his costs, such as bandwidth, are going down, allowing him to shift funds around. "Other departments have the opposite problem; for instance, Facilities has to buy gas," he says.

Another positive: The demand on IT staff time isn't as high in most cases. "We've been able to service 15 times the number of students at one eighth of the cost," says Kemp, adding that lecture capture is far more affordable and less labor intensive than the video conferencing rooms he worked with at other universities.

"This is critical architecture," agrees Kellen. "It's like a light; it's either on or off and it's usually always on." Because of that, he is working to fold maintenance and training support into his staff's regular duties to keep costs and workloads down.

The systems are so easy to use now that faculty training isn't a cost issue because it's easily folded into the regular training budget, campus leaders say. "We never actually stop training on any of our technologies," says Kemp.

"They record when they want, what they want, and post what and when they want - all without any involvement from my staff," says Adams. "The biggest thing we did to ensure rapid adoption was to make the process incredibly end-user friendly."

Although maintenance and training are easily managed, storage costs are an issue to consider. "The probability that I'm most concerned about is storage of the streaming and general infrastructure," says Kellen. "Our policy is to store as little as possible. Right now, they expire after the class ends, but that might change." His team at the University of Kentucky is monitoring adoption and projecting growth based on usage. Currently, students in the medical school are the heaviest users.

"The most expensive part is the disk storage to store lectures," agrees Coffman. He keeps the original, editable recordings for two years and the iPod-compatible output for as long as the instructor wants. "This is important because, in your fourth year, you have to take a board exam that covers everything you learn, so it doesn't help to take their resources away after two years," he explains.

A well-worded budget proposal is important to a successful requisition, but nothing speaks louder than a pilot program and student demand. The student response to classes using lecture capture "was so great it was an unstoppable train," says Coffman. "Lecture capture is a choice today, but in a few years, students will shop for it. If your competitor has it and you don't, the student will go there."

Colleges and universities are already using lecture capture as a recruiting feature, says Mike Berger, senior director of marketing for Tegrity. "Schools are putting it on their website that they have it. They are using it as a competitive edge, especially if schools around them don't have it."

"You are having a student-legislated component to funding," says Brown. It means being ready to articulate the benefits for students, because people might not be familiar with lecture capture, he advises. Also be prepared to discuss the entire workflow from classroom to viewer, so you can address all the features and any peripherals that will be needed. "You have to be able to say, 'We want to keep five years of classes online so they can go back to them through their entire college career' to justify your choices," he explains.

Lecture capture provides better service to students, says Anderson. It can provide accommodations for at-risk or special needs students and also be helpful for student-athletes or others who might miss a class.

"We see a fair amount of watching at 2 a.m.," says Kemp. "The good thing for faculty is they can 'teach' class when the students are ready to be taught."

"One of the things we see is that funding is not a problem when there is a strategy, demand, and executive support," says Young, comparing it to how no one today would argue the need for wireless.

Lecture capture can also be used to expand the reach of an institution as at the University of Utah, where distance ed is being used to expand enrollment to the southern part of the state. "Classes are held on Friday and Saturday, which saves the students from driving to campus two days a week," says Matt Harting, director of operations for the College of Social Work. Increased enrollment can lead to increased revenue, which will make it easier to get funding.

Institutions are realizing lecture capture allows them to increase their offerings and enroll more students "without having to add additional costs of capital or operating expenses," says McElwee Console.

"Schools are using the reporting feature to track usage and student success and that supports the need for the system," says Matt Aucella, vice president of sales for Tegrity.

"What I usually do is meet with the provost once or twice a year and show how the system and its use are growing," says Kemp. "We have close to 250 people in the database who can go into a classroom on the fly and set up a recording. That is fantastic."

Spending money to save money is also understood. Adams says the workload for the Ross School of Business IT staff has gone down with Mediasite. "We used to spend upwards of $200,000 per year on outside media companies. Today, we do all that work ourselves. The trick was convincing event staff that the video was equal to or better than what they were getting with outside media people."

But in the end, the growing popularity of lecture capture means it's an investment officials at many institutions believe is one worth making, and one that is becoming expected from students. Anderson notes that it will be standard procedure soon enough, adding that "we need to be far enough out on the curve that we aren't caught by surprise."