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Lecture Capture: A Fresh Look

Although less than 10 years old, lecture capture technology has come a long way.
University Business, Apr 2008

EVER SINCE PLATO WROTE THE DIALOGUES, students have been endeavoring to capture class content for later review. Usually the method of choice is pen and paper, but sometimes cassette recorders are employed. For most, neither method is adequate.

"The average professor speaks at 120 words per minute, but students write around 20 words," says Isaac Segal, CEO of Tegrity, which offers a lecture capture, storage, and indexing solution. "Writing faster affects attentiveness." And since tape recorders don't have search capability, Segal adds, students find themselves having to listen to the entire lecture again.

However, with the advent of the internet and faster computer processors, lectures can not only be recorded digitally but also streamed live over the internet-often with minimal effort by participants. Taking the concept a step further, today's lecture capture systems (LCS) give the ability to slice and dice archived recordings into more manageable and meaningful segments.

"Lecture capture has found an important and permanent place in education," says Sean Brown, vice president of education for Sonic Foundry, whose Mediasite product records instruction and web-casts it live over the internet for real-time or on-demand viewing. "It is one of the most important supplements students can have."

Even though the technology is only about 10 years old, the definition of lecture capture is already starting to blur. At its base, lecture capture is "a solution that captures classroom-based activities in a digital format that is then available for download or consumption over the internet," says Nicole Engelbert, the lead analyst of Education & Vertical Markets Technology for Datamonitor, an online data, analytic, and forecasting service.

With some lecture capture solutions migrating to software or web-based platforms, the definition is being stretched to include content faculty are producing at home, or even recordings of hybrid class sessions capturing both the in-class and online activity.

'If the system doesn't have the ability to deliver content in an intelligent way, it won't be useful.' -Nicole Engelbert, Datamonitor

In the dark ages of the 1980s, people recorded classes on videocassettes and then distributed the tapes. "Video online didn't happen until 2000," says Al Ducharme, assistant dean of distance and distributed learning at the <b>University of Central Florida</b>. A few years later digital TVs led to demand for better resolution.

The other option was video teleconferencing rooms, which were expensive to build and had to connect to a similar room on the other end.

Then came modern lecture capture. Although some commercial solutions have been available since the late 1990s, Engelbert says the technology has come into its own in the past two years, along with the rise in popularity of the iPod and other MP3 players.

"The networks are getting better. The standard of computing power off the shelf is better," points out Brad Winney, CEO of Panopto, provider of a video capture, steaming, archiving, and playback solution that integrates rich content and user-driven metadata and is free to educational institutions. "It is all leading to a much more rapid adoption of lecture capture."

Lecture capture solution architecture varies among the companies Datamonitor considers the market leaders: Sonic Foundry's Mediasite is appliance-based, Tegrity Campus is a web-based "SaaS" (Software as a Service), and Echo360 offers software and an appliance, which launched in March. Panopto, which entered the market at the end of 2007, offers software-based Course Cast. Various peripherals-including cameras, microphones, projectors, and interactive whiteboards such as those from Hitachi and Interwrite Learning-all add to the experience, with the different solutions integrating with existing smart classroom equipment.

Users see a partitioned screen displaying the presentation material and video feed, along with navigation options. Although video of the professor is thought to enhance distance learning sessions, it is usually skipped when the result is a "talking head." In some situations the video is used to display a demonstration, as often happens in medical classes.

While video isn't a must-have, "audio is extremely important," advises John DeAngelo, associate dean for Information Technology at the Fox School of Business at <b>Temple University</b> (Pa.). "If the audio is not adequate, it reduces the usefulness. Someone has to change the batteries frequently."

Even though all the systems capture the content in a different way, distribution is the key. "The consumption and download over the internet is an important part," says Engelbert. "If the system doesn't have the ability to deliver content in an intelligent way, it won't be useful."

Differentiation comes from system features. Indexing, running reports, and formatting for distribution on the web or on MP3 players and other mobile devices are some to look for. Editing the finished product and search features are nuanced territory best navigated by knowing how the system and content will be used.

Editing can be done to add title slides, remove dead time, or eliminate "teachable moments" that might have made sense during class but could be considered offensive afterward. Long lectures can also be broken into shorter segments for use as study guides and other class aids.

John Clarke, assistant dean and CIO of The Paul Merage School of Business at the <b>University of California, Irvine,</b> explains that the school started capturing lectures in 2004 with a homegrown system based on a modified teleconferencing room. As students became more dependent on the archived classes, reliability became more important. "It has to be as reliable as a telephone," he says.

When Merage administrators went shopping for a commercial system, the focus was on ease of use and a desire to keep the technology in the classroom unobtrusive. They settled on Mediasite from Sonic Foundry, which dropped into the smart classrooms already in place.

Although users can add information after the fact, "no one does postproduction," says Clarke. "Students know we are just capturing what happened in the classroom."

But that is not always the case. "When you put someone in a studio room, they will start wanting to change things," says Nick Laudato, associate director of the Instructional Technology Center for Instructional Development & Distance Education at the <b>University of Pittsburgh</b>. The ease of editing is one feature that drew him to Panopto's Course Cast system.

Indexing is so important, it's a standard feature for all solutions. For ease of navigation the various systems automatically create visual thumbnails of the captured event, similar to the "select a scene" menu on a movie DVD. Most systems also allow a viewer to fast forward or rewind without accessing the thumbnails. An important part of navigation is keeping the video of the presenter and the presentation synchronized, says Sonic Foundry's Brown, adding that his company pioneered the automatic creation of thumbnails. When navigating through a lecture, students can look at the thumbnails for a certain slide and jump directly there. In situations where the content is packaged for an iPod, the thumbnails will be visible on the video screen for ease of navigation.

The value of being able to key in a search term depends on who you talk to. For a web-based solution like the one Tegrity offers, faculty members upload a PowerPoint presentation in advance. Since the slides, as well as any websites visited, are running on the same computer as the software, all the text is captured. When students are reviewing later, they can enter a keyword and search within one class or the entire course. By using a special pen and paper, notes taken during class are synchronized. Later, students can use the pen to click on their notes and the recording will automatically advance to that section.

On the Panopto system, student notes taken on a computer are synchronized to the session either while it is being recorded or when students log in to the archive.

'If the audio is not adequate, it reduces the usefulness.' -John DeAngelo, Temple University

Searching in appliance-based solutions is a little trickier. The recording is an optical, high-resolution image of what attendees saw, rather than content that was uploaded ahead of time. Brown says Sonic Foundry is developing optical capture recognition technology that can be run on a presentation after the fact to enhance search capabilities. But he says people tend to be so delighted by the thumbnails that there hasn't been a great demand for search. Mark Jones, senior vice president of Echo360, says his company is developing similar technology for its lecture capture and publishing platform.

"Lecture capture changes the role of a student in the class," says Clarke. The student no longer has to be "a stenographer trying to write everything down."

When lecture capture is proposed, a typical concern is that students will stop attending class in favor of watching the archived recording, but the consensus is that it does not happen, or at least not to a noticeable degree. "The truth is, students are going to access the content they paid for in the most convenient way," points out Ducharme. "They paid for a live education, and they will want to come to class. For 30 years we've been offering recorded classes and people still attend."

There is also anecdotal evidence that students participate in class more knowing they will be able to review the recording later. "It's also a leveler," says Clarke. Students can review a section they didn't understand during class and be better prepared for the next lecture. Besides, if students stop attending class, professors can simply stop recording.

The next hurtle is adoption by both faculty and students. "Institutions that are most likely to use lecture capture, and how quickly they roll it out, are closely aligned to which lecture halls are outfitted with technology," says Engelbert. A recent Datamonitor survey showed that 25 percent of respondents either have or are thinking about getting an LCS. And with major players Tegrity, Sonic Foundry, Panopto, and Echo360 all claiming between 100 and 500 higher ed customers each, the technology isn't a flash in the pan. "If you look at what universities are doing with YouTube or iTunes U, the trend is abundantly clear," points out Winney.

Jones, from Echo360, suggests one factor holding back wider adoption was earlier systems' lack of scalability. With that issue being addressed, he says the next matter will be adjusting pricing. "Universities want a licensing structure, not a per-unit cost," he claims.

Provided peripherals are already in place, an LCS can cost as little as $5,000. Although all the vendors have different pricing structures, most offer discounts based on volume or enterprise-wide deployments.

In Florida, a 1982 state mandate to widely distribute engineering education acclimated faculty at UFC to the idea of being recorded every day, explains Ducharme. But now even faculty who are not part of the Florida Engineering Education Distribution System are asking for a software license-because their students are requesting it.

Of course, not everyone has a state mandate driving adoption. Bob Hillhouse, director of engineering services at the <b>University of Tennessee</b>, is still waiting for people to catch on. His department manages the smart classrooms on campus, and he knows lecture capture will be a good supplement. Since the technology is unfunded, there is a $50 per hour charge to have an event recorded, which includes setup and having the staff member stay to operate the equipment. There is no charge for the first event in order to introduce faculty to the possibilities. While he waits for the academic side to catch on, Hillhouse says the service is in demand to record administrative meetings and sporting events.

But sometimes a taste is all that is needed. Clarke relates that UC Irvine faculty tested the lecture capture waters by recording teaching assistant sessions on their homegrown system. "The TA sessions are optional, but it is where a lot of the learning occurs," he says. The technology proved so popular that faculty members started attending TA sessions in order to reach more students. Currently two of the four MBA programs offered at the Merage School are being captured 100 percent.

Clarke has numbers to support the investment in lecture capture technology. On a recent UC Irvine student survey, which received an 80 percent response rate, 93 percent of students said if they had to choose between two schools identical except for lecture capture, it would be a significant factor for selecting one. And 91 percent responded that they had accessed Mediasite during the current quarter to view material. Finally, 82 percent said they would pay higher tuition to attend a school using lecture capture, with half of them responding they would pay up to $5,000 more.

At Temple, DeAngelo says they had a "digital concierge" who helped faculty and students become familiar with the technology. In the beginning, if a faculty member wasn't interested in being recorded, he or she was moved to a different room. Now there are eight capture rooms at the Fox School, eight in other departments, and new construction that will bring the total to 30. "Once students start appreciating it, they expect everyone to do it," he says.

The impact of lecture capture on student retention and achievement is being explored to back up anecdotal evidence of the usefulness of these solutions. Whether used for distance learning, hybrid classes, or to create study guides, recorded lectures offer great value for students, with minimal impact on teaching style or effort by faculty. Brown says, "Recorded lectures are the most densely valuable knowledge I've touched."