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Lessons in Video

Web streaming isn't just for lecture capture. Learn how administrators are using it for everything from public relations to professional development.
University Business, Oct 2009

Professors at Lubbock Christian U wanting to record a class have all of the needed tools at their fingertips.

THIS SUMMER, LUBBOCK CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY (TEXAS) switched from an internal mail system to using Microsoft Live. Prior to the move, IT Director Robert Smith sent e-mails to the more than 3,000 users, explaining that they would have to archive their e-mail files and then restore them to the new system once it was operational. But Smith did an essential thing to ease the transition?he included a link to the LCU website, where the students, faculty, and staff could watch video instructions.

The first recording showed how to archive e-mails, contacts, and calendar information. Once the new system was operational, Smith made a new video that showed the steps necessary to set up a new e-mail account and import all of the archived content.

“It was a great example of the saying, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’” explains Smith. “The transition was much smoother than we could have expected.” Because the school uses Panopto CourseCast to do all sorts of video streaming, it took only a few minutes for Smith to upload the video and audio files. In fact, the IT department received less than 200 help requests, and most of those were from people who did not watch the videos.

It is not surprising that LCU used web streaming to handle this type of task. Higher ed institutions across the country are using online video more and more. While lecture capture has always been the most obvious use of the technology, administrators, faculty, and staff have begun using it to interview job candidates, grade compositions, and preview classes, to name a few applications. Putting videos online?which was once an expensive, difficult, and time-consuming process?has become as easy as pushing buttons.

In the mid-’90s, when people first began streaming video, you could wait 15 minutes for the video to load, and a lot of times it would stop in the middle, replay, or skip right to the end. By the late ’90s the technology had significantly improved, but there was very little content, as the process of digitizing the material was still difficult.

Today, recording a lecture and putting it online is a lot easier. Sonic Foundry, Panopto, Echo360, and other companies have created systems that essentially automate the entire process. “Professors in a MediaSite room don’t have to do anything special?other than combing their hair and wearing a microphone,” says Sean Brown, vice president of higher education at Sonic Foundry.

Eric Burns, founder and chief technology office of Panopto, agrees: “Our major development goals were to make it blindingly simple and to not impact work styles. We want professors to capture everything that goes on in a class.”

Lecture capture is, of course, only a piece of what colleges can do with this equipment. “Once universities realize the capabilities, they see all the other things they can do,” says Mike Fardon, education vice president of Echo360. When his company signs on a new client, a rep will discuss some of the ways the products can be used. Echo360 says that university clients have been highly creative, especially once they start looking for gaps in staff training, student orientation, and special events.

In September, Echo360 hosted a webinar for Australian universities about continuity planning in the face of swine flu. The webinar encouraged the 25 attendees to use lecture-capture technology for emergency preparedness and other communication efforts.

At LCU, web streaming started as a bit of a lark. “A few years ago, we decided to record the president’s state-of-the-university speech and see what would happen,” says Bill Kopf, director of distance learning. He posted the speech, and an awful lot of people downloaded it. Within a month, Kopf had to increase the size of his server because so many people wanted to try video streaming. “We ended up reworking our budget so we could hire a student to help faculty members make recordings,” he says.

To record a lecture, a professor needs a computer with both Panopto Recorder and Panopto CourseCast on it, plus a webcam. Accredited academic institutions can get Panopto software for free (with support that includes video documentation, how-to information, and help by e-mail or phone). Kopf has a $10,500 prepaid premium support plan including on-site support and training, installation and backup, and other services. “There are times when, for example, a file becomes corrupted or we encounter a software, hardware, or server issue we can’t solve,” he says.

LCU professors can buy whichever webcams they would like, but Kopf suggests getting one with the microphone included, which costs around $40. Some professors use a headset and microphone because they think it gives better sound reproduction; others opt for a desktop microphone. Each LCU classroom has a podium with computer, DVD/VHS player, connection to a projector, and a sound system. Panopto is installed for everyone’s use. Professors who stay in one spot will just attach their webcams to the computer’s USB port. Professors who move around the class can designate a student to operate a camera on a tripod. As an alternative, Kopf can schedule a student worker to do the in-class video recording.

A “roving” professor needs a video camera (the school has several, which cost between $400 and $900 each), some additional cables to allow for wandering, a tripod ($40-$100), and a lapel microphone. Kopf discovered that a sound mixer is a welcome piece of additional equipment. “If the professor has a guest speaker, we can mic everyone,” he says. “If we want one mic in the room to hear student responses, we can get up to four sources without having to remove the mic to hear them.”

What convinced the faculty to fully embrace web streaming, Kopf believes, is seeing just how useful it could be. When a group of students was unable to return to school from a class trip because of severe weather, their Bible studies professor put his recorded lessons online and they stayed on track.

Capture this: Certain presentations from a March NYU conference on restoring financial stability were made available later as podcasts.

Karl Mahan, VP of technological advancement at LCU, agrees that video-streaming equipment is a good investment. “We make sure that whatever we do helps lead to student success,” he says. His goals, through web streaming and other technology, remain the same: Find ways to help the faculty inspire critical thinking and the staff be successful in recruiting and retention.

LCU administrators know that training is crucial. “We want to make sure our faculty sees how web streaming will benefit them and their students. We don’t want to get caught in the ‘next big thing’ trap, and it’s clear that course capture and videos?through YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking sites?are permeating the academic community. We want to capitalize on what our students are doing right now.”

Today, web streaming at LCU is ubiquitous. From the volleyball coach who captures opponents’ games and practices from their websites and posts them for her players to study, to the algebra teacher who provides lectures online for students to preview, the college keeps finding new video applications. “The growth has been phenomenal,” says Kopf.

New York University’s Stern School of Business started recording core classes many years ago; today an Echo360 lecture-capture system is in all 42 classrooms. According to Anand Padmanabhan, chief information officer for Stern, 98 percent of faculty members capture their lectures, resulting in anywhere from 60 to 80 a day. “It’s a myth that students don’t show up for class if the lectures are captured,” he says. “We’ve found that students use the online lectures before finals and midterms, for supplemental learning. Some of them focus on certain areas they didn’t understand in class.”

Another way that Stern uses its Echo360 appliances is to provide students with access to industry leaders. When Jeff Immelt, the chairman and CEO of General Electric, visited the campus last spring, he spoke to about 300 Stern MBA students as well as hundreds more at business schools around the world, including the London Business School. Immelt came to campus in the late afternoon, when many part-time MBA students were at work. Video recording visits like this allows the executive and part-time students to listen to the presentations and watch the slides from their homes or offices.

Stern’s world-renowned faculty members are often called upon for special projects that can benefit the general public as well as Stern students. Last year, for instance, many faculty members wrote white papers about the collapse of the economy. The publishing world took note, and 33 essays filled the pages of Restoring Financial Stability: How to Repair a Failed System (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). In early March the school hosted distinguished financial leaders such as former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker in a panel discussion about the recommendations. Selected presentations from this event were captured and made available as podcasts for the general public.

When Standard & Poor’s wanted to recertify all of its traders, the company asked Stern faculty to lead a series of review sessions. Rather than transporting all of the international students to New York, the school provided the video sessions online. Now Standard & Poor’s has a package of recorded sessions that will be accessible to all traders before they take the exam.

Some institutions are using online video to improve communications and public relations. For instance, all of Mississippi State University’s faculty senate meetings are streamed live and then archived for later viewing, using Barix products. In addition, students can go to the school’s home page and watch the president’s monthly address as an on-demand video. “It’s a different way to see him communicate,” says Kathleen Oliveri, lead IT consultant. “He records it in a studio or at one of our buildings.”

Sonic Foundry's MediaSite and other systems can be used to capture, preserve and repurpose campus events.

Last year, the university used web-streaming technology in the hiring process. A selection committee conducted videoconferences with eight candidates throughout the country for a vice president position. Later the committee went into a classroom and connected with each candidate for about an hour. Because the position for which they were hiring requires a lot of public speaking, they were able to vet the candidates properly. Only the three top contenders were invited to campus. “We were able to save the school money and determine who was the best fit,” says Oliveri.

Most colleges and universities already have technology-enhanced classrooms with a computer, projector, sound system, DVD player, and a podium. At the very least, most rooms are projector-enabled. Thanks to this standardized setup and easy-to-use tools, institutions are using web streaming in a multitude of ways.

At Clemson University (S.C.), associate professor Pamela Havice uses MediaSite for her education graduate students’ digital portfolios. Students record their theories about student services and higher ed, and their presentations are posted online and burned onto a CD. “This assignment gives them practice in public speaking and lets them highlight these skills for future employers,” she says.

A professor at the University of Pittsburgh (Pa.) uses Panopto CourseCast to annotate student presentations. He uses the software’s note-taking feature to type in comments that are synchronized with the recording. That way each student gets personalized feedback at the appropriate place in his or her presentation.

The nursing students at Midland College (Texas) do simulations to practice hospital procedures. They plan to use CourseCast to record these sessions.

At the Harrison School of Pharmacy, part of Auburn University (Ala.), fourth-year students use Starbak technology to record presentations on diseases and drugs that are made available online for the general public. The pharmacy students also prepare for practical exams by recording consultations with mock patients.

The school also houses a wellness clinic and pharmacy for on-campus employees. As part of its new partnership with the Alabama Insurance Board to provide medications and health information for state employees, the school’s fourth- and fifth-year students will record sessions on such topics as smoking cessation and weight control.

Nick Laudato, associate director of instructional technology at the University of Pittsburgh, uses video for professional development, such as teaching instructors how to use Blackboard. His sessions are broadcast in real time and then turned into podcasts.

Although lecture capture will never replace good teaching, it can certainly extend its reach. “I think once the technology is widely available and used for lecture capture, there will be organic growth of how the technology can be used for other purposes,” says Stern’s Padmanabhan. “Innovative uses of the technology for purposes other than its initial intention start small and then get adopted by the mainstream. The technology should be made available for anyone and should have no boundaries on the uses, as long as it does not put an overhead on the resources.”

LCU’s Mahan suggests that the technology staff become partners with the faculty in using this equipment. “We make sure that we do things in a high-quality way, not just because something is trendy. If you provide quality and focus on student success, it will prevail. We’ve been blessed that most of what we do helps us to continually improve.”

Ellen Ullman is a freelance editor and writer in Fairfield, Conn.

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