Higher Education : Educause 2011

Lecture Capture, Distance Learning, and Student Collaboration Tools

I just attended my first Educause Conference in Philadelphia, PA.  Educause is a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology.  Educause is also the sole registrar for names in the .edu domain.

Once a year, Educause hosts an annual conference with a medium-sized trade show and classes about information technology, asset management, and current trends in higher education.  This includes software, network hardware, and audiovisual solutions.  The majority of Educause attendees I spoke with were I.T. administrators, C.I.O.s, faculty professors, and technology consultants, including some from Mexico, Canada, Asia, and Europe.   Three main topics emerged from these discussions:

Lecture Capture

Years ago, if a school wanted to record a lecture or student presentation, they would probably setup a video camcorder on a tripod in the back of the class.  This single camera would record both the presenter and their slides or “overheads” onto a magnetic tape media (VHS or Beta? The debate continues).  The quality of the recording was fair at best.

Lecture Hall with TV cameras
Distance Learning Classroom Built in the 90's

A great example of a much simpler lecture capture device is Sonic Foundry‘s MediaSite.  MediaSite is a combination hardware / software solution that records the presenter in one window (using just about any video camera) and their computer presentation in another window. Both windows can be resized during playback, and its easy to skip ahead or review portions of the presentation as needed. Because MediaSite is a Windows-based appliance that uses Silverlight, the recordings can be easily shared later on a local network or via the world-wide web.

To improve the audio quality of any lecture capture system, I recommend a wired or wireless microphone system like Revolabs HD for the presenter.  Do not use the shotgun microphone built-in to the camera or camcorder.  You should also consider the room acoustics and background noise in the room which may adversely affect the recordings.  Close the doors, windows, and shades, and discourage students from entering or leaving the classroom during the recordings.  Some schools use lighted “ON AIR” or “RECORDING” signs to remind students to keep quiet.

Distance Learning a.k.a. e-Learning

In addition to recording classroom sessions, many schools and universities also simultaneously broadcast their classes to a remote audience who may be in another building across campus, or online anywhere in the world.  Just like the students in the classrooms, the remote students will have questions and comments for the presenter, which can be relayed instantly using chat windows, video conference codecs, or even a unique Twitter hashtag (i.e. #CS2430Fall2011).

Distance Learning Classroom with PTZ cameras
Modern Distance Learning Classroom

Ideally, the distance learning classroom includes additional cameras and desktop microphones to capture the student responses, but this can be quite expensive and difficult to install.  If student microphones are not provided, the instructor will need to repeat the students’ questions or comments to the remote audience.  And if a student can not attend the live lecture, he or she can download the lesson later to their personal computer, tablet device, or smartphone.   Imagine taking a college course while on the bus, a plane, or staying at a ski lodge?

The goal with distance learning is to provide remote students the same opportunities and learning experience they would receive in the actual classrooms.  The more you can improve the acoustics, lighting, and quality of the recording, the more remote $tudents you will enroll.

Collaboration Tools

Gone are they days where the instructors would simply “profess” from a lectern or chalkboard, while students frantically took notes and struggled to keep up with the lecture.  Studies have shown that many students actually learn more when teachers collaborate with the students and incorporate small group discussions and peer-to-peer reviews.

Programs like MoodleRooms and Tegrity are also becoming popular for e-learning.  The shared files and rich media presentations are often stored “in the cloud”. Students no longer need to meet in the library or student union to work on group projects.  They don’t even need to be on the same campus!  

Many universities are installing network based presentation gateways like Wow Vision, which allows a large number of students to easily send their laptop or iPad audio and video to a projector or flat panel over a wifi network or VPN connection.  The instructor or staff can view a students laptop and have them “throw it up on the big screen” instantly, without anyone leaving their seat.   The Wow Vision ProVeos model also includes recording, a built-in quad viewer (four different presentations side by side), HD video, a digital whiteboard for quick sketches, RS-232 control of the display, instant polling/exams, a microphone input, and line level audio in/out jacks.  

Did you also attend this year’s Educause conference in Philadelphia?  What trends or emerging technology have you noticed? Please send me an email or leave a comment in the box below.  I hope to see you all at the 2012 Educause convention in Denver, CO.

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Patience: The Lost Virtue

Why You Should Plan For Unexpected Delays

Some people say “Patience is a Virtue”.  I say patience is virtual, and being patient is really more about planning.  To demonstrate, let me use two examples of impatience that I witnessed this week:

Angry Birds by Rovio
Having Angry Birds on your phone can help pass the time when you are stuck waiting in a long line

First example: Since I work remotely, I needed to mail in my travel receipts and my expense report for the previous month.   The post office had just opened, and there was a line of about five customers in front of me waiting to be served.  A few other people came into the post office and filed into line behind me.

There was only one postal employee behind the counter, and she was being very friendly and funny, in a lightly sarcastic Boston way.   One guy asked if his mail would go out that same day, she said “No, we are going to hold it for 30 days, then mail it. Just kidding, of course it will go out today!” .

The postal worker took a moment to give me a few flat-rate envelopes that I can use next time to save me some time and money.  I was able to mail my receipts and get out the door in a total of five minutes.  That means the postal employee was averaging about one minute per customer (including the small talk).  I was impressed how much care she put into her job, but the folks in line behind me did not appreciate her:

“Why do they always have just ONE person behind the counter, I don’t know why they don’t get more people behind that counter”.   Another another customer: “All I need is one stamp…. just one stamp…. why do I have to wait so long for just one stamp”  She must have said it ten times.  “just one stamp”. What is this, a poetry slam?

Here is a thought: maybe if that same customer bought more than “just one stamp” at a time, she would not have to come to the post office and wait in line the next time she needs to mail something?  Or maybe she could buy them from a grocery store or ATM, or just borrow a stamp from a friend or neighbor, and leave the counter for folks who actually need real help!  Can she really expect the Postal Service to hire more employees just so she could buy that one stamp two minutes faster?

Second example: I was staying at a hotel that offered a full service breakfast menu in their dining room, rather than the “continental” (a.k.a. crappy) breakfast all too common these days.  There was only one waitress covering the entire dining room of over a dozen tables, and since she was busy taking orders and pouring coffee, she didn’t have time to clean the dirty tables. (Waiters call this bussing the tables).   I sat down at a clean table, she poured my coffee and took my order within five minutes.  I got my food about ten minutes later.

Another guy walked into the dining room and sat down at a dirty table, even though there were still a few clean tables left.  After waiting about one minute, he grabbed a menu from the wait station and yelled “CAN I GET SOME HELP OVER HERE?” The waitress sincerely apologized, and politely explained that she was the only waitress, and he would need to wait a few minutes.  Two minutes later, the irate customer stormed out of the dining room yelling  “THIS SERVICE SUCKS!”.  He was only there a total of three minutes; if he wanted fast food, why didn’t he just hit the D&D or the B.K. located across the street?

My theory on this guy is that he had some place he need to be, and he only allowed ten minutes for the entire breakfast.   I think this is the source of impatience in the world today. That is, our schedules are generally busy, and most people never allow any extra time for the unexpected hangups.  If a person has a meeting at 9am, and Google Maps tells them it will take an hour to get to the meeting, they plan to leave the house at 8am.  They leave no time for traffic, stopping for gas, flat tires, or speeding tickets. They base their lives on ideal timing, and when someone (or something)  messes up their perfect schedule, they freak out and yell at the world them for making them late.  But if you expect the delays, you are not as quickly perturbed by them. If you “bring a big bag of patience” (a.k.a. time) , you will not run out of patience so quickly.

For me, another key to being patient is knowing what you have control over, and what you do not. The irate customer in the restaurant did not have control over the waitress’ speed of delivery, or how quickly the food was prepared.  But he did have control over his morning schedule, and he could have entered the dining room ten minutes earlier.  He could have sat at a clean table.  He also could have ate breakfast elsewhere, or booked a hotel with continental BS buffet, where he could make his own malted Belgian waffle, and stuff his face with mini muffins as fast as he wanted.

I find that my own patience depends on if I have my smartphone and/or my tablet with me.  Whenever I find myself being forced to wait (standing in line at the grocery store, doing anything at the DMV, waiting for a ferry, or standing by the luggage carousel at the airport), I pull out my phone and check my Gmail, Facebook, TweetDeck, or just play Angry Birds.  Other times, I will call my mother, or shoot a text to a friend I haven’t seen in a while.  If you don’t have a smart phone, try to carry a book or magazine with you. If you are spiritual person, take a moment to say some prayers.  Spend a few minutes to think about your relationship with your spouse and family, reflect on the past year, or just meditate on your upcoming week.

Next time you need to be somewhere by a certain time, try to start your journey twenty or thirty minutes before you normally would, and bring something to entertain yourself during the downtime.  This may be difficult for you if you are super busy person, but if you really work at it, you will find yourself getting to appointments early.  You will find that you get a better parking spot, or seat on the train.  You will have a little extra time to grab a coffee, use the restroom, or check your emails before the appointment.  You will have time for small talk, instead of showing up late and wondering what you missed.  If you do hit traffic, or have to stop for gas, you will still be on time.

When you do find yourself standing in a long line and getting impatient, consider your options.  Do you really need to be in that line?  Can you do whatever you were planning to do that day on another day when you have more time (and more patience)?

If you really have no control over the situation (like when you are sitting in the dentist chair, waiting for the dentist), remember that we are all human and not machines. We are not designed to run on schedule.  Put yourself in the shoes of the previous patient.  Would you want your dentist rushing your procedure and shoving you out the door just to make his next appointment?  I can just imagine it:

“Sorry Paul, its been great seeing you, but I am late for my ten o’clock.  We’ll finish up this root canal next time, mm’kay?  Keep in touch!”