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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5 thoughts on “Higher Education : Educause 2011

  1. Hm. I’ve been trying to keep up with all of this lecture capture technology. I wonder sometimes if students will even go to lectures in person anymore! ;) My main question after reading your discussion on not being able to hear students’ comments and questions is whether the distance learning programs are working on a way to fix this. Can they install microphones throughout and somehow weed out background noise, or is it a problem that’s too complicated to fix right now?


    1. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about tegrity. Capturing student responses, both in the classroom, and in remote locations, is challenging no matter what hardware or software you use. The solutions I am familiar with (Sonic Foundry’s MediaSite for instance) have a camera input, a mic input, and a line audio input. I’ve seen some schools who have two cameras on the teacher, and two cameras on the students, to capture the student responses. They have a camera operator mixing four cameras into one “broadcast”, which feeds the lecture capture device. Similarly, they have microphones built into the desks, one for every two students, to record the student responses. The student desk mics (40 or more in some rooms) are wired to an automixer or digital signal processor that will only open a few microphones at a time, automix them with the instructor, and send them to the audio inputs of the lecture capture device.
      Now that being said, there are no magic microphones that will eliminate background noise, sneezes, cell phone rings, or students tapping pencils on the desks. But, there are measures one can take to improve the recordings:
      1. Minimize the noise floor in the room ideally by building it with good noise separation from adjacent spaces. Use full height walls, double doors, and an acoustic consultant.
      2. The acoustic consultant will help specify very quiet HVAC ducts and will help isolate any mechanical noise that may be entering the room.
      3. If the building is built, you can still drastically improve the sound of the recordings by adding fabric wrapped fiberglass acoustic panels, carpet, or special drop ceiling tiles.
      4. There may also be traffic noise to consider, keep the windows closed.
      5. Have “ON AIR” lights installed, and remind the “audience” that they are being recorded. Have signs that say “no gum, cell phones, or tapping on desks, please.” Every little bit helps.


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