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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