Educators Reach Out with Video

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While the focus of video in the classroom for the past 50 years has been on bringing content into the classroom, educators are beginning to think more about how to deliver classroom content to remotely located viewers. This can be useful for students who are unable to make it to class, as review material for students, and to reach new audiences. Some schools have begun creating content specifically for sharing with a wide audience (known as MOOC for “massive open online course”). Other schools have taken a more measured approach by targeting their own student populations.

Two interesting examples of this latter trend are the David Eccles School of Business in Utah and Spear Education in Arizona.

Teaching Future Entrepreneurs at David Eccles School of Business

The David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City enrolls roughly 3,000 students, 60 percent undergraduates and the balance graduates. Video produced in-house is becoming more widely accepted by both the faculty and students as they discover the benefits of using this technology.

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Mark Fowles, AV specialist at the David Eccles School of Business, says that in-house-produced video is becoming more widely accepted by both the faculty and students.

“We find that providing on-demand video for students helps them become more engaged in the material that is being taught, which leads in turn to better student outcomes,” says Mark Fowles, AV specialist at the David Eccles School of Business. “As more of our faculty get comfortable with the technology, the demand for our services increases.” He adds, “We have also posted a few clips online to give prospective students a sense of what to expect in class.”

The video production system was designed so that a non-technical teaching assistant can learn how to capture a lecture after 20 minutes of training. TAs were chosen for this role because they were available during class times and had familiarity with the course material, allowing them to do a live mix of the video, audio and graphics during the lecture, essentially eliminating the need for postproduction editing.

Classroom video is shot with JVC GY-HM150U cameras in 1080i and output over HD-SDI via a single, simple-to-connect coaxial cable. A Blackmagic Design ATEM 1 M/E switcher provides real-time switching between the cameras; graphics can be integrated from the lecturer’s laptop using a VGA-to-HDMI adapter. The switcher’s output is captured with a Matrox Monarch HD that records the video directly to SD memory cards. These files can then be ingested into the Adobe Premiere editing system for trimming to eliminate dead spots and prepared for file export to the Kaltura central media repository, where they are made available for viewing.

When live streaming is required (for large on- or off-campus events), the live output from the Monarch is sent directly into a Wowza-based streaming service that is provided by the university. Wowza transcodes the live video into a range of formats to support handheld mobile devices and digital signage players as well as laptops, desktops and projectors that are needed for overflow crowds. Other times, important speakers have been unable to travel to campus, so the output from Tandberg video conferencing systems can be fed into the Monarch HD for live streaming, recording or both simultaneously.

“One big advantage that Kaltura offers over our previous solution is the platform’s ability to simplify management of our growing library of video content,” says Fowles. “Our instructors can simply post a link to the content within our Canvas LMS [Learning Management System], where students visit regularly to download reading lists and homework assignments. We no longer have to worry about managing files on our own video servers.”

Training Dentists at Spear Education

At the same time that many public schools are in early stages of delivering video classes over the Internet, some private schools that depend on fee-paying students have moved aggressively to employ new technologies. Spear Education, which is a leading provider of continuing education for dentists, has developed a significant library of content that is available on a subscription basis.

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Detailed analytics from Limelight’s CDN services allow Spear educators to see which courses are the most popular and how the end-user devices are performing.

Content is created in a studio environment using individual subject matter experts. Two Panasonic AG-HMC40 cameras are used to capture both a wide and a tight shot of the talent. Recording is done in 1080p in front of a greenscreen so that a suitable background can be inserted during postproduction with a high-quality color key that takes advantage of the 4:2:2 video. Two shotgun microphones are used, with one above the speaker pointing down and one below the speaker pointing up. This arrangement eliminates the noise that occasionally occurs with lavalier microphones. Video and audio are recorded on SD memory cards inside each camera.

Files are moved at the end of each shoot into an Adobe Premiere system for editing. Photos, text and graphics are added during postproduction to provide a clean, consistent look to the final video in place of presentation slides normally used by presenters. The resulting files are converted using the Handbrake open-source video transcoder into the format needed for uploading to Spear Education’s CDN that is provided by Limelight Networks. The video is transformed into several different formats at multiple bit rates as needed to support handheld and desktop devices over both wireless and wired connections.

Shane Walsh, director of video production for Spear Education, says, “We usually try to produce one new course each week, which can consist of several 20-minute lessons. After each course is launched, it is not unusual to see 1,000 views in the first week. The analytics from Limelight allow us to see which courses are the most popular and how the end user devices are performing. Since switching to Limelight earlier this year, we have not had any complaints from users about bad playback experiences.”

Both the David Eccles School of Business and Spear Education are able to deliver high-quality video classes to their students without an excessive expenditure on equipment or custom software development because they have focused on using solutions from vendors who have a good track record. Both schools are projecting that their libraries of online content will grow significantly in the coming year as more instructors and students gain familiarity with the possibilities of online video education on demand.  

Wes Simpson is president of Telecom Product Consulting and author of Video Over IP from Focal Press.



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