Lecture Capture | News

Desire2Learn Acquires ePresence, Launches Capture Suite

Desire2Learn has acquired a lecture capture firm that counts as its customers the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto and the School of Medicine at Flinders University in Australia. Best known for a learning management system by the same name, Desire2Learn has purchased Captual Technologies, which develops ePresence. The price was unspecified. ePresence has been renamed to Desire2Learn Capture.

The system records a presentation in real-time with synchronized audio, video, and visual additions. Recorded presentations can include video, slides, screen and peripheral sharing, digital whiteboards activities, and output from document cameras, as well as viewer chats and comments. Delivery of the lecture capture can occur in real time as well as in archived form.

The two components that make up Capture's functionality--Capture Station for recording and Capture Portal for streaming--are each available in several modes. On the lecture capture side, the customer can purchase an appliance that encompasses both hardware and software; or it can license just the software and install it on a fairly powerful laptop or PC running Windows. (The company said it is considering development of a Mac OS X version of the Capture Station software.)

On the lecture streaming side, the presentations can be hosted by Desire2Learn for environments that require quick scalability, or they can be hosted on servers at the customer site.

The new team said it's working on Web services that will allow for the streaming of lectures to mobile devices.

As would be expected, the system can be hosted within a college's learning management system or Web-based sites, such as blogs. According to Delia Couto, sales executive for Webcasting products, the embedding process is as simple as dropping auto-generated HTML code into the course site or Web page.

For longer lectures or presentations with multiple speakers, the software supports an interactive table of contents with slide thumbnails. The customer can build a repository of lectures that works with an optical character recognition feature and search to enable the viewer to locate a particular presentation in the repository and the point in the talk where a given keyword can be found. Couto said the system also supports the upload of close captioning files.

She said the Webcast recording process can be begun with three clicks: Webcast, report, and publish. "You press Webcast, see the preview of the talk, then a preview of the slides, and it's ready to go."

To simplify operations where multiple lectures are happening simultaneously, the recording process can be scheduled in advance through a Webcast scheduler function. "The Capture Station would 'wake up' and automatically begin," Couto explained. "The professor wouldn't do anything. They'd do their talk and it would be published." She added that the lecture could also be placed into a temporary folder for editing before it was made public.

Although the output files currently follow the H.264/MPEG-4 standard for video compression, which is supported in part by Adobe Flash, Peter Wolf, Desire2Learn's director of Webcasting products, noted that Capture is designed to be "platform neutral." "If something better shows up on market tomorrow, we'll certainly look into it." For example, the Webcasting team is evaluating HTML5, still under development, as a way to deliver presentations to Apple mobile devices, which don't work with Flash files.

"Our focus is to make the experience as simple as possible for both the viewer (currently by using Flash, which means that viewers are not prompted to download additional software and can view on Mac, Windows, and Linux), as well as the presenter (who generally connects their laptop via VGA cable to the Capture Station, so that their desktop is captured without interference)," explained Couto.

The Webcast administrator can limit the number of viewing seats available in a given live Webcast. He or she can also turn off interactive features of the application to make the viewing experience more like television.

The company said pricing for the new product line is still being finalized. The product line was started in 2000 at the Knowledge Media Design Institute at U Toronto and spun out as a separate business in 2008.

"We are extremely pleased to be extending Desire2Learn product offerings to include Captual's innovative platform," said John Baker, president and CEO of Desire2Learn. "It's been clear in our conversations with clients that really easy-to-use Webcasting offers significant value for organizations and presenters. We see this growing as organizations look for cost-effective ways to share learning experiences and break down barriers to education and training."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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