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George Washington U Uses HD Streaming Video in Art Therapy Program

George Washington University's (GWU) art therapy program uses high-definition video recording and streaming to supervise and support student therapists in its student-run community clinic.


Video recording has been a part of art therapy education for years, but the days of video cameras on tripods are long gone. In 2009, when GWU's art therapy program moved from the Foggy Bottom campus in the heart of Washington, DC to the Alexandria campus, the size of the program doubled and it became possible to create a community clinic. The GWU Art Therapy Center provides the community with access to low-cost therapy and provides students with the opportunity to hone their skills.

When the GWU Art Therapy Center first opened, it upgraded from video cameras on tripods to a streaming video server. "In the old days they used one-way mirrors that people could stand behind and observe a session in progress," said Tally Tripp, director of the Art Therapy Center at GWU. "But the advantage of video is that we can observe the same session time and time again, or a week later, so it really offers incredible flexibility and it allows us to capture each detail."

At the time, the Art Therapy Center used Apple Quicktime Streaming Server with PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) cameras and microphones. Everything was controlled from a single Apple workstation in a central control room and the video was recorded on a standard Mac server. The system required student therapists to spend considerable time configuring settings manually and positioning the camera before each session. The process was time-consuming and fraught with glitches, creating headaches for the IT team. When Apple deprecated Apple Quicktime Streaming Server, the administrators of the art therapy program and the IT team began searching for a replacement system.


The team put together a wish list of features for the new system. At the top of the list was the ability to both record and stream video. Next was the ability to view recordings immediately, without waiting for the video to transcode, so instructors or students could watch a recording right after the session. "This time around we wanted to simplify it from the IT side, from the student side, from the faculty side, but still at least maintain the existing requirements if not meet additional requirements," said Randall Shore, information systems analyst at GWU.

Once the requirements were identified, the team began evaluating products. "Streaming was a big, big thing," said Shore. "A lot of what we looked at out there were lecture capture solutions, so we looked at Echo360, for example, and streaming was on their product roadmap but they didn't really have any idea when it would be available." The team also considered Sonic Foundry, another lecture capture solution, but found it was beyond their budget, said Shore.

Eventually they looked at a high-definition videoconferencing solution from LifeSize. "Once we saw the demo for LifeSize, we started working with some of the engineers to figure out whether it could do exactly what it said it could do, and there were some huge benefits to it," said Shore. The team ended up selecting the LifeSize Express 220 Codec and UVC Video Center as the center's new video recording and streaming solution.


Shore and his team integrated the LifeSize system with the GWU's enterprise applications such as the network storage system for backups and Active Directory for user management. Each student at GWU has his own network user account associated with his student ID number in Active Directory, and the LifeSize system uses that same user account to control student access to recordings as well as custom settings in LifeSize. "So you walk in, you type in your student ID and that talks back to our system, which identifies who the student is, what course they're in, who can view that video, where to store that video and how long they can record. All of the settings that we used to have to configure manually and that the students had to enter manually are now set for them automatically," said Shore.

The IT team also tied the LifeSize system in to an audiovisual control system with two Crestron AV touch panels, which let student therapists start and stop recording, move or zoom the cameras and control the microphone sensitivity.

Faculty at the clinic use LifeSize's live video-streaming capabilities to remotely monitor therapy sessions while they're in progress, enabling them to discuss the therapy session with the student immediately afterwards. Sometimes entire classrooms of art therapy students watch a therapy session through live streaming, so the professor can use the session as a teaching tool. "It's exciting because it's happening right here, right now; it's not a 10-year-old video tape that's grainy and distorted," said Tripp.

Students conducting the therapy sessions also use the video recordings to monitor themselves and see their own successes and areas for improvement. "Often a student comes out of a session feeling like they didn't do well," said Tripp. "What's nice about the video is that it can provide a corrective experience to help the student observe not what they're doing poorly but what they're doing well. Obviously we use it both ways, but the feeling of conducting a session and not feeling good about it is hard to repair with, 'Oh, I'm sure you did fine.' It's easier to repair it with video. It can provide a nice resource and a little reality check."


According to Tripp, faculty, staff and students are pleased with the new system. "It's so easy and user-friendly," she said. It has also reduced the clinic's IT support calls by approximately 80 percent to 90 percent. "[Shore] used to get frantic text messages from me or a student at 7:00 on a Friday evening, and that just hasn't happened with the new system," said Tripp.

As with any video recording system, the art therapy students have mixed feelings about being recorded or live-streamed. "It's very anxiety-provoking, especially knowing that your peers or your professors may be observing, critiquing, judging, analyzing," said Tripp. "The awareness of what's going on in the room is so enhanced. Not only are we observing our clients, but we're observing ourselves, and that's an incredible learning opportunity but it's one that's not necessarily easy. And that's what makes our program so great: having this opportunity to not only practice your skills in a clinic but really see what's happening, see the action unfold. That provides an additional level of learning."


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