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Video Management | Feature

When YouTube Isn't Enough To Manage Your Campus Video Content

How two groups of higher ed institutions in New York state are tackling the video management challenge and sharing content across multiple schools.  

video management

Whether it's a recorded lecture for a flipped class or a multimedia student assignment, video has grown into a major component of learning content at today's colleges and universities. Yet many institutions continue to struggle with managing the abundance of video on campus: Having outgrown YouTube, they desperately need a video platform that can scale to large numbers of people across many locations; stream to many types of devices; allow faculty to create and manage their own video libraries; and share content across multiple schools.

In New York state, two groups of higher ed institutions are tackling the problem: The New York Six, a consortium of liberal arts institutions, and the State University of New York system have each taken a collaborative approach to make it easier to manage and share video. At this summer's Campus Technology 2014 conference in Boston, a panel of technology executives from each group discussed their efforts.

The New York Six
In an effort to share resources and cut costs, library directors and CIOs at the New York Six (a consortium comprised of Colgate University, Hamilton College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Skidmore College, St. Lawrence University and Union College) came together to deploy a cloud-based video-streaming platform from Ensemble Video. The project, dubbed MediaShare, is funded by a three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Derek Lustig, director of network and systems infrastructure at Hobart and William Smith, explained the scope of the challenge: "It was inconvenient that everyone had a lot of different media capture tools. They had all sorts of local processes and ideas about how to manage their copyright systems," he said, "so it was a very interesting conversation for us to have to come up with one video production system that can get to a variety of users with multiple devices."

The six institutions were using 20 different tools to capture video, and each organization had its own way to manage video content. The MediaShare team's goal is to come up with an overarching way to distribute video; most important is integration with learning management systems. "We had eight learning management systems for six institutions," Lustig said. "We needed something that addressed that issue."

The New York Six ran a pilot with Ensemble Video in the company's public cloud. "That gave us an opportunity to upload and test-drive it, embedding videos in universities' respective LMSes," said Jim Forney, senior educational technologist at St. Lawrence University. "We had one online course that had trouble with an existing video system that was dependent on Java, and they found this worked great."

By pooling resources, the six campuses were nicely surprised that they gained efficiencies in licensing costs. "We also are able to predict and trend storage needs," Lustig added. "We had some campuses that didn't have a lot of storage available and some that had a good amount, but we were able to leverage the total pool available across all six campuses," he said. "We were also pleased by the way the system enables us to preserve bandwidth." When users choose to share video across campuses, the heavy lifting is done in the cloud, he explained. "But we also have local media servers on each campus. So when there is a request for local media services, it is downloaded right from our campus network. That flexibility is really good for us."

The New York Six needed to launch the video management system in a one-year time frame, and while they liked the Ensemble platform, they realized they would not be able to come up with one way to distribute video across all campuses for all use cases. "For each type of video we wanted to share, we came up with a process to do that," Lustig said. "So we are really good at sharing guest lecture series and study-abroad programs that are being launched at the consortium level. For us, it was coming to an understanding of what everyone has, what devices they are launching them to, and coming up with a way to govern this going forward."

The six campuses are working on several course collaborations, and will soon have 12 to 15 courses with shared faculty members, noted Forney. "Video is going to be a big part of that. Having this system is going to work out well."

Video in the Cloud at SUNY
Also on the podium during the Campus Technology session in Boston were several representatives from the State University of New York (SUNY), who talked about their efforts to offer a cloud-based video management platform for all 64 campuses across the state. (Although SUNY also worked with Ensemble Video, the speakers mentioned that there are several other video platforms to choose from.)

SUNY's systemwide IT services organization, the Information Technology Exchange Center, is basically a private cloud, said Michael Notorius, ITEC CIO. It hosts LMSes for 32 SUNY campuses, Banner for 18 campuses and managed services for 15. As Notorius assessed video platforms, he was looking for something that ITEC could host centrally, but that would allow for delegated administration. "We are a service provider but we are small," he said. "There are only 51 of us in our shop, and we are providing services across SUNY. We want to make sure the application can scale." He added that Ensemble Video was flexible in creating a new licensing model that made it easy for SUNY campuses to do proof of concepts before committing.

SUNY Buffalo State, the largest comprehensive college in the SUNY system, started using Ensemble Video hosted by ITEC four years ago. "Since then we have amassed more than 4,000 videos that have had over 100,000 views," said Melaine Kenyon, director of instructional technology.

"We are using it to bring video into Blackboard with the 'video anywhere' feature, not just for academic classes but for staff training, student presentations and musical performances," she said, "and we connect with Automatic Sync Technologies for captioning for our accessibility initiative."

Kenyon noted that the platform has allowed faculty to manage their own content. "We also like the Dropbox video feature that allows students to upload video content for faculty to assess," she added. "Our music and education departments are using this right now and faculty members can use the video annotation feature to provide feedback."

The video platform is also seen as key to the success of Open SUNY, an online learning platform rolling out across the state system. "As we were developing Open SUNY, we went to 10 campuses across the state and spoke to 500 faculty members," recalled Doug Cohen, associate director of academic technology services for the SUNY Learning Network. "One of the top five initiatives they wanted us to add in their online courses was video, so that immediately led us to partner with SUNY ITEC on the Ensemble offering. All Open SUNY Plus degree programs have the service available to them."

Cohen said he could relate to professors' challenges managing their video assignments. He recently started teaching online courses in Web design and development that included video tutorials and assignments. "The institution I am teaching for does not yet have a video platform, so immediately I was scrambling for where to put my videos," he said.

In addition to using the ITEC-hosted video platform, Open SUNY has a Center for Online Teaching Excellence, whose multimedia development specialists help faculty create videos and use the Ensemble Video system to deliver them through a variety of platforms, including WordPress, Moodle and Blackboard.

Although sharing media across many campuses raises issues around interoperability, storage, governance, retention policies and copyright compliance, the benefits of sharing video, efficiently streaming content and having faculty manage their own collections make it worth working through the challenges, the panelists said. "There are demands on higher education to do things more efficiently and in a collaborative way," said Hobart and William Smith's Lustig. "We are taking a stab at tackling that."

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