Evolution Before Revolution: Simplifying the Recording and Streaming of Instructor-Led Presentations

True eLearning (as opposed to the sparse and re-purposed content delivered through many of today's online courses) is a complex and expensive instructional design and content delivery process that relies on building learning objects often with time-consuming visual and multimedia files. Most university faculties do not have the requisite expertise to design, build, and deliver courses this way, and instructional support teams are often overextended. A number of institutions have discovered that their faculties and students are better served if, instead of trying to completely re-create a new learning experience for remote learners, they simply replicate the proven, instructor-led style of lectures of traditional, classroom-based courses and make them available online.

Demand for Online Learning Grows

As of late, distance education is generating a great deal of interest and reaching out to extended audiences, but it certainly isn't new. In fact, it's been around for decades; ranging from correspondence courses to instructional radio- and television-based courses to video conferenced delivery. Each new generation of technology attempts to address previous limitations and indeed has brought improvements to the learner's experience. However, distance education has remained on the fringes of the education community, and in many cases has lacked the credibility and scope of traditional, classroom-based learning. This is changing, as advances in technology, from high-speed Internet to sophisticated streaming devices, have enabled the market to evolve to a largely Web-based delivery, providing a richer, more dynamic medium for the growing number of students learning remotely.

The Sloan Consortium outlined just how popular online learning has become in its November 2004 report Entering the Mainstream--The Quality and Extent of Online Education in the United States, 2003 and 2004. According to the Sloan report, higher education institutions project a 25 percent annual growth rate for online learning, with online enrollment rates outpacing that of the overall student body. Likewise, a majority of the 1,100-plus colleges and universities surveyed believe online education is critical to their long-term strategy.

Although these numbers indicate "distance education" has established itself as a legitimate way to earn a degree or receive advanced training, they also present many challenges for the institutions that must find a way to make it possible. Faculty resistance, overtaxed IT and AV departments, and, of course, determining which technologies can best help achieve the desired results must be considered. Return on investment and low total cost of ownership are institutional requirements as well, particularly when examined in context with today's restricted equipment and operating budgets.

Online Learning at the Crossroads

While the percentage of institutions that offer online distance-learning and hybrid courses is impressive, dig deeper and you will find that the vast majority only offer five to 10 percent of courses in this manner. The reason for this low penetration rate on campuses may be traced to the complex processes germane to traditional eLearning, which create entire new cost centers in terms of people (instructional designers, media specialists), time (two to six man hours per session) and resources (learning object repositories and a robust infrastructure). In addition to the technical and economic barriers, eLearning, in its strictest sense, is a rather rigid, instructional methodology that forces educators to teach within an entirely new paradigm that some feel diminishes their importance, specialized knowledge, and pedagogical skill.

An alternate method of delivering distance education has proved successful at a number of institutions--a Web-enabled rich media approach that digitally records traditional, classroom-based courses and makes them available online. This approach of essentially exporting the classroom experience to students learning remotely, removes many of the complex issues of eLearning, and makes the teaching and learning processes much more transparent.

Although perhaps not as "revolutionary" as eLearning, this style of online learning more quickly and easily satisfies student demand for distance education courses, and could later motivate an evolution toward incorporating online components into established curricula. In addition, transparently recording and streaming courses removes many of the adoption barriers by allowing professors to teach as they always have, using all the instructional materials and tools they use for their in-class learners. Recording what already is occurring in the classroom carries economic benefits because institutions are simply broadening access to instructors who are already paid for classroom delivery. Further, it maximizes infrastructure investments universities have made to create "the smart classroom" while providing the flexibility for modular additions, as budgets permit.

For these reasons, many now believe that a Web-based rich media approach, which has fewer technical, economic, and emotional hurdles to clear, represents our best hope for reaching online education's tipping point. Indeed, today's rich media streaming technology has matured to the point that it provides remote students with an exceptional online representation of the classroom experience, complete with audio, video, and synchronized instructional materials. A rich media delivery also works well with hybrid courses, which combine elements of online and face-to-face interaction.

Best Practices in Rich Media

A Web-enabled rich media approach to delivering course content takes into account how professors teach, what students want, and the learning processes and educational outcomes that connect them online. This method of delivery also easily integrates with other Web-based learning applications, such as course management systems or campus portals, and provides students with a convenient index of classes so they can quickly locate the exact material they need. Capturing, archiving, and indexing classroom lectures allows students to make up missed classes or review specific material before an exam, ultimately improving student learning outcomes. In fact, institutions that provide this review service as an adjunct to traditional classroom-based learning often report a spike in on-demand viewing during midterms and finals.

To fully appreciate the benefits of rich media, consider what Villanova University's College of Engineering (C'E) has accomplished in a short amount of time. In the fall of 2003, following an infrastructure upgrade that included an integrated systems design for both Web-based and video teleconferencing delivery for synchronous and asynchronous learners, the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department offered Villanova's first fully online master's degree. Since then, the C'E has added an additional degree every year and by Fall 2007 will have at least five fully online master's degree programs in engineering, as well as a number of Web-based certificate programs. It will continue to provide traditional, classroom-based courses in line with its online program offerings.

Not only has Villanova's C'E scaled its program to meet student demand for educational flexibility without overburdening faculty, this year the graduate program grossed more than $500,000 in tuition revenues from distance education students alone. With the technology now paid for, and additional classes coming online each year, C'E expects additional revenue growth in the future.

"As we developed our distance education program, one of the criteria was that it not only supports, but strengthens Villanova University's strong tradition of academic excellence," said Seán O'Donnell, director of distance education for Villanova's College of Engineering. "By integrating the Sonic Foundry Mediasite recorders with our WebCT course management and academic enterprise system tools, we have created an online learning experience that is of the highest quality. It's an approach that our faculty has embraced because it leverages their core strengths as educators, while providing the C'E with a sustainable and replicable model for distributing learning content."

As higher ed institutions grapple with the technical challenges of online learning, they should consider starting with their strengths--an accomplished faculty comfortable standing at the front of a classroom. This tried-and-true educational experience now can be exported via streaming media and archived into easily accessible segments for the benefits of both the remote and traditional audiences. Translating these existing competencies is a fast, culturally supported way to serve the distance education student while strengthening the on-campus learning community.

comments powered by Disqus

Campus Technology News

Sign up for our newsletter.

Terms and Privacy Policy consent

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.