Educators looking for a lecture capture system can find it challenging to pick the right one for specific courses and classrooms. Here, lecture capture pros share their own views-- and their own choices.
- By Rama Ramaswami
Picture this: a roomful of students viewing a chemistry lecture on their laptops, from start to finish, with the rapt attention they would give to American Idol.
"Consider the enterprise solution first, before looking at a room-based solution. Look at the end product: what you're trying to capture and store, what you're trying to do.
-- Mark Valenti, The Sextant Group
While that ultimate level of attention may yet be unachievable, somewhat more realistic variations of that scenario are indeed playing out on campuses nationwide. The fact is, as lecture capture technologies mature, they're providing a plethora of recording, streaming, archiving, and playback options that enable students to access and customize their classroom instruction in myriad ways. Research highlights the growing use of these tools on US campuses: A recent survey of 1,700 students, conducted by the Fox School of Business at Temple University (PA), found that 63 percent of respondents used the school's lecture capture system for exam preparation, 62 percent to review instruction, 54 percent to clarify concepts, 40 percent to reduce note-taking, and 28 percent to get better grades. And while the jury is still out on whether replaying recorded lectures actually improves understanding and retention of class material (although anecdotal evidence suggests that it does), lecture capture systems are certainly catching on fast with instructors, who view the technology not as a substitute for the live classroom experience, but rather as an extension and enhancement of it.
And there's a good reason for this: The newest digital technologies allow almost unlimited flexibility. Handwritten notes are the traditional solution, but students can't write fast enough to capture all of the content, and the burden of trying to do so distracts many from paying attention in class. Audio- and videocassette recordings are a vast improvement, but can't be edited or searched by keyword or topic. Then there's lecture capture which, in its simplest form, captures the content of a lecture by recording and storing it in a format that any user can access for later review. Anyone, for instance, can record a lecture on an iPod and create a podcast.
But with the newer, full-fledged lecture capture tools, students and instructors can do even more. Via web-, software-, or appliance-based architectures, class capture solutions offer an array of sophisticated features and integrate with existing classroom equipment (such as cameras, microphones, interactive whiteboards, and projectors) and platforms. Even basic content capture systems include various options for audio and video recording, review, and editing; more advanced applications pile on a slew of features such as polling, remote monitoring and control, integration with administrative systems, search, indexing, and the capacity to make multiple versions of recordings.
Customized video is the next frontier. One new application on the market, VideoNotes from Gotuit Media, allows students to edit lecture content to create their own "video notebooks." Using VideoNotes, students can view entire lectures, remix segments to create their own personal videos, or share videos with other users -- all without altering the original full-length lecture video.
Growth and Innovation
According to the 2007 Datamonitor report, Understanding the Competitive Landscape for Educational Technology, a key reason the class capture market has grown so rapidly is that most colleges already have the equipment in place to implement lecture capture solutions. The whitepaper notes, "Over the last few years, many institutions have invested in outfitting their classrooms and lecture halls with significant audiovisual (A/V) technology, including [interactive] whiteboards, projectors, wireless internet connectivity, and laptop computers. As a result, a significant percentage of classrooms are already prepared for the introduction of a lecture capture solution and require little additional investment in hardware." This low barrier to entry -- coupled with the user-friendliness of most classroom capture applications (the lecturer usually just flips a switch) -- has made the lecture capture and broadcast market one of the fastest-growing sectors in educational technology, and one in which vendors are highly innovative, according to Datamonitor research.
All of this innovation leads to a surge of product features and functions that -- along with a proliferation of benefits -- can make it difficult for educators to determine which product is best suited to their classes. At first glance, most vendors in the space (see "Capturing the Market," in CT's June 2009 issue) offer similar product capabilities; in fact, it can take some digging to tease out subtle differences. But, says Mark Valenti, president and CEO of The Sextant Group (a communications technology consulting firm that works closely with higher educational institutions), the first step campus educators and technologists should take is to back up and analyze the big picture.
"There are a number of issues to consider before you select the technology," he stresses. "Lecture capture is a pretty significant IT initiative, with hundreds of thousands of fairly sizable files that someone's got to look at for quality, operations, staffing, and distribution issues. So, you really have to start the conversation at the enterprise level. Without this conversation, you cannot make good decisions about platforms, formats, or what to record."
Valenti considers lecture capture a unique technology that resists traditional classification. "It's not just a hardware or a software solution; it really crosses the boundary between A/V and other technology in a user's operations. To start with, there are a host of simple issues on the A/V side: What kind of camera are we using? What kind of microphone? Do we capture the student, the lecturer, or both? What about remote students? Then there's the content management side: where the content goes, how it's archived, whether it's in short-term or long-term storage, what to do with it when there's no demand for it, what format it should be in, and how to distribute it."
When University of Tennessee educators and technologists went looking for a content capture solution, they wanted a system that could deliver content to 30 or 2,000 users, and be up and running quickly, without professional consultants.
When educators are bewildered by the array of options, the wisest strategy is to take the enterprise view, recommends Valenti. "Consider the enterprise solution first, before looking at a room-based solution," he says. "Look at the end product: what you're trying to capture and store, what you're trying to do."
Collaborate, Integrate, Capture
Ideally, educators should consider lecture capture solutions in the context of a collaborative learning environment, says L. William Nattress III, associate principal of Shen Milsom Wilke, an audiovisual consulting firm. "Collaboration in higher education is becoming much more the norm than the instructor standing in front of a room droning," he insists. He views classroom collaboration as a combination of content displayed via various media -- PowerPoint or other presentation materials, interactive whiteboards, onscreen annotations -- and personal interactions among onsite students, remote learners, and instructors. When all this is captured, "then you're blending in the collaborative aspect of the presentation," Nattress says. "In a fully integrated classroom, that's what you're going to be doing."
Of course, not every piece of classroom content needs to be captured. Nattress advises that educators evaluate lecture capture features based on the subject being taught. For example, math may require extensive free-form annotation, whereas history may be better served by a PowerPoint presentation -- and either way, the capture technology must be user-friendly enough that it doesn't interfere with teaching or learning. "The key to all of this is that the instructor or facilitator needs to be thinking about the instruction, not the image capture."
Yet, some instructors are thinking about both -- and using one to complement the other. Diane Zorn, a business ethics course director and instructor at York University (Canada), views lecture capture as just one aspect of the virtual universe she has created for her courses. "I have been designing a full online learning environment for five years now," she reports. In addition to lecture capture, for which Zorn uses Sonic Foundry's Mediasite application, her online learning environment offers a full array of instructional materials including tips on how to use the site, explanations of grading procedures, videos with welcome messages from Zorn and her teaching assistant, and coaching and mentoring guidance. Lecture capture technology enables her to enrich and deepen that guidance, she says. "It allows students to customize their learning environment; they can individualize their experience in a way that they can't in a conventional classroom. For example, Mediasite allows students to increase the listening speed of a lecture or slow it down, and the audio pitch stays clear. It allows students who want to multitask to watch it faster; they can even isolate and view specific sections of lectures. What's more, the course instructor can examine metrics: how many lectures are being viewed and which parts."
In addition, Zorn adds, as her students review lectures on her site, they can learn from the many supplemental materials she posts. For instance, "They'll be opening up a Word document with examples of the work; they'll understand how the grading is done, and they'll feel more confident about the assignment. Undergrads often feel expectations are not clear and they get mixed messages from professors. Through coaching and mentoring, you can demythologize the whole process, and it can all be done over the web."
The inventor of pen-based computing in the late 1990s, Dave Berque is also professor and chair of computer science at DePauw University (IN), and a longstanding champion of the holistic approach to online learning. Berque's research led to the software marketed commercially since 2003 as DyKnow Software Suite. Not surprisingly, he uses it in his classes at DePauw and appreciates its flexibility daily. The fact of the matter is, he considers flexibility the key feature to look for in a classroom capture program. (The two elements of the DyKnow suite, DyKnow Vision and DyKnow Monitor, can be purchased separately or together, offering a broad array of content-capture features).
Essentially, explains Berque, DyKnow Vision helps a student develop a personalized electronic notebook that he or she can replay at any time. The instructor can draw sketches directly on a pen-based computer such as a tablet PC, and can also use a keyboard to type or import materials (including PowerPoint slides, live web pages, and screen shots from other programs) for use in class. Whatever the teacher draws, writes, types, or imports is immediately displayed on each student's machine. The student can supplement this material with his or her own private annotations, which can be typed or written with a digital pen. Importantly, instructors can hand over control of the program to students, during class -- for example, by initiating a sketch and asking a student to complete it. The student's pen strokes are transmitted to the class as they are drawn.
With DyKnow Vision, instructors can privately view student submissions (such as the answers to a quiz) during class, project them to the front of the room for the entire class to see, or add them to the collaborative notebook. If teachers use DyKnow Monitor alongside Vision, they can see each student's screen during class, blank the student screens if necessary, and deny access to certain applications.
At the Fox School of Business at Temple University, lecture capture capability will soar to a higher level with new classrooms that feature ambient microphones to pick up sounds automatically.
Berque says that in Vision, students like the control they have over what they want to play back, and they can even replay content to reveal the steps used to create it. "If there's anything that is sequential content, they can dig into it and watch it play," such as inked diagrams stroke by stroke, or steps taken in editing an essay, he points out. Berque also cites the software's ability to record annotations made outside the classroom: After class, instructors can add comments or grades to in-class quizzes collected using DyKnow, and then return the graded quizzes to students electronically.
The latest version of Vision (5.1), includes audio recording functionality not available previously. This feature allows instructors to capture and store audio on a DyKnow server (a licensed product that users must purchase), which allows students to replay lectures synchronized with panels (slides that show the content created by the instructor or students). "It became widely available for use in May 2008, and I just started using it this past semester," says Berque. "Before that, I was only capturing written content. The audio capture added a nice new dimension."
Since it began marketing the software commercially, DyKnow has continued to partner with DePauw to tweak and improve the suite every year. In return for feedback and testing of future releases, DePauw students get to use the software for free. But all students at DePauw are required to buy a designated Dell or Apple laptop, or an HP tablet PC. The machines come loaded with software that the university specifies-- such as Microsoft Office and Norton AntiVirus -- but the DyKnow program is optional, although Berque requires it for his class. He points out that other instructors also use the software "in dozens of courses each semester, in disciplines including computer science, economics, chemistry, biology, communications, psychology, Japanese language, Arabic language, Latin, physics and kinesiology."
Most Wanted: A ‘Taskless' Solution
Though lecture capture aficionados have their "key feature" preferences, ease of use trumps most other considerations when it comes to selecting the tools. When University of Tennessee educators and technologists went looking for a content capture solution, "out-of-the-box usability" was first on its list of requirements, says Bob Hillhouse, the school's director of engineering services. "We wanted something that could be up and running very quickly, without professional consultants. We also were looking for a scalable system that could deliver content to 30 or 2,000 users. We wanted cross-platform compatibility across Macs and PCs, and a hardware solution as opposed to a software solution -- specifically a hardware solution that would allow us to ensure that various software drivers are compatible."
Although Mediasite was installed in 2005, the university has yet to realize the full potential of the application, Hillhouse says. Curiously, "Not many instructors want their classes to be captured," he admits. "We do 10 or 15 streams a week, but we're not there yet. There's a difference between delivering a lecture to 30 students live versus 50 students online," he explains. "You can't just put the camera in there; the material has to be presented correctly. The lecture has to be designed for online delivery, and not many are." Hillhouse believes that some instructors' lecture content is still not ready for class-capture technology. When a lecture is going to be recorded and replayed, it should be delivered differently and formatted differently for different audiences, Hillhouse insists, adding that while the tools may be designed for ease of use, designing a lecture for the tools is not always so easy -- and the content is what it's all about. "What's driving the use of lecture capture technology is the content," he asserts.
Even for more advanced users, such as instructors at the Fox School of Business at Temple University, the initial appeal of lecture capture systems lies in the fact that faculty members can use the technology without technical training. An avid and early adopter of classroom technology, the Fox School began using Apreso Classroom, a content capture system from Anystream (now Echo360), as part of a pilot project in 2004. And when the school opened its brand-new $80 million facility earlier this year, it deployed Mediasite across the board. The application allows faculty who were using intelligent classrooms to record classes visually, and post the captures on the internet as well as on Blackboard, which Temple installed back in 1999 to deliver online access to course material, grades, and other information.
Today, statistics instructor Darin Kapanjie leads the academic technology charge. He heads up Fox Online Initiatives, a program to increase student engagement via technology, and has won an innovation grant from the Fox School to use web-conferencing tools in online courses. Since 2005, Kapanjie has taken lecture capture to a higher level by introducing Addlogix's InternetVue PC2TV software in his honors business class. The application allows the instructor to wirelessly project any student's work onto a screen at the front of the classroom, at the same time as the Mediasite lecture capture system records the content for later review. The Fox School selected this solution, says senior technical support specialist Riu Baring, mainly because it was easy to operate.
"At the top of our list, we wanted it to be a ‘taskless' solution," he says. "We looked at several other products that didn't work for us because they involved a lot of processes. For example, some projectors allow you to transmit wireless signals, but their configuration setup is too complicated to handle."
Going forward, InternetVue will complement the technologies that the Fox School expects to install as part of its ongoing building renovations. For instance, new classrooms will feature ambient microphones that pick up sounds automatically without having to be turned on, says Kapanjie. "Ease of use is a very important thing. We want to be able to simply walk in and have everything work."