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Education Technology Trends

Lecture Capture Is Getting Campuses Talking

Drexel University in Philadelphia, Utrecht University in The Netherlands, the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston, and the University of Bath have all gone public in the last several months with deployments of lecture capture systems within classrooms. Do those increasingly common installations define a new baseline operating requirement for institutions of higher education, or are they simply a new feature that some schools are dabbling in?

Lecture Capture Vendors

Lecture capture, proclaimed Alan Greenberg, analyst and partner for Wainhouse Research, "is one of the hottest things to come along since WiFi or the iPhone." After all, why sit in a classroom to watch a lecture when you could be doing the same thing from the laundry room, in a shady spot on the commons, or during a break in a part-time job?

It's not simply offline review of course material that students find so compelling. "It's great," said Nicole Engelbert, lead analyst with Datamonitor. "You turn to your neighbor to talk about football, and you miss the faculty member going over how to calculate standard deviation. So you just go back to the captured lecture, search for 'standard deviation,' and up pops up on your screen a whiteboard where Dr. Smith was laying it all out."

Why Lecture Capture Is Gaining Traction
According to an informal survey of higher education professionals done by in 2008, only 33 percent of institutions routinely made captured lectures available to students online.

That count is quickly increasing. According to Greenberg, two factors are driving the "stampede of interest" in lecture capture: First, students are asking for it. A survey (PDF) by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in September 2008 found that 82 percent of students prefer courses with an online option.

Second, higher education tends to be competitive. If a school aspires to compete for new students who are also considering an institution that provides lecture capture, it'll want to be able to provide and promote those capabilities too.

Plus, added Engelbert, the technology is attractively priced. "In the grand scheme, it's not the most expensive solution," she said. As an example, an institution could purchase a basic package of Camtasia Relay, the lecture capture system from TechSmith, for $4,995. That system could handle encoding of 13 hours worth of courses in a day to be delivered in three formats: Web video, iPod video, and WMV; the same system, according to the vendor, could process 50 hours of courses in a day if formatted strictly for Web video.

While half of the audience for recorded courses consists of distance or remote learners who are accessing content online both live--as part of a webstream--and asynchronously, the other half consists of on-campus students, said Greenberg, citing the findings of an unnamed state college. Those students are doing their own "time-shifting," he explained. "Or it's often simply that they want to go back and access [the lecture] for review. You're a medical student, an intern. It's two in the morning. You remember a class you took, a procedure you saw, and you want to review it in the downtime between seeing patients."

Some proponents of lecture capture have suggested that the existence of the recording means that students don't need to spend all their time in class taking notes and can participate more fully as the class unfolds.

The Adoption Process
Lecture capture systems record and archive content delivered in the classroom, including audio (such as the faculty member's lecture), computer feeds (the presentation), and sometimes video (the faculty member doing work on the whiteboard). The student can then review the class and search its contents later via a browser on a computer or as a file downloaded to some other kind of device.

As Greenberg wrote in a recent Wainhouse report, "The Distance Education and e-Learning Landscape," lecture capture was an outgrowth of the streaming business, which tended to focus on audio and video delivery. Some streaming companies recognized that adding other forms of content--PowerPoints, Flash animations, video clips, polls and surveys, and the like--would serve a primary customer base--colleges and universities--very well.

The earliest adopters tended to be professional degree programs, and that trend still continues, said Greenberg. Business, medicine, law, and other professional schools appear to be most interested in embracing the technology currently.

Growing faculty acceptance has proven to be a major component of running a successful lecture capture program. "We've gone from people in higher education being totally averse to packaging of intellectual property--of them. They were petrified," said Greenberg. "Now they get it more and more. They understand that there's value to it. They see the applications. They see the benefits. So there's greater openness. That's in the context where the university is making it available to their current learners and using it as a recruiting tool."

Faculty use of lecture capture has also grown as the systems have become easier to use. Said Datamonitor's Engelbert, typically, beginning the capture process requires nothing more than "having the faculty member press a button or turn on a computer. It's done automatically. In the realm of technology, that's really nice."

Ease of use provides a threshold for turning lecture capture from a nice-to-have into a need-to-have campus feature, Greenberg explained. He recently saw a vendor demonstration of a system that starts the capture process by pushing a thumb drive into a USB port. When the thumb drive is pulled out, the capture process ends. "It's almost like personalized editing," he said. "If you don't want to record a full lecture or class but you want to get high points, you pop it in and pop it out. You don't have to worry about editing later, putting up that content, and taking up all the space it's taking."

The IT Perspective
That speedy route to deployment is also reducing resistance on another front: the IT organization. IT has traditionally needed to be on board with lecture capture, since the solutions have tended to involve a lot of technology--microphones, video cameras, new software, support for servers to feed delivery of the video. But that's rapidly changing, Greenberg pointed out, as new lecture capture products appear that are delivered strictly as software-as-a-service (SaaS). "The really cutting-edge universities or CIOs within higher education are looking harder and harder at SaaS, now that bandwidth issues have been resolved and WiFi has gotten much, much better."

Panopto's CourseCast and Tegrity Campus 2.0 are two offerings being delivered as Web-based services. Providing lecture capture in SaaS form doesn't simply remove the need for IT support; it can also bolster the user experience. For example, the Panopto system allows the student to record notes on the computer where he or she is viewing the lecture, and those notes will forever be synched up with that portion of the lecture.

Some universities are forcing the issue of adoption. As an experiment, Abilene Christian University handed out an iPhone or iPod Touch to each incoming freshman in the 2008-2009 school year. Currently, faculty members use the device primarily as a response mechanism for conducting quizzes during class. But the university is providing faculty training on podcasting and vodcasting with an eye to the future, where lecture capture--among other practices--could become part of the learning experience.

Greenberg said he believes more institutions will follow Abilene Christian's lead. "We're definitely going to start seeing more initiatives either [using] netbooks or smartphones," he said. "And you'll see vendors spending more time optimizing the ability to deliver content to smaller screens."

Lecture capture "is rapidly becoming a need-to-have," concluded Greenberg, because "it helps education. People are going to start getting the sense that this is really helping our learners."

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