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State of Education Video 2012

With universities like MIT and Stanford using online video to expand their reach, and with technology and platform vendors investing serious dollars into the educational market, 2012 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for video in schools. By Paul Riismandel

This article appears in the February/March 2012 issue of Streaming Media magazine.

Most years, the world of educational technology doesn’t experience too many utterly disruptive moments. Certainly, the disruptive technologies that affect our lives also have an impact on education. Schools are figuring out how to integrate mobile apps, tablets, and cloud services into their technology strategies just like business and government. While some schools may be early adopters, the education sector as a whole moves more cautiously. That’s because capital is often more dear, and making an investment in a platform that doesn’t have legs can be difficult to bounce back from.

That all goes to say that change in the education sector tends to be incremental, and that is certainly true for online video in education. But incremental change doesn’t necessarily mean that progress is plodding. Two years ago I declared that 2009 was the year video had reached the tipping point in the academy. As we move from 2011 into 2012, I’d argue that overall growth is accelerating.

Mobile Video Becomes Mainstream
Like the streaming industry as a whole, mobile video has become a mainstream technology for education, and 2011 was the milestone year. Mobile video is becoming ubiquitous. Lecture capture is a backbone application for educational video. And this past year all the major platforms began seriously supporting playback on mobile devices in some way.

Echo360, Inc. released version 4.0 of its EchoSystem, which debuted an iPad-specific player, in addition to support for Android and other iOS devices. At the end of the year, Sonic Foundry, Inc. shipped version 6 of Mediasite, which streams to iOS and BlackBerry devices. Android devices can view Mediasite presentations that use the platform’s new HTML5 player. Panopto, Inc.’s Focus 3.1 added enhanced picture-in-picture viewing options for iOS devices using mobile Safari on top of the MP4 video streaming features in version 3.0.

Tegrity, Inc., which was acquired by The McGraw-Hill Cos. at the end of 2010, was one of the first lecture capture platforms to release an iOS player app. In 2011 the company added an Android app for video viewing.

Video conferencing and telepresence giant Polycom, Inc. acquired Accordent Technologies, Inc. and its lecture capture and media management products in March. The most recent versions of what are now called RealPresence Capture Station
and RealPresence Broadcast Producer support playback on iOS devices, although there is no Android-specific support.

Opencast Matterhorn is the open source player in the lecture capture game. Version 1.0 of the platform was released in 2010, and 2011 saw two version upgrades to 1.2. As an open source project, extensions and innovations don’t necessarily have to come as part of a standard release cycle, as typically seen in commercial platforms. In October the University of Osnabrück in Germany released the Matterhorn2Go app, which relies on Adobe AIR for Android and is currently available in the Android Market. An iOS version is in development but not yet available in Apple’s App Store.

Mobile is supported with pretty much all the major video platforms used in education. Whether it’s a new breed open video player (OVP) such as Kaltura, Ensemble Video, or Ooyala or stalwarts such as YouTube and iTunes U, schools have multiple options for making video available to students and faculty on-the-go.

Still, up to now, educators have largely considered mobile accessibility to be a desirable, but not essential, feature. The first-generation iPhone had only just been released when today’s seniors in the class of 2012 started their freshman year, and it was probably still too expensive for parents to bestow upon their budding scholars. But the class of 2016 has almost grown up with smartphones. A great many of them will spend far more time using their smartphones than any computer. For them, mobile internet access is an expectation, not a fancy novelty. These students will expect their course materials to be available on their Android devices or iPhones, and administrators will have to deal with their complaints and excuses when legacy videos aren’t mobile-ready.

Mobile, then, will be one of the key features putting increased pressure on schools to adopt video management platforms or, as I’ll discuss shortly, lecture capture platforms with enhanced import and management features. Simply put, the demands of serving video to HTML5 mobile browsers, while also serving legacy desktops and laptops with outdated browsers or Flash are creating a bigger problem than most DIY solutions can solve easily.

Big Year for Lecture Capture
Looking again at the lecture capture space, 2011 was probably the most active year in recent memory. Polycom’s Accordent acquisition wasn’t the only shuffling of the deck in the market. In June the control and automation systems provider Crestron Electronics, Inc. jumped into the market with its new CAPTURE-HD device. Any instructor who uses a smart classroom has a very good chance of bumping into a Crestron system, with the company’s name emblazoned on the room’s touch-panel control. The CAPTURE-HD device combines computer video and camera video with audio into a single full-motion 720p or 1080p H.264 video stream that can be saved directly to a USB thumb drive or uploaded to a networked server.

What distinguishes CAPTURE-HD from other lecture capture solutions is that it integrates with Crestron’s RoomView software for scheduling and managing recordings alongside other smart classroom management functions. Obviously, Crestron is hoping to provide its automation and control systems customers with a simple way to add video capture to their classrooms.

The lecture capture segment of the online video industry appears to be quite strong and is growing despite the challenges of the overall economy. This is all the more remarkable given that education is a significant customer base for these companies and that it has seen budgets suffer in the past few years. For instance, Tegrity reported a record increase in the number of new customers in the second quarter of last year, while Sonic Foundry announced record annual revenue, with an increase of 23% over 2010. It’s easy to see why a company such as Crestron would want to get into the lecture capture market.

With the entrance of Crestron and Polycom to the field, we’re going to see competition heat up in 2012. That should encourage more innovation at a faster pace in the sector, as companies compete to improve their offerings. The two areas we should see the most innovation in are media management and the aforementioned mobile space.

Even if lecture capture makes up the majority of a school’s institutional video output, the flow of video content from other sources is only going to increase. As faculty members and students get used to video being a seamless component of online course materials, they will become less tolerant of having to access multiple platforms to find their videos. The learning management system (LMS) has become the default portal for accessing these materials, as most lecture capture platforms support LMS integration. But global search across different platforms or courses has been lacking. An LMS is not an online video platform.

In the coming year I hope to see greater integration between lecture capture and media management platforms. It’s something I’ve been writing about for years, and I think we’re finally at that tipping point. The Accordent acquisition supplied Polycom with the RealPresence Media Manager, which manages a variety of media formats in addition to videos captured with the company’s products. Mediasite version 6 takes a step forward by adding the ability to import, catalog, and index H.264 and Windows Media video alongside Mediasite presentation recordings.

What we haven’t seen yet is significant cooperation between one of the major video management players in education—such as Kaltura or Ensemble Video—and a major lecture capture company. While there are ways of ingesting and/or managing lecture capture content into an OVP, I’m not yet aware of mutliplatform integration that’s as seamless as the integration with LMS platforms.

We are getting closer. On the management side, Ensemble integrates with MediaPOINTE capture appliances and Tandberg’s Content Server. ViewCast Corp.’s ViewCast Media Platform sports automated control and ingest of video from the company’s streaming capture devices. So it is possible to build a lecture capture solution on top of your management platform or to use your lecture capture portal to manage other video assets. But the reality for a great many schools is that they may already have different, unintegrated management and capture platforms on top of an archive of video files in a variety of formats. The odds are good that in 2012, we’ll see solutions that help bring all of this content together into a single index and searchable portal.

Open Source, Open Courseware
Open source persists as a strong trend in educational technology, including video. Kaltura continues to enjoy growing popularity with educational institutions, in part due to its open source strategy that encourages third-party development of solutions and
extensions, which can be found on the company’s Kaltura Exchange site. Also, the noncommercial and open source Opencast Matterhorn project mentioned earlier continues to progress with new releases and an expanding developer community.

A version of the open source philosophy has taken root in the world of course materials with the open courseware movement. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is probably the most well-known proponent of the model, having placed more than 2,000 courses online in its decade-old MIT OpenCourseWare project. Not all of the courses feature video, but it’s probably not a coincidence that all of the site’s top-20 most visited courses have video lectures or tutorials.

The big news, however, is the December announcement that MIT plans to offer an array of new courses accompanied by the opportunity for non-MIT students to earn certificates for completing these courses online. The new program, called MITx, will allow users to access course materials using an interactive learning platform that lets them learn at their own pace while offering interactivity via online laboratories and student-to-student communication. Access to the course materials will remain free, while there will be a fee for completing certificates.

The first prototype course will go live in spring 2012, and the first courses will be drawn from among the most popular ones on campus. Given the popularity of the OpenCourseWare videos, I would be very surprised if the MITx courses do not have video lectures, tutorials, and demonstrations as foundational components.

Another prestigious research university, Stanford, made waves this past fall when it offered three computer science classes online for free, all with video lectures. The course in machine learning racked up 94,000 students. Like MIT, Stanford has been offering course videos online for free, with entire courses available in its Stanford Engineering Everywhere project. For 2012 Stanford plans to offer free courses in fields such as entrepreneurship, medicine, and civil engineering, in addition to more courses in computer science.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the growing ubiquity of online video combined with the increased sophistication and dropping cost of capture and production tools are significant factors driving this innovation in online education. Schools and faculty
have been placing lecture videos online since streaming first became feasible in the 1990s. But it wasn’t until the capture, management, and distribution platforms matured and became accessible to schools—not just large, enterprise customers—that
the trickle of content could surge into a torrent.

Predicting that more schools will join the free online courseware parade in 2012 is not exactly going out on a limb. However, more importantly, I believe this will enhance the legitimacy of online education in the public mind, therefore driving demand and prompting schools across the spectrum to offer more online courses, certificates, and degrees, most of them tuition paid, some of them cheap or free. In turn, this will stimulate an even greater appetite for online video products and platforms.

Again, I think one must take serious note of the fact that the growth in educational video is happening during one of the worst budget crises in memory. This is a sign that video is serving real pedagogical goals, rather than being a fad or a novelty.

Some readers may remember the multimedia boom of the late ’80s and early ’90s when schools, universities, and foundations invested in computer-controlled laser discs, crude digitized video, and interactive CD-ROMs. But the interest and investment
in these technologies dried up when grunge and punk took over pop charts, Generation X graduated college, and the economy tanked. It would take another decade for educators to start taking video seriously again. I argue this because during the multimedia boom, production and distribution was still expensive and required labs full of specialized equipment. More importantly, a killer app for educational video failed to emerge before the funding disappeared.

Video is being recognized as a strategic investment that assists administrators and educators who are dealing with budget constraints and the rising cost of education that gets passed on to students. It’s not just another shiny and costly accoutrement to show off to potential students and powerful muckety-mucks.

Video is becoming a foundational technology for distance and distributed learning, which has real promise to reduce the cost of education for students and schools alike. Blended learning strategies, which make significant use of interactive online materials in close concert with classroom learning, also benefit from video. With blended learning, classroom time is often reduced, making time for online activities, which then frees up classroom time to teach more students.

In an August editorial in The Huffington Post, Echo360 CEO Fred Singer made the bold and controversial suggestion that lecture videos can help relieve space limitations by letting students who prefer to watch at home do so, giving up their classroom
space for other students. As I wrote in the October/November Streaming Media, overcrowding is a real issue for schools that are dedicated to open access, such as public schools and community colleges. However, I’m not sure that a lecture video can
or should simply stand in for in-person class time; a well-taught class is much more than a lecture.

Perhaps the student who prefers not to attend class or who has real obstacles to attending in person would be better served by a distance course that is designed to be taught entirely online. The open courseware initiatives being pursued by the likes of
MIT and Stanford should help make such distance options more viable for students who might otherwise be squeezed out.

Wherever education is going in 2012, video will be right there. In the classroom, in labs, at home, and wherever there’s a cell signal, students will be engaging with video curriculum. It’s a great opportunity for educators to reach and engage students in
places and at times they didn’t think about before. I said it last year, and I have to say it again: I am excited for the year ahead.

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