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How to Choose A Video Management System for Schools and Universities

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A cynical bit of received wisdom dating back well into the Big Three broadcast era goes something like this: "If you're not a paying customer, you're the product." Today, this claim has transformed from witty commentary to bald truth, albeit cryptically spelled out in the terms of service. Social network-focused video hosts can be outstanding for managing a school's identity and for reaching the broadest audience, but they carry some problems. For instance, after a video ends, the platforms may recommend other videos that are inappropriate or contrary to the school's messaging. Also, the platforms are designed to collect and use data for their own purposes when the school community interacts with them. When schools transition from free video hosting to a video management system (VMS) that they either pay for or self-host, the primary motivation is often to provide students and teachers with a video streaming option that doesn't intermingle student educational activities with their nascent consumer data.

Easily managed control over viewer access is one advantage to adopting a video platform; control over student data is another. Any video platform that's suitable for a school would have integrations available with the school's single sign-on solution or, more typically, via the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard within the school's learning management system (LMS). The latter solution, especially, is ideal for constraining access to videos to students enrolled in a specific course. Students and teachers are entitled to an expectation of privacy from people who are not in a course but not necessarily from students who are also enrolled in the course, similarly to how a physical classroom establishes privacy expectations. This is important for protecting the teacher's lecture video content, but, more crucially, student privacy when it comes to any video upload activities that are assigned. To complete their schoolwork, students shouldn't be required to put video of themselves on the public web, where it could be misused in any number of disturbing ways.

Another sort of control is the ability to update content without having to update the HTML embedding the content. Indeed, this was the killer feature that led me to adopt a VMS for the school I worked at over a decade ago. It's to be expected that a course's lecture on a particular topic will be updated as new facts are learned or examples become outdated and unrelatable. It's convenient to be able to update the video entry in an LMS without having to find and replace every instance of where the video had appeared (as you would if the new version of the video were simply a different video as far as the URLs to load it are concerned).

Those are the bare necessities, plus a contractual commitment by the vendor to provide accessible user interfaces in the LMS and video players, along with a workable solution for delivering video captioning and other accessibility metadata.

Beyond that, the video platforms differentiate themselves by how well they handle the idiosyncratic needs of different schools. Does your school have plans for fixed-camera lecture capture in classrooms? You must assess the long-term costs and sustainability of the lecture capture hardware the VMS interoperates with and how conveniently its solutions work. Does your school want the VMS to also manage digital signage displays and other mass communication? Does your school want the video platform to stream live athletic and other extracurricular events?

Ultimately, cost will be the most important evaluation criterion, especially hidden costs to support ingesting your existing content and egressing content from the platform when you decide to part ways. If the platform costs increase with usage, how is usage calculated, and how easy is it to manage those usage costs? For example, if a major component of the subscription charges is based on storage, how easy does the VMS make it to find and purge older content that is no longer in use? Finally, it is advisable to reach out to peer schools that have already chosen a platform and decide what buyer's remorse your school is willing to tolerate.

[Editor's note: This article appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of Streaming Media magazine under the title "Be Shrewd for Your School."

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