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Advanced Learning: Education Year in Review

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Faced with a student population that has learned to take online and digital media for granted—not to mention a global financial crisis—educators and educational institutions responded by embracing the tools of digital media production and distribution in a big way in 2008. Use and penetration statistics are a little more difficult to come by in the education vertical than in the entertainment market because educators are less concerned with audience and market size compared to other sectors of the streaming media industry. However, evidence abounds that there was definite growth in the acceptance and use of digital media for lecture capture and extracurricular purposes. Moreover, an increasing number of schools, colleges, and universities took advantage of social media and distribution platforms such as YouTube and iTunes. Undergirding this upward trend is an increasing focus on collaboration and sharing between institutions of media as well as those of best practices, technology, and techniques.

Lecture Capture Makes the Times2008 was the year that lecture capture hit prime time, or at least The New York Times. An article about MIT physics professor Walter H. G. Lewin, who became a bit of a web celebrity as a result of the availability of his lecture videos for free on iTunes University, helped to spark wider recognition of lecture capture and curricular video, both in and outside the educational community. The missive from the Old Grey Lady was followed by features in outlets ranging from the FOX Business channel to The San Diego Union-Tribune. Even the erstwhile Chronicle of Higher Education covered the growth in recording lectures, focusing on the controversy over whether these videos serve as a disincentive for attending class.

Figure 1
Figure 1. MIT physics professor Walter H.G. Lewin became a bit of a web celebrity when the popularity of his lectures on iTunes U was featured in The New York Times.

While mainstream press coverage is one metric for gauging a sector’s growth, we must temper that with the recognition that news outlets are pretty trend-happy. It’s important to take in other data to make sure that lecture capture is not just another Cabbage Patch Kid or "Macarena."

Taking a gander at the slew of press releases this past year, there appears to be real growth in the number and size of institutions adopting commercial platforms such as those from Sonic Foundry, Echo360, Accordent, Tegrity, and Panopto. In December, Wainhouse Research released Volume 2 of its report "The Distance Education and e-Learning Landscape," which focused on videoconferencing, streaming, and capture systems. The report concludes that there has been significant growth in lecture capture, driven primarily not by the need to accommodate distance learners but rather to provide replayable archives for traditional in-class students. Furthermore, the report predicts that growth in this segment will continue to be strong through 2013.

What about the folks on the other side of the screen—the ones who view these lectures: What do they think? A study by the University of Wisconsin–Madison E-Business Institute released in September attempted to answer that very question. Using a survey sent to 29,078 undergraduate and graduate students at the university, the report’s authors found that a whopping 82% of undergraduates would prefer a course with lecture capture over one without. Among the leading benefits cited by students were the ability to make up for a missed class, improved retention of class materials, and the ability to review material before class. The study also found that more than half of undergraduates value having course lectures available after course completion; they even expressed a willingness to pay for the service on a course-by-course basis.

Although this research project was sponsored by Sonic Foundry, it was conducted by a reputable university that makes no specific recommendation for Mediasite or any other specific product. Frankly, its much more scientific survey jibes with my far less scientific observations in having provided lecture-capture service to a variety of traditional and distance courses. What I’ve experienced is that once students get used to having lecture videos available, they sure as heck notice when one is late or messed up, and they readily express their displeasure when they enroll in a course that doesn’t offer any lecture capture when a similar course makes videos available.

If message boards and email lists are any indication, all of the press coverage combined with the Wisconsin report made waves in the educational community. While some educators responded with hostility, openly worrying that lecture capture dumbs down learning, others used this data as ammunition to help push for advancing the educational video cause at their own institutions.

Extracurricular Video
While lecture capture was certainly the big story in educational media this last year, it wasn’t the only story. 2008 saw growth in the overall integration of video and rich online media into multiple aspects of education, not just in the classroom. For instance, Michigan State University announced that it would start accepting video statements from students applying for admission using a platform called CollegeSupplement.com.

In another extracurricular application, online video use grew as a marketing and communications tool as well. Although it’s difficult to put statistics to it, my own observation is that more university websites are making use of video to promote their schools or are producing video news segments. One particularly good example is the University of Richmond (Va.), which created its own Video FAQ (http://admissions.richmond.edu/faq) of students answering such frequently asked questions as, "When will I declare my major?" and "What is there to do on campus?"

Texas A&M launched an initiative that brings user-generated video into the equation, featuring not only videos with the students but also videos made by the students. At the university’s Do You Wonder? site (http://doyouwonder.tamu.edu), prospective students can view videos produced and uploaded by A&M students that are also available via iTunes U or YouTube. Current students can upload videos at the site, which advises, "Anything goes, as long as it’s in good taste."Figure 2
Figure 2. At Texas A&M’s Do You Wonder? site (http://doyouwonder.tamu.edu), prospective students can viewvideos produced and uploaded by TAM students that are also available via iTunes U or YouTube.

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