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Class Act: Good Times

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I’ve worked in this medium for about 15 years, and I firmly believe that now is a great time to be in educational video. Several recent innovations have come together to make it easier to create and distribute video online. 

Five years ago any discussion of online video in education would have inevitably landed on the topic of streaming servers and players. At the time it seemed like an unending debate as to whether to adopt Real, QuickTime, or Windows Media. 

Rarely was there any mention of asset management. Instead, there would have been a debate over the merits of embedding players in webpages versus spawning a separate player application. Then we’d have the agonizing decision about what bitrates to use. 

Today, educators have real online video platforms to choose from, rather than just streaming servers. Not so long ago, if a school didn’t have the IT resources to administer its own streaming server, then online video—especially live video—remained just out of reach. However, now we can opt for robust enterprise-grade platforms we host ourselves, purchase relatively inexpensive hosted solutions, or even take advantage of free hosting from the likes of YouTube, iTunesU, or Vimeo. Nearly all of these platforms offer some combination of features—such as metadata searching, rich permissions, and automated transcoding—that once were priced only for large entertainment companies.

Rather than worrying about students trying to view videos over a modem connection, we can deliver video to their phones, iPads, and netbooks over mobile networks.  

On the production side, we educators have never had it better. The introduction of DV camcorders in the late ’90s lowered the cost of entry by putting near-broadcast-quality cameras in our hands for about a thousand dollars. A full-on revolution happened in the early 2000s when the first inexpensive and user-friendly editing apps turned any FireWire-equipped PC or Mac into a real postproduction suite.

Today, we can buy palm-sized digital camcorders in almost any department store for less than $200. Educators can realistically consider equipping an entire classroom of students with cameras for what just a few camcorders cost 10 years ago. 

Just this fall I bought five identical HD camcorders for master’s students to use in order to record group dynamics for evaluation purposes. I was blown away by their image quality and the fact that they still had such important features as a microphone input to connect a sensitive conference microphone. I was even more amazed because I got them all for less than $2,000. 

On top of that, a significant number of students are coming to school already equipped with camcorders embedded in their smartphones or iPods. Never before has video been such an accessible tool for student projects and evaluation.

Those of us out there lugging cameras around to record lectures, interviews, and lessons have it easier too. High-end HD consumer camcorders that cost about a thousand dollars offer pro features such as three sensor chips, microphone inputs, and multiple frame rates. These can credibly be put to use for lecture capture and other daily recording tasks where more expensive DV camcorders were once the workhorse.

When cameras cost less, they become less precious, which encourages experimentation and allows more students, staff, and teachers to lay their hands on them. Having an online video platform makes it easier for everyone to manage, share, and view the results of their efforts. This all adds up to video taking a more central role in education than it ever has before. These are good times, indeed.

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