Commentary: Class Act—Educational Media: Changing in a Flash

As anyone who's produced any quantity of video for the internet knows, changing your platform means changing your workflow. Though not as significant as upgrading to digital from analog, moving to Flash from Windows or Real means mastering new compression tools, codecs, and idiosyncrasies.

Nevertheless, my view is that there's a sweet spot on the adoption curve, and that's the time to act. For me, it's when just enough of the enterprise sector has rolled out a technology, our students start asking for it, and my colleagues start to raise eyebrows. That's where we are with Flash.

The fact is, I'm looking to get Flash Video up and running in my department this summer. I was nearly convinced in March, when I calculated that the cost of installing the server could be kept under control. Then, almost immediately, I heard from a couple of other departments on campus asking for help getting video online, and they both emphasized Flash.

Adopting Flash, however, doesn't mean I'm giving up on the other guys. I've got more than a decade of archived content in Real, along with a decent helping of Windows Media, QuickTime, MP3, and MPEG-4. My department has neither the time nor money to go back and transcode or re-compress all of this material.

Adding Flash to the mix also doesn't mean that I intend to put all of our new content only in Flash. Change comes slowly to the educational desktop, and I've got what we kindly call "legacy users" to support. Beyond archives, I'm not yet convinced that Flash is the right choice for our live webcasts.

Instead, my plan is to be as flexible, multi-platform and multi-codec as possible (and reasonable). Just like I get the occasional complaint from a professor who hates the Real Player, or a Linux-head student who hates Windows Media, I'm certain that there will be someone who resents using the Flash player.

Thus, the plan is to not leave anyone out while we move ahead and stay with the times. After a few calm years, streaming media got exciting, and disrupted, again. Educators cannot afford to stand on the sidelines. In the end, our job is to serve students with media that enhances and fuels their education. How it gets to them is our problem, not theirs. So we'd better pay attention to what and how they're watching when they're not watching us.

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