Schooled in Streaming

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At the core of the MPI system is something called the Video Control Center, which leverages an organization’s existing IT infrastructure by connecting all the components of the video network in a way that provides centralized control and scalability. Also, within Media Publisher is a suite of applications that allow users to create and manage events, set security rules for access, and generate reports to assess audience interest level by department or location. Media Publisher’s capabilities include live video webcasts, VOD, videoconference distribution and archiving, video syndication, and digital signage.

Lamar’s early efforts to use streaming for training were interrupted by Hurricane Rita, which made the need for internal training all the more critical. "With everything that was going on as we were trying to recuperate from Rita, we didn’t have the luxury of being able to go off for weeks at a time to do individualized training," says Allen. "So we got the video content from the courseware vendors and put it into Media Publisher, and that’s how we got started. And we knew if it was successful, we could get the buy-in from the distance learning department and from other faculty members."

The delivery of video communications can be complex, and reaching thousands of viewers simultaneously—without massive administrative costs and headaches—has presented roadblocks to the adoption of enterprise video in the past, says Allen. "We successfully addressed complexity challenges by streamlining and automating video delivery methods, making it easier for non-technical users to manage their own video events, and improving the quality of the viewer experience."

Today Lamar’s EVC project supports an employee community of approximately 2,000 users and a student community of approximately 10,000 users. The school’s initial implementation of video as part of their course resources for students included the VOD library, classroom archives, and the video library portal. The university is now able to take full advantage of the benefits of video:

—Faculty can communicate more efficiently and deliver a consistent message across audiences.
—Centralized storage of all VOD assets makes it easy for students and faculty to manage and find the appropriate content.
—Faculty members benefit from employee training and enhanced communications with students with step-by-step training materials produced by the IT Group.

"It is important to underscore the significant amount of time and money Lamar University invested in restoration from hurricane Rita," says Allen. "As Lamar continues to recover, the university must make the best possible use of funds and develop in-house training and educational materials that can be distributed across internal networks, leveraging its own subject matter experts to create and distribute training materials. It was able to do this with Media Publisher."

Which Came First?
Many universities install a streaming system for elearning and then as an afterthought start looking at ways to use it for internal communications. In contrast, Lamar’s early video initiatives were designed to address the need for a suitable alternative to sending staff out of town or out of their offices for various types of training, says Allen. The technology allows staff members to access training sessions through a video archive portal on the Lamar intranet and view the training sessions on a computer screen from their own desk or a computer lab on campus. It also provides individual tracking for accountability and reporting for the end user. Allen says the college wanted to work out all the kinks in the system before using it for elearning applications. Since then, Allen says the faculty at Lamar has been receptive to online learning.

"While classroom learning has certain advantages, students whose lives have been disrupted by the hurricane and associated housing shortages are benefiting from elearning opportunities," she says. "Students can sit at a computer anywhere and access Lamar courses anytime on demand. Moreover, instructors can broadcast live from the classroom, send out questions to students, and also receive questions from students who may be monitoring the class off campus from their personal computer."

Now, the use of video for both elearning and internal communications proceeds hand-in-hand. Lamar University’s initial implementation of video as part its course resources for students included the VOD library, classroom archives, and the portal. Phase two of the implementation is expected to include live faculty-to-faculty communications via video webcasting.

The next step is to get faculty to use the system more for communications and collaboration, to share PowerPoints, class chores, and so forth, says Allen. "Or the head of a department could use it to coordinate the work of different instructors in the same program," she says. "Our faculty are just now learning how to encode and publish media. Up to this point it’s been us saying, ‘Here’s the product, here’s some of the things we’ve done, now go out and play with it.’ I’m sure as things go along, they’ll tell us how they want to use the system. We’ll make enhancements based on that."

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