Sonic Youth: York University and Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite Put a New Spin on Elearning

Elearning is generally implemented on college and university campuses to facilitate distance learning, to archive lectures for students, or simply because someone on the faculty thinks it is worth exploring. It's rarely used to solve an actual, concrete problem that the school is facing. York University in Toronto, Ontario, has taken elearning out of the classroom and into another department: Career Services.

Double Trouble
Ontario has been dealing for the past two years with the ramifications of the "double cohort": Grade 13 was eliminated from Canadian high schools, and, in June 2003, twice as many students as usual became eligible to enroll in secondary education. Budgets, however, did not grow along with the student population, and any additional revenue went to curriculum instead of support services.

Carolyn Steele's Career Centre staff was already taxed before this increase in student population, with only six counselors for 40,000 students and workshops swelling from an average of 15 students to 60. These workshops had deteriorated into lectures covering basic material that Steele, York's career development coordinator, and her colleagues felt could be more effectively imparted through other means. The trick was to find the most cost-effective solution for their needs that also required a minimal level of technological aptitude.

Steele had heard that Kelly Parke, York's senior multimedia director, was exploring similar technology, and the two began working on a Career Centre implementation using Sonic Foundry's Mediasite. Parke, a former professional cameraman, specializes in the development and application of streaming technologies. "It has been a challenge selling the benefits of streaming to the university community," he says. "Professors have enough on their plate to try and manage a class. The last thing they needed was technology adding any weight to course load. We found that adding any variable to the regular classroom routine was unworkable. What happens in a classroom is something to capture, not interfere with." Support services, like the Career Centre, operate very differently from a traditional classroom, which allowed for some less conventional applications of the same presentation recorder technology. At the Career Centre at York, Parke says, "the content was dynamic, and they could repurpose a lot of content they had to create live. The Career Centre saw Mediasite as a way to 'mine' resources from material they were already generating, so it was a win-win."

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