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

The Course of the Stream
One of the challenges for Parke and Steele was understanding how best to reconfigure streaming for different purposes. "We wrestled with trying to understand our clientele," says Steele. University students have a higher level of education and are therefore more motivated to find their own information, but at the same time Steele learned that people's attention span for video is considerably shorter online than anywhere else. Steele believes the most important thing to remember is that the computer is a tool and is not being used for entertainment, so presentations have to be extremely concentrated. The longest presentation in the CyberGuide runs about 20 minutes, with most others are considerably shorter.

Steele estimates the preparation time for each presentation to be roughly equivalent to the creation of a PowerPoint program. The most preparation time went into learning what worked best during recording and making sure presenters felt comfortable in front of the camera. There was some trial and error as they learned the nuances of filming: that black and white should not be worn on camera, that some angles work better than others, and that the quality of a presentation was much higher when filmed in a studio versus a lecture hall or classroom.

"On a technical side it was a challenge for me in the AV department to form a bond with the IT department," admits Parke. "Mediasite is definitely a bridging product between AV and IT. The two areas see things differently, so I had to learn enough IT to carry the ball myself. The IT requirements were actually quite reasonable."

Campus-wide, "initially the problems were of a standards nature. That is, we had to set benchmarks for the kind of system that could run a Mediasite event," Parke says. "We set a policy that we guaranteed playback on campus to any of the 500+ lab computers. If your system at home was having trouble or your Internet provider was having trouble, that was not the responsibility of the university. The biggest issue is that [students] need to maintain their computers with the latest Microsoft updates."

Pest Control
York University occupies the unique position of being Sonic Foundry's first Mediasite customer. "Two-and-a half years ago, I heard a rumor on the ’Net about this presentation recorder from Sonic Foundry," explains Parke. "I had been looking for [presentation recorder] technology for about five years. I was a pest and made contact with the gang at Sonic Foundry and said that I had to have one and I would help beta test this product so that I could get exactly what I wanted. I arranged to meet up with the engineering crew in Las Vegas (at NAB)," he continues, "and I basically grilled them for three days. By the time I left Vegas they knew I wanted this product to push it to the limits."

The York Career Centre launched its first set of 13 presentations in October 2003. It now offers about 15 and is about to go into production with more. "It's not our choice," says Steele, "It's because there's only one 'Kelly' [Parke] on campus!" The Centre plans to push the boundaries in the next 18 months and expand into other content areas for its streaming presentations, including on-campus jobs and networking. It is also interested in offering more usability options and embedding other learning objects, such as Flash and live links, in presentations.

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