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The State of Video in Higher Education

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Even before the COVID-19 crisis, we had reached the point where the video landscape for education is mature and largely swept clear of skeptics. Few teachers and administrators still doubt that educational video can enhance student experiences—fully online video-based instruction is broadly accepted as an effective mode of lecturing. 

Actual proof for these beliefs is somewhat harder to find, though, due to the confounding nature of real-world research limitations. Plenty of studies have been published showing that students learn material about as well—or even better—from video than from in-person lectures, but almost all are comparing college students, who are presumably savvy and resourceful learners under any circumstances. The availability of video resources tends to increase alongside the engagement level of the student body: Competitive universities will have better access to video services than public high schools, and university researchers studying impacts of video on learning outcomes will have better access to their own students than to less academically inclined students who may have a greater challenge learning from video. 

Anecdotally, though, educational video appears to be finding an audience outside of formal schools, with many popular and highly informative YouTube channels devoted to auto repair, construction, and other skilled technical labor. An exemplar of the state of learning-outcomes research is a 2019 journal article from Judith L. Leatherman and Lacy M. Cleveland, which describes a flipped classroom experience for a genetics course. It shows that student learning outcomes were roughly the same as for comparable non-flipped classes, while investigating the confounding elements that make it difficult to attribute the results of the study specifically to video. As always, more research is needed, and the ubiquity of video in schools will help produce more results and guide best practices in the next year and decade.

Industry Movement in 2020

Two recent acquisitions are particularly noteworthy. First is Kaltura's 2018 acquisition of Rapt Media, a company specializing in sophisticated interactive choose-your-own-adventure videos, in which viewers can click hotspots on the video to control how it continues, much like how Netflix's Bander­snatch works. [Editor's note: The date of the Rapt acquision was incorrect in an earlier verstion of this article.] The product has been rebranded as Kaltura Interactive Video Paths, and according to the reps I spoke with, it is being integrated within Kaltura to replace in-video quizzes and will be able to populate grades in the course learning management system's (LMS) gradebook in the near future. 

Kaltura State of Education

Kaltura’s acquisition of Rapt Media and rebranding of it as Interactive Video Paths will give users the ability to create more interactive educational videos featuring hotspots that allow viewers to control how the video continues.

How successfully that integration goes will have a profound influence on whether hosting platforms will offer such complex interactivity in educational video baked in or provide it through add-on third-party modules. In other words, if Kaltura can deploy an authoring tool within its video hosting platform that motivated teachers can successfully use to Bandersnatch-ify their lectures, it's difficult to identify constraints on feature creep for a video hosting platform. What can't be done within a platform if this feature takes off?

The second noteworthy transaction is private equity firm Thoma Bravo's announced acquisition of Instructure, the company behind the Canvas LMS, the Bridge corporate training platform, and the educational video platform formerly known as Arc Media, now rebranded Canvas Studio. The key innovation in Canvas Studio is that every video has a SoundCloud-like interactive seekbar, in which teachers can add discussion prompts with nested response threads or students can pose their own questions. 

Thoma Bravo may be a familiar name to video professionals, as it owned Telestream from 2011 through 2015, before selling it to Genstar. In 2013, Telestream bought CPC, adding the first-class CaptionMaker and MacCaption caption-authoring software to the Tele­stream family. Under Thoma Bravo's ownership, Tele­stream also began offering x264 as an encoding option in Wirecast, starting with version 5. Both were good decisions and speak well of the leadership taking over Instructure. 

Instructure Canvas Studio

Instructure’s handling of Canvas Studio bears watching. Rebranding it from Arc Media to Canvas Studio is a strong indication that Instructure didn’t see a market for integrating the video platform with competing LMSs, and that it regarded the video platform as more useful for enticing users to choose the Canvas LMS.

Instructure's handling of Canvas Studio bears watching. Rebranding it from Arc Media to Canvas Studio is a strong indication that Instructure didn't see a market for integrating the video platform with competing LMSs and that it regarded the video platform as more useful for enticing users to choose the Canvas LMS. The new leadership may re-evaluate that decision in light of the significant disruption to schools in changing from one LMS to another as compared to adopting a video platform or migrating to a new one.

Media Service Changes at Microsoft and Apple

For years, Microsoft's Office 365 offered two different video hosting services: Video and Stream. That will no longer be the case, with the Video application being retired and its contents migrated into Stream. Stream has developed into a fully featured video platform moving into 2020, bringing to bear much of what Azure's cognitive services can offer, including quite high-
quality automatic captioning and facial recognition. 

Stream's analytics are still badly lacking, although the migration road map indicates plans for Q3 2020 to incorporate Video's superior analytics. This includes actionable information like viewership histograms showing the amount of time students spend watching portions of the video. 

In May 2019, Stream entered Microsoft's highest privacy compliance tier with a commitment to both FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), among other standards qualifications. A major historical limitation with Office 365 in schools has been its reliance on Azure Active Directory (AD) federation services for identity management instead of the school's identity management system, which lacks awareness of any AD groups that aren't Outlook email-enabled. The School Data Sync and Education API products change that, making Office 365 and other applications capable of accessing class rosters and more. 

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