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The State of Video in Higher Education

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Currently, this functionality is rolling out to the Teams application and hasn't yet gotten to Stream. It will be a big deal when it does. Currently, a channel in Stream can be locked down to manually listed usernames; with the School Data Sync integration, it would be possible to easily limit access to videos for a course to the currently enrolled students and teachers in the course, a requirement for TEACH (Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization) Act compliance.

Back in summer 2017, Apple announced that it would be migrating iTunes U content into its Apple Podcasts platform, limiting access to iTunes U materials to iOS devices and marking the beginning of the end for the iTunes U platform. In summer 2019, Apple announced that iTunes would be replaced with a suite of applications in the Catalina OS 10.15 update. The role of iTunes U in the history of educational streaming media is impressive: as a platform, as an inspiration for MOOCs, and for the companywide attention to accessibility following its 2008 settlement with the National Federation of the Blind.

Accessibility Is Mainstream

One absolute certainty about educational video going into 2020 is that basic accessibility provisioning is a necessary requirement for any viable platform. Lacking a practical mechanism for providing captions, for example, would be disqualifying in almost any RPF process. 

Popular captioning vendors that the major platforms interoperate with are 3Play Media, Automatic Sync Technologies,Verbit, captionex, cielo24, VoiceBase, and Rev. At the end of 2018, Kaltura released REACH version 2, a greatly improved caption editor for correcting captions generated using speech-to-text. Ensemble Video has provided integration with the Amara caption-editing web application since 2015. Microsoft Stream uses Azure to generate automatic captions for English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Brazilian Portuguese audio and has a caption editor built right into the player for media owners. The caption editor available to teachers and students is a crucial component: Automatic captions cost a fraction of what human-transcribed captions do but are inaccurate in often misleading and sometimes upsetting ways. An underappreciated feature in the editor's user interface is how easily it allows realignment of captions to flow better with speech. 

Ensemble Video

Most of the major education video platforms interoperate with leading captioning providers. Ensemble Video has provided integration with the Amara caption-editing web application since 2015.

In 2020 and moving forward, we should expect to see the ways platforms try to improve the quality of the automatic captions for educational video in particular, since this sort of media tends to include disproportionately technical jargon while being accompanied with visual aids containing text that can be mined for relevant vocabulary items. In the meantime, most schools will use a combination of automatic captioning and human correction to meet their students' demand for high-quality captions.

Speech-to-text technology is becoming a benefit not just for accessibility provisioning and discoverability, but also for media production. Products like Descript and Sonix, primarily marketed to podcast producers, provide transcripts for your audio recording plus a text-based editor for correcting the transcript. But the killer feature is that the text-editor interface of both products can also edit the audio file: Deleting a chunk of transcript deletes the portion of audio it transcribed. This makes for a highly productive, even revolutionary, workflow for teachers, in which editing an audio lecture is as easy as revising an email. Both the transcript and the audio can then be brought into mainstream media editors for a more professional cleanup, if desired.

LTI Standard Course Corrects

IMS Global Learning Consortium's Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard performed a bold course correction in 2019, deprecating the LTI 2.0 specification in favor of LTI 1.3, which was released in late spring. LTI 1.1 has been a tremendously successful standard for almost a decade, allowing an LMS to delegate-controlled access to identity information and course gradebooks access with third-party educational activities. Hosting LTI integrated activities was a major improvement over writing plugins with similar functionality for each LMS that you'd then sell to customers as software they would install on their LMS servers. 

In 2014, LTI 2.0 was released with the intention to improve on LTI by making it easier for teachers to customize what students see at the end of the link through an interactive web application rather than by specifying parameter values in a configuration form on the LMS. LTI 2.0 was also designed to get away from the reliance on an exchange of shared secrets between administrators required by the OAuth1 standard. Unfortunately, the implementation of LTI 2.0 turned out to be more complicated than intended, and the benefits over LTI 1.1 weren't widely justified for many vendors. LTI 2.0 was of particular benefit to video platforms, where it allowed a teacher to easily embed a selected video into a course and have it protected from hotlinking via LTI, plus let the LMS share enough user information to provide individualized viewership statistics for the teacher.

LTI 1.3 is a major course correction intended to be simpler to implement and more sustainable to meet future interoperation needs. Instead of having all the possible features baked into LTI 1.3, it simply specifies how authentication and authorization work using OAuth2 and OpenID technology between the LMS (now called a Platform) and the third-party LTI application (now called a Tool). 

In addition to LTI 1.3, there are standards for indicating the availability of additional standardized interfaces between the Platform and the Tool. Currently, there are three such additional interfaces defined: Assignment and Grade Services, which enhances the LTI 1.1 capability of setting a numerical grade in the gradebook for each student; Names and Role Provisioning Services, which can share with the Tool the entire class membership so group activities can be more easily accommodated; and Deep Linking, in which links can direct to a specific view within the Tool—for example, a link in the gradebook so students can see a detailed explanation of how their grade was calculated. LTI 1.3 plus those three additional interfaces constitute LTI Advantage. 

If it turns out that a fourth or fifth platform/tool interface would be useful, it can be specified without needing to move to LTI 1.4, so the LTI standard should be both more stable and extensible moving forward. For video platforms, Deep Linking is the crucial piece of technology that allows for a migration from LTI 2.0 to LTI 1.3/Advantage, in which the tool would enable a deep link to an embedded I-frame containing a particular video.

In summary, 2020 is shaping up to be another year in which educational video will undergo a deliberate, well-considered transition rather than any sort of revolutionary transformation.

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