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The Tipping Point: 2009 Education Video Year In Review

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A very new entrant into the online video platform market, Kaltura (www.kaltura.com) made a splash by releasing its code base as open source—free to download and to use. Doing so allowed the company to claim 46,000 worldwide users at the end of 2009, in no small part due to academic institutions’ affinity for open source technology. In fact, it’s been several years since I’ve seen a new online video company make such fast and significant inroads in the education sector.

In a very wise move, Kaltura became a founding member of the Open Video Alliance (OVA), alongside such stalwarts as the Mozilla Foundation, the Participatory Culture Foundation, and the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. The OVA threw its inaugural conference in July 2009, attracting a veritable who’s who from the open source and free culture communities, inside and outside academia. However, Kaltura was not the only player from the online video industry, with the likes of Level 3, Akamai, and Magnify.net on board as sponsors or partners. Though not strictly an education event, the ties to schools, colleges, and universities were evident throughout the event, demonstrating that educational institutions are a cornerstone in the foundation of open video online.

Opencast Matterhorn
Opencast Matterhorn The Opencast community organization calls Matterhorn "an end-to-end, opensource platform that supports the scheduling, capture, managing, encoding anddelivery of educational audio and video content."

On the strictly academic side of things, the Opencast Community of higher educational institutions, which got its start in 2008, took a step forward in 2009 by initiating the Matterhorn project. According to the project’s website, Matterhorn is "an end-to-end, open source platform that supports the scheduling, capture, managing, encoding and delivery of educational audio and video content." The project looks to address a number of long-standing needs that I know educators have been up against. In effect, Matterhorn is the Opencast community’s attempt to create an independent open source online video platform specifically tailored to the needs of the education market. A "preview" release is set to come out in January 2010 with the first full release scheduled for July 2010.

In education, openness takes many forms; it’s not limited to open source. Openness is often just about releasing educational videos to the public. This past November, the U.K.-based Open University announced that it had passed 10 million downloads in iTunesU, with an average of 375,000 downloads a week. That’s pretty impressive growth considering that the Open University only joined iTunesU in July 2008. Some responsibility for that growth certainly lies with the fact that the Open University puts nearly all of its course videos on iTunes, whereas most schools only post a selected portion.

 Ensemble Video
Ensemble Video Ensemble Video, which started at Syracuse University before spinning off into a separatecompany, was an early innovator in creating a platform specifically for education.

To be fair, most colleges and universities are simply not yet technologically prepared to record all of their classes, whether or not they have the desire to do so. Equipping an entire campus of classrooms with cameras and recording equipment is an expensive endeavor for even the best-funded universities. As a university exclusively dedicated to distance learning, without the overhead of a brick-and-mortar campus, the Open University has a unique advantage in this arena. In effect, the internet is its campus, and video is as fundamental to its operations as whiteboards and chairs are to the traditional university. Nevertheless, the 10-million-download milestone is a sign of the rising popularity and value of online educational video.

I don’t want to give the impression that free and open source is the only news in educational online video. Keep in mind that Kaltura, for instance, is very much a for-profit company looking to make money by providing service and support for its platform. Indeed, free and open source does not mean there is no cost involved, even if there are no purchase orders involved. Not every school, college, and university has the resources or need to adopt a free open platform that requires some degree of programming, hosting, and system administration to implement and maximize. There are also very good reasons—from privacy to protecting confidential information—for schools to restrict access to their content and not make it freely available. Additionally, in many instances, schools are better off choosing full-service platforms or SaaS solutions.

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