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Lecture capture: watch and learn

Lecture capture has grown quickly to become a significant part of the student experience. Steve Montgomery looks at how the technology and the market have developed.

Today’s students are intimately connected to the latest technology and gadgets and use them constantly. Their familiarity, combined with an innate and intuitive ability to control it, means that not only do they use video and audio communication for their own social communication but expect it to be present in all aspects of their lives. This expectation extends to the provision of learning services, particularly at higher levels; with the current high cost of educational services, prospective students demand sophisticated and effective use of technology at universities to elevate their education experience. They choose their university on a number of factors, with technology and modern teaching methodologies rating highly in that decision. Universities that fail to meet their expectations are ignored as students vote with their feet and select another establishment.

The process of recording classes and other live sessions, generally referred to as lecture capture, features highly on the lists of students’ criteria during that assessment. While still a relatively young technology compared with others in the AV world, it has rapidly gained acceptance in the academic sector, proving its ability to aid the educational process and rapidly penetrating the industry. “The majority of lecture capture and streaming technology at colleges and universities is currently used to live stream classes online or to record classes that are posted and archived online for later student review,” explains Bryce Button, AJA’s director of product marketing. “College research departments are also increasingly embracing the technology to share live research projects with colleagues across the globe. Furthermore it can be used to stream live video demonstrations, as seen with Macquarie University’s Surgical Skills Lab [see picture overleaf], to distribute surgical procedures and demonstrations.”

The student typically has a high level of engagement only when the audio and video that is captured is of a high and constant quality

Robert de Jong, Vaddio

Fears abated
Early reticence to deploy and use lecture capture systems has largely abated. Fears that students would skip lectures if there were to be a recording available online later, and lecturers’ concerns over job security once their classes had been recorded, were generally unfounded. Instead the system has stimulated new methods of teaching, including that of ‘flipping’, in which students are required to watch a pre-recorded version of the lecture prior to attending the live presentation. This allows them to concentrate on the delivered speech rather than on note-taking, and has greatly improved understanding. Lecture capture systems are often used in preparing the recordings to be used in lecture flipping.

Phil Waterhouse, business development manager for education at Crestron UK, believes: “The market is becoming mature, not necessarily in terms of current installations but certainly with the numbers of universities that have a plan in place to roll out capture to all rooms. Many universities have a policy of recording all lessons and lectures and it is being implemented widely. Some universities automatically schedule recordings along with the lecture timetable. This presents an easy and reliable method as there is no element of human failure in starting and stopping the recording process.”

The use of video capture solutions to record classes as well as enable lecturers to create their own supplemental videos requires robust technology. “Large classrooms in which the lecturer moves around need wide-angle cameras with auto focus and the ability to track the presenter. Classrooms also need a sound system that can record the lecturer’s voice clearly and pick up student discussions,” says Rob Lipps, executive vice president of Sonic Foundry, the maker of Mediasite Video Platform. “The lecture capture system should be automated, allowing faculty or campus IT staff the ability to easily schedule recordings. A lecturer may also want to record a video prior to class in an empty classroom or right from the comfort of his or her home or office.” Any system deployed today should have facilities and solutions to cover both.

Group collaboration
These systems are also increasingly used in group collaboration sessions as students work together and present from hubs to the wider class audience, so there is a need for interaction with collaboration systems and on-site audiovisual technology. Simple control of the lecture capture system within the overall AV system is essential.

Privacy issues affect the recording of lectures and most installations will be completed with cameras positioned to record the lecturer but not students. This can be mitigated by the use of tracking cameras that follow the lecturer by means of IR tracking technology. “The success of lecture capture is influenced by the user experience of the student and also by the user experience of the teacher,” points out Robert de Jong, director of product marketing EMEA at Vaddio. “The student typically has a high level of engagement only when the audio and video that is captured is of a high and constant quality. This requires a camera tracking system that is accurate, precise and reliable even when teachers are mobile when presenting or whilst turning away from the camera and making annotations on the board. For this, intelligent IR tracking systems are required that have a wide selection of cameras and lenses that exactly fit the room size and, in addition, can be combined with presence-sensing trigger systems so the camera automatically zooms in when the teacher is making an annotation on the board.”

Handling many simultaneous camera feeds on a network can also present problems. “Some universities are starting to install IP cameras as they are fast coming down in price,” says Mark Rogers, product manager, Datapath. “They are attractive because of the ease of using standard network connections but they also bring technological challenges with network set-ups. There is a need to support IP streaming and discovery protocols, which a dedicated video capture unit like the Seneca Scribe generally takes care of. HLS streaming is popular in lecture capture as it accommodates varied bandwidths and video quality and chopping up of content which can be skipped, rewound and played back on the fly from a server.”

“Lecture capture is almost becoming a victim of its own success,” continues Lipps. “Students nowadays are demanding it in all their classes and will often stop a lecturer to point out if the system is not recording. The result is that it is becoming an essential piece of equipment in all active lecture rooms. A large university may have 500 rooms but it is not economically viable to put top-of-the-range equipment in all of them. However with the right video platform, there will be hardware and software capture options that make sure lecture capture can be included in as many classrooms as possible.”

Picture: University of Stuttgart, courtesy of Crestron