Three factors for Successful Lecture Capture

 

Colleges are increasingly leveraging video technology to not only improve the quality of education they impart but also deliver lectures to a larger number of students – both on campus and off it.  “Classrooms without Walls” are the new paradigm of education.  Those who adopt it keep up with the times and make their students winners – those who don’t will fall behind technological advances.

But capturing lectures requires expertise on both technology and acoustics.  Since such solutions require significant investment, it’s best to spend time preparing the ground rather than rushing into it headlong. 

There are three important factors to consider before implementing a lecture capture solution.

1)The Presentation Recorder

The Recorder is the very foundation of a successful lecture capture solution.  Responsible for capturing and encoding various types of inputs, the quality and features of the Recorder will determine how captivating the captured lecture is for students.  Today’s Recorders perform multiple roles:

a. Integrating multiple inputs

The lecture normally consists of multiple inputs.  The instructor is talking and moving about the lecture hall – while talking to the students.  At the same time, the instructor could be writing on a Whiteboard or showing presentations & videos from the laptop.  Recorders are capable of integrating all these various inputs and ensuring that the audio is synchronized with the video. 

b. Creating a visually appealing video with less manual intervention

The feature to look for is capability of the recorder to handle Picture-in-Picture (PiP) scenarios.  PiP can be a complex feature to use.  It could require manual intervention both during the lecture and after (during the editing process) to ensure relevant content is displayed.  However, some recorders have PiP presets.  Such presets can be used on the fly – at the start of the lecture itself.  Such recorders also permit the user to customize the PiP by inserting logos, text/ graphic overlays and textual descriptions. With more and more content getting recorded and webcasted, post recording editing has become a cumbersome workload with specialist personnel handling the same. This is avoided with use of the right recorders.

c. User interface controls

The most effective Recorders come with user interface controls that permit the user to gain complete control over the video.  This include features like

  • Capture size, Resolution and Aspect ratio
  • Graphics overlay positioning (vertical, horizontal)
  • PiP size, location (Overlap or Side-by-side)
  • Brightness, contrast, sharpness, saturation, hue
  • Audio Input Gain, Audio Output Volume

 

The user is also able to include Dynamic text overlays and Captions. Preset templates make the usage of the control easy and quick

d.Encoding and storing the video on a Digital Library

To ensure optimum utilization of storage memory, Recorders compress the video file using advanced graphics compression standards.  The ideal Recorder has its own hard disk storage where videos can be stored temporarily and then pushed to the Digital Library.  These files can be copied to a USB memory device or transferred to the Library using file push technologies like FTP. Some recorders like the NCAST tightly integrated with the central archiving, content management and on demand streaming server (the digital library) with automatic transfer of files at the end of each session.

e. Content Management and delivery system

The content thus generated and transferred to the central server need to be catalogued and provided to users with searchable features. Not only the file name can be searchable, but also a particular topic within the file can be searched. The GUI and the other features of the on demand delivery of the content system make it important for a perfect experience for the users.

f. As the data increases, the content can be archived in a NAS attached storage to the Digital Library server still transparently delivering the content to the user.

2.The Interior

The interior of the classroom/ lecture hall is one of the key aspects of a great lecture capture system.  Even the best audio systems in the world fall flat if the acoustics in the room is not designed right.  Background noise must be minimized and materials used on the walls must be designed so as to support the acoustics to provide clearly audible speech.  Research shows that with properly designed acoustics, instructor fatigue is greatly reduced and students absorb instructions better.

Unfortunately, most lecture halls have already been constructed without proper effort spent on acoustics.  However, the good news is that with some modifications, ordinary rooms can be converted into lecture calls that are accurate acoustically. 

  • Specialty boards and covering material can be used on the front wall and ceilings to make them reflective, enabling sound to reach everyone.
  • For the back and side walls, special absorptive material will help reduce reverberations and unwanted reflections.
  • Walls that are parallel surfaces can be altered by canting the sidewalls since parallel walls cause echoes.

While capturing the video of the lecture, well designed acoustics create a better experience for the student watching the video.

3. The Digital Library - Content Management and delivery system

The content thus generated and transferred to the central server need to be catalogued and provided to users with searchable features.

The digital library is the central repository of all the lectures that have been captured.  Students can access these videos from any location and on any device.

a. Indexed

Students need to be able to search for past videos on the Digital Library.  This is mainly a function of the recorder.  It should be able to index the video file using Metadata like “Title of lecture”, “Lecturer name”, “Date”, “Topic”, “Brief description”, “Department” etc.  This will help students access the desired lecture easily while viewing it offline. Not only the file name can be searchable, but also a particular topic within the file can be searched. The GUI and the other features of the on demand delivery of the content system make it important for a perfect experience for the users.

b. Compression

Video files can be extremely large and occupy a lot of data storage.  The Recorder should be able to compress the file to enable optimum use of the video storage devices.  Look for Recorders that use standard compression techniques.  Some use proprietary techniques which may not be the best solution.  One of the most popular formats for recording, compressing and distributing videos is MPEG 4

c. Compatibility with any device

The video file should be compatible with popular players like Flash Player, Quicktime, HTML5, DivX, VLC, and others.  With this, students will be able to view the file on any device with these players – be it their phone or laptop or tablet without having a proprietary player installed.

d. As the data increases, the content can be archived in a NAS attached storage to the Digital Library server still transparently delivering the content to the user.

e. Security

In a Classroom Without Walls, security of the videos is of paramount importance.  The institution should be able to stream the video live or make it available offline to students at any time and at any location. 

To cater to this, the lecture capture solution should be tightly integrated with the LDAP or Active Directory of the institution.  This takes care of permitting only authorized students to view content and hence secures the videos tightly.  Department based permissions may also be a factor to consider.

Conclusion

The key to successfully implementing a lecture capture solution lies in the design of the solution.  Each educational institution has its own special needs.  The trick is to:

  • First identify the need in terms of departments and lecture halls to be covered. Also look at the student community and identify how, from where and when they will be accessing the videos.  With this, the basic need will be identified
  • Secondly, work with a vendor who has expertise in all the 3 functions detailed above – the recorder, the acoustics and the digital library. Remember, these are three different areas of expertise, so identify the vendor carefully. 

About the Author

Ashwin has been at the forefront of tele-education and video conferencing solutions for the past decade.  His expertise comes from having implemented lecture capture solutions for multiple renowned institutions like Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore), IIM (Trichy) and PSG Medical College (Coimbatore)

Ashwin can be reached at:

Email: Ashwin@atnetindia.net

Phone: +91 94426 19821

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