Jan 30, 2013 11:37 AM, By Don Kreski
Automated webcasting systems are the focus of classroom upgrades.
Palo Alto University (PAU) is anything but average. At this private Silicone Valley institute, there are more graduate students than undergraduate students and a higher faculty-to-student ratio than on most campuses. Because the school keeps its focus tight it offers a better education in clinical psychology than many other universities can offer.
Yet there are some downsides. “Because our students all live off campus, it can be harder for them to attend every class and harder for them to seek help after hours,” explains Dave Leavitt, PAU’s director of information technology. When Leavitt and a faculty taskforce were studying ways to improve classroom technology, they decided to include lecture capture and webcasting in their new AV systems.
“We helped the university upgrade their classrooms in a number of ways,” says Murray Lewis, account executive at Beaverton, Ore.-based CompView Audio Visual. “We added Smart Boards and document cameras, and we upgraded their projection, sound, and control systems. Still, the most powerful technology we installed was lecture-capture-based on a MediaSite RL recording device from Sonic Foundry and robotic cameras from Vaddio.”
The system design was challenging for Lewis and CompView Systems Integration Manager Phil Dusold because it wasn’t positive how the faculty would use the system. Glenn Saito, instructional designer and media specialist for the university, started a pilot program in lecture capture once the new systems were installed. Lewis and Dusold responded by including manual controls that allowed each professor to start and stop classroom recording from an Extron TLP 1000MV touchpanel mounted in the classroom lectern. If they wish, they can control camera presets and other functions from the panel.
In practice, faculty participating in Saito’s pilot have all chosen to rely on the system’s automated controls. Normally the professor and Saito schedule class recording in advance, and the system starts and stops itself automatically. A Vaddio Overhead IR sensor mounted on the ceiling registers whether or not a professor is standing at the lectern. If so, it signals a Vaddio WallView PTZ camera mounted at the back of the room to zoom in close. If the professor moves away from the lectern, the sensor signals the camera to switch to a wide shot which encompasses an 87in. Smart Multitouch Interactive whiteboard.
At the same time, the system feeds an input from either a rack-mounted PC or the professor’s laptop into the MediaSite recorder. The system records two streams from the camera and the computer system, and both automatically go to a video-on-demand server powered by MediaSite EX Server software. Students watching the streams later as a webcast will see a picture-in-picture image, or they can choose to enlarge either the professor’s image or the computer image to full screen. Since the Smart Board is essentially a computer peripheral, images it generates show up in the data window. Students can choose to watch professors writing on the board via the Vaddio camera, which is sharp enough to capture clear images of the class and what is written on the board. Students can also choose to switch to the data stream to only see the text created (or the original projected image and the markups). The webcast includes spoken and program audio of the lecture as well as any sound included with the visuals. If professors show video from a document camera, a DVD player, or VCR, the system also routes these images into the data window.
Saito says he hopes PAU faculty will use the system to expand their teaching beyond traditional methods. “We’re looking at the flipped classroom method, where we ask students to watch lectures before class, then devote class time to discussion or clinical activities,” he says. He expects that lecture capture, used in this way, has the potential to significantly improve educational outcomes.
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