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Distance Learning in the University of Maine System, Part 1

Dec 14, 2010 12:00 PM, With Bennett Liles


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OK, and the picture I have in mind of this is pretty much just a little TV studio where the instructors are out in the studio and the technicians are in a control area separated by mainly a big window or something and just operating a video switcher and sound mixer and so on.
That's absolutely correct. The rooms were originally constructed with that intention, so there's a very small, and I do mean very small, control room directly adjacent to the large classrooms. There is a standard video switcher, audio mixers, video monitors, the telephone interface equipment, some routing and distribution equipment, power equipment, PCs, scan converters—that kind of thing. [Timestamp 10:29]

And when the phone-in is done by students on the receiving end, how is that monitored by the instructors? Do they have an IFB, or is it a mix minus coming in through an open speaker somewhere? How does that work?
The telephone calls come in through the control rooms through either … something like a Comrex telephone interface or a Westel conferencing system, and we take the four-wire audio out of those systems and feed it back into the classroom and feed a mix minus into the telephone system back to the students. So the instructors, almost always, are standing in front of a live class as well as the remote students and sending the telephone callers back into the classroom obviously allows all of the students that are in the live classroom to hear the conversation as well. [Timestamp 11:13]

Well, that's pretty sophisticated, keeping in mind you probably have some students on the crew. I guess you have to train some students on the system every year or maybe every semester to help out. Now I read you're using a greenscreen on this too. How is that used?
Well, that's typically used as a pull-up curtain. It's a pull-over greenscreen that's on a track in front of the white board so an instructor can opt to either use the traditional whiteboard and just turn around and write, or they can slide the green curtain over and … typically what's done is the chroma key is filled either with computer graphics, so that might be a PowerPoint presentation, a website, any PC content that the instructor or the distance education technician might want to put up. Sometimes, say in a math class, that will actually be filled with the ceiling document camera so the instructor's writing formulas or some kind of complex equations on a piece of paper on the lectern but that camera is filled in back of them on the greenscreen. [Timestamp 12:02]

That sounds like a fun thing for the students. They must get excited about it when they see all this gear and consider all the creative things they can do with it—it would sure generate some interest.
It's been received very well. We've been conducting live video classes for 20 years now—in one way or another using one set of equipment or different networks—and it's evolved a little bit, but ever since the beginning we've had really positive feedback from all of the students, both in the live classrooms having the benefit of the AV displays in the classroom and the added technology and the students that are out at the remote locations. They tend to enjoy taking the live television classes and report that it's a positive experience. [Timestamp 13:06]

Well, that sounds like an incredibly engaging thing being able to bring students in from a distance rather than going brick and mortar for everything. It seems to be working and well received. I very much appreciate you being here for part one John to take us through it, and in part two, we'll get more into technical details and get maybe the people's side of it too but thanks for being here.
Well you're welcome. It's a pleasure.

Thanks for joining us for the SVC podcast with John Tiner of the University of Maine System. Show notes can be found on the website of Sound and Video Contractor Magazine at SVConline.com. Be here for part two as John goes into the Haivision Stingray set-top boxes and how the Maine Distance Learning Network is administered, next time on the SVC podcast.





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