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Distance Learning in the University of Maine System, Part 2

Dec 28, 2010 11:53 AM, With Bennett Liles

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Oh yeah, remotes grow legs as soon as the lights are turned off. You mentioned the set-top boxes, are those the Stingray set tops you're talking about?

That's correct, we purchased the Stingray set-top boxes so we could continue to emulate the existing delivery model that we had which is ... a student or several students in a viewing classroom at the remote locations. The Video Furnace software offers a desktop PC base player, but we didn't want to go that route of trying to have people in the computer labs watching the content on the desktops, so we installed the, I think it's 137, Stingray set-top boxes in the remote viewing locations. [Timestamp: 8.37]

Wow. That in itself would have been a pretty big thing to keep track of. Now you've had some time to look at this and see what works and maybe what doesn't, and I was thinking there might be some types of subject matter that work better for distance learning than others. Has that been the case?

Well, generally almost any class that you can conduct in a lecture style seems to lend itself to live television presentations well. So we've run science classes, math classes, English, history, business, nursing, music, art … just about anything that you can think of—some special accommodations are made. For instance, if it's a music class, we might have to make some special audio arrangements. They might want to bring in a live band or have some kind of special accommodation, but most of the time if the material is prepared properly, they can walk in and really teach just about any traditional subject the same way that they would in a standard classroom. And the classes that do require a much more interactive format or have a smaller numbers of students that are geographically dispersed, those classes occur on the videoconferencing system, so that's a little bit different. Some of the upper-level engineering courses and writing courses, those kinds of things, are moved to a different system entirely. [Timestamp: 10:07]

Yeah, I was thinking that maybe some of the arts or theater classes might be more of a challenge, but if you're doing things like statistics or things that get pretty complex it would be to the advantage of the students to be able to tune in and watch that and then be able to go back later and play back some parts of it that they might not of understood the first time.

Yeah, absolutely, and that is a part of the system. We do make sure that we record and make all of these classes available again to the students through the student portal system that the university uses. So we don't necessarily encourage time-shifting all of your classes, but they are there for the students to review if for some reason they've missed a class or occasionally there is a widespread network outage or some kind of problem that may have prevented them from seeing the live class when it was presented, so in this case they can go to the student portal and then watch a replay of the class at their convenience. [Timestamp: 11:05]

Yeah, I think classroom capture is one of the primary tech tools that work to, at least to some degree, effectively offset the growing class sizes. The budget situation and enrollment still going up, classroom capture and the students being able to go back at their own pace and review and—that's a real technical balancing factor against growing class size.

That's actually been a very popular piece of this project when we introduced it not too long ago. And we actually started the class capture as a system to replace the mailing media. That was the origin of it, but it became very popular and took off very quickly and now is a huge demand for a replay of the live video classes after the fact, so that continues to expand. [Timestamp: 11:55]

Yeah, classroom capture and some live interaction together—that's a really powerful combination that benefits the students. So how have the students reacted to this thing so far? How has it been received? We've been doing this for a very long time, again, using different delivery mechanism and different networks over the years, but generally the students have always had a very positive reaction and get a very high approval rate, and I think something in the order of 90 percent or more indicate that they enjoy that method of delivery. They enjoy watching the classes with other students. Even though they're at the remote locations, they'll often watch together so there's still that sense of community and that sense of attending the class with other students and it's also regular. It's on a schedule somewhat like attending a live class—it's every Tuesday night as 7 p.m. or whatever it is. So the reaction has been very positive, and the reaction to making those classes available again later through the student portal has been very positive as well. [Timestamp: 13:04]

So where are you in the project right now? Is it all complete or are you still expanding it? Maybe some plans to expand even further?

Well at this point we have, I think, there are two locations left where we're still servicing the students on the original transmission network. We're waiting for broadband connection at those locations, but the system's basically complete and we're offering usually four concurrent live sessions all day from about 7:30 in the morning to 10 at night, and that pretty much fills the schedule and it gets the origination rooms going pretty much up to capacity. So at this point, I don't think we're planning to expand that any further. It's actually taking up quite a few resources now. It has been received very well and the new equipment and the management piece for the new equipment has made operating the system much easier and much more cost-effective. [Timestamp: 14:06]

Well it certainly is great when you can reach out beyond the classroom and beyond the physical confines of the campus and bring more people in. John, thanks for being here for the SVC podcast to explain the new Haivision system going to work in distance learning for the University of Maine System.

Well, you're welcome. It was a pleasure.

I hope you enjoyed the SVC podcast with John Tiner of the University of Maine System. Show notes for the podcast can be found on the website of Sound and Video Contractor magazine at Join us again next time for the SVC podcast.

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