A Case for Video

University of Maine enhances education with video streaming.

GUEST COLUMN | by Dave Stubenvoll

CREDIT Wowza at UMaineUniversities face numerous challenges today, and among the most daunting are students demanding better educations to compete in today’s global workplace, technological advancements that are radically transforming education delivery, and dwindling budgets that make pursuing these endeavors difficult. As these fundamental shifts in education unfold, universities are turning to technologies that can help improve education while getting the most out of existing resources. One such technology is video streaming. Not only does the use of video and blended learning help students stay engaged and successful in school, it also helps educators teach more effectively, according to studies from Wainhouse Research and Kaltura.

To truly tap into the value of video, today’s education and IT pros must navigate a minefield of streaming workflow and mobility challenges. 

In fact, video usage has expanded beyond distance learning to include alumni relations, guest lectures, and career preparation. But to truly tap into the value of video, today’s education and IT pros must navigate a minefield of streaming workflow and mobility challenges. One success story is the University of Maine, which implemented mobile video streaming to improve learning outcomes, expand access to education, and better engage students.

UMaine Goes DIY

Serving more than 11,000 students, the University of Maine (UMaine) offers 88 bachelor’s, 70 master’s, and 30 doctoral degree programs through its main campus and several satellite locations around the state. The School of Biology and Ecology (SBE), aiming to make course content for its largest biology lecture classes more accessible to students throughout the university, struggled to find an off-the-shelf Learning Content Management System (LCMS) that could meet their student and faculty needs. So, they built their own.

In 2008, a team of faculty and students at the SBE BioMediaLab launched Synapse, their first version of a web-based learning/teaching application. From the beginning, Synapse incorporated video streaming and support for mobile devices, and it has since evolved into a full-spectrum LCMS. Today, Synapse is available online and as a mobile app, and provides rich media learning experiences to students and professors anytime, anywhere.

How did UMaine design and implement a solution that was an exact fit for their needs? They did it by adhering to a few key principles…

  1. Build an Adaptable System

The Synapse LCMS continues to evolve as needs and technologies changed. At first, Synapse incorporated QuickTime Streaming Server, which reached most desktops but had streaming quality challenges, especially for remote viewers. They later switched to Flash Media Server, which created player plug-in requirements and security concerns, and ultimately didn’t support the growing population of iOS devices. By switching to Wowza Streaming Engine, they arrived at a reliable, future-proof, any-screen streaming infrastructure that will continue to evolve with them as new and improved streaming capabilities come to market.

  1. Add Custom Value

The more that the Synapse LCMS is used, the more new ways faculty think of to extend it. Recently, professors not only wanted to record and stream lectures, but also stream supplemental video that reinforced the course material, including content from public sources. They also wanted to add one-on-one live video chat with remote students during office hours. With an extensive feature set and full API, Wowza Streaming Engine readily handles these tasks and thousands more.

  1. Implement Self-Service Features

UMaine wanted to enable professors to upload video course materials themselves, so they created a self-service portal that didn’t require advanced technical expertise. This portal has been key to encouraging adoption among the faculty and ensuring that the entire process was as simple as possible. Now uploaded videos are automatically converted to streaming files that Wowza can deliver to any screen. Similarly, students can also upload self-recorded presentations and collaborate with each other and teaching assistants by streaming those recordings and adding frame-by-frame commentary. Custom features; self-service ease of use.

  1. Be Device Agnostic

The university’s previous streaming server products denied access to the growing number of iOS device users. By creating a Wowza-based solution that is device agnostic, UMaine can now deliver an interactive learning experience to thousands of students on any screen. By expanding access to video streaming, UMaine was able to see real results in learning outcomes and experiences.

Conclusion

These customized video streaming workflows allowed UMaine professors to create a multi-media learning experience and minimize friction in adding video to the curriculum. With students’ increased use and appreciation of video, and with the proliferation of mobile devices, video usage in education is only poised to accelerate. By keeping in mind these key principles, universities can ensure video streaming truly transforms education for both students and faculty.

Dave Stubenvoll is the CEO of Wowza Media Systems.

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