The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Harvard Making Online Lectures Better

Tests of the commercial lecture-capture solutions used by Harvard University showed that they worked well enough for on-campus students, but could be of higher quality and faster speeds for distance learners. That led the Harvard Division of Continuing Education (HDCE) to build a customized cloud-based version of the open-source software known as Opencast.

“Other Harvard units use lecture capture as a review tool for students who don’t come to class, are sick, or need a study tool, but our distance-education group actually sells access to these lectures,” Gabriel Russell, a video, software, and systems engineer at Harvard, told eCampus News. “Lecture capture is a primary learning tool for our students, so we need to make sure the product meets their needs.”

Developers created a system that included a high-definition video stream of the lecturer on one side of the screen and a presentation window that shows the feed from the classroom’s projection system on the other. Students are then able to choose a side-by-side view, a view with one window larger than the other, or a picture-in-picture setup.

HDCE selected a third-party video firm to capture video from more than 25 units in classrooms on the campus. The group also moved its version of Opencast to the cloud through the institution’s existing relationship with Amazon Web Services.

“Opencast is free and you can get it up and running if you have a couple of knowledgeable staff members, although it helps if you have a developer that can dig into the configuration,” Russell said. “Ultimately, our plan is to commit all these improvements into the main Opencast product, so these features will be to other institutions for free.”

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