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These are my notes from the Thursday, October 30th EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “REPLAY: An Integrated and Open Solution to Produce, Handle, and Distribute Audiovisual Lecture Recordings,” presented by Olaf A. Schulte, Multimedia Services, ETH Zurich

Olaf and his team developed REPLAY to streamline the capture and upload of lecture recordings. Their application is very impressive, including a scheduling feature and the beginnings of a very interesting indexing system for searching captured content. There is a connection to iTunes U, serious automation for reducing instructor workload and errors, easy admin resources for technical support staff, and the resulting content is not “melted” into one movie file. All assets can be accessed separately by students.

REPLAY uses PLAYMOBIL, a linux-based machine with a NCast capture card for VGA and audio, and Nio security cameras for classroom video capture. One of the funnier challenges they faced involved having to “tranquilize” the cameras because they were tracking instructor hand movements.

REPLAY will be ready for action in February, 2009. However, they plan to join the Opencast community, so you may not see it as an independent entity for very long. On the plus side, cool REPLAY features and functions will hopefully make their way into the Opencast system and I can only assume that the effort will benefit greatly by the inclusion of the ETH team.

As I was sitting in this session, my mind wandered to our motives for supporting live lecture capture and the impact this will have on higher education. I have really struggled with this over the years, resisting the pitches of companies like Tegrity to spend tens of thousands of dollars on their, “capture everything that moves,” solutions. Instead, I have been drawn to tools like DyKnow, that also capture classroom activity, but facilitate the transformation of classroom interaction from traditional lecture to more collaborative and active practices. That being said, I would never obstruct students who can learn just as effectively by watching a recorded lecture as they can by attending that same lecture in a classroom. More power to them. I would also never dream of depriving students of reviewing information presented to them as many times as they desired or of consigning them to the arduous and counterproductive task of transcribing what comes out of an instructor’s mouth. For these reasons alone, lecture capture solutions may be worthwhile. I think supporting traditional lecture capture across the enterprise makes me uncomfortable for other reasons.

Traditional lecture can be very engaging and there are certainly some lecture performances that are best experienced live. However, when migrating most traditional lectures to an online format, you inevitably realize that learners would be much better served and technology would be much better leveraged if the typical 50-minute lecture was produced, packaged, and delivered differently. Technology offers opportunities to do just that. We seem so impressed by lecture capture solutions that only require instructors to press “Record,” but the truth is that this level of usability can be found in a variety of today’s tools and faculty can generally create much more effective and engaging online content from the comfort of their own offices than from the stage of an overcrowded lecture hall.

As the purpose of class meetings transitions from information delivery to discussion and collaboration, I look for traditional lecture capture tools to fade into obsolescence and for tools that support communication and teamwork to become more valuable. We are not there yet, so live lecture capture still seems like a good idea. But is it? Are we doing this simply because we can? How does investing in tools like Tegrity impact classroom design? Are we more likely to design “Tegrity-ready” lecture halls? If there’s no pedagogical reason to capture most live lectures and most instructors would rather teach differently anyway, why invest in tools that perpetuate this method of instruction? Do we want to simply capture what’s going on in our classrooms or do we want to facilitate change? Let’s give this a little nudge by making it easier to collaborate in class and assisting instructors to develop online content and activities that really engage students.

Ken

I was inspired to blog tonight by Rachel Happe’s latest post on The Social Organization, which I just learned about from one of Lawrence Liu’s tweets. I started following Lawrence on Twitter yesterday. I saw his tweet on my NetVibes homepage as I finished my bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. So, let’s review. I am writing something that I would probably have never written based on several seconds of very minimal social contact with two people I have never met, contact mediated by simple tools that allowed all this to happen in seconds while I was happily eating my ice cream. For me, that’s a successful application of social computing.

Rachel’s post related to the difference between social networking tools and computer-supported collaborative work tools or groupware. If you ask people why they use groupware like SharePoint, Domino, ThinkTank, and WebEx, the easy answer is, “to accomplish group work and increase productivity.” When you ask people why they use tools like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace, the easy answer is, “to socialize.” As Rachel describes, these two broad goals share a set of common processes that can be facilitated by tools from both categories. Also, the boundary between these categories is getting blurrier by the day.

Of course, the motivation to socialize is very complex and I am going to focus on just one aspect of it here. Outside of improving productivity and finding the love of your life, why do we seek the company of other people? Leon Festinger (1954) had some ideas about this that he developed into his Social Comparison Theory. Although subsequent research has indicated that things are much more complex than Festinger theorized, the basic principles of social comparison have held up and have implications for online social networking.

Festinger argued that the only way we can evaluate our own abilities in the absence of objective standards is to compare ourselves with others. Am I a good eLearning Director? Do I have a good understanding of new and emerging technologies? I ask myself these questions every day. I try to answer them by finding others with whom to compare. Who do I choose? Festinger held that we sometimes choose people or groups that are clearly worse than us. This downward social comparison is quick and reassuring (e.g., “At least I know more than that guy”). However, if all we did was compare downward, we would never improve. Festinger suggested that human beings are motivated by a unidirectional drive upward. We want to improve our abilities, so we must evaluate ourselves against others who are better than us – not light years better, but just a little bit better. This way, we gain some sense that we are improving. Of course, those people with whom we compare are improving right along with us, so we may end up comparing ourselves with the same person for quite awhile, locked in a friendly and mutually beneficial game of leapfrog.

That’s one reason why applications like Twitter are so valuable and so different from other workplace collaboration tools. They appeal to different motives and satisfy different, but equally important, social needs. Second, the people with whom I compare myself are often not working for Winona State (no offense WSU colleagues). Of the top five most influential people on your Twitter list, how many work inside your company or institution? Of those on your list from within your organization, are you following them for social comparison purposes or for other reasons? I think we purposely pick people who don’t work inside our organizations in hopes of finding new partners, new ideas, and new standards of comparison that will challenge us to move upward. Facebook and Twitter, as open, free, accessible tools are more appealing for social networking than enterprise collaboration systems like SharePoint that are currently more difficult for external friends and colleagues to access.

Finally, both of these implications suggest that using Facebook for enterprise collaboration purposes is probably not such a great idea. I am guessing that this is not even an issue in the corporate world, but it is in higher education as faculty and administrators take their first steps into the great Facebook abyss. Fortunately for our students, this sort of thing usually happens long after they have left and moved on to something else. In fact, I sometimes think that faculty using tools like Facebook to support exam review sessions signals to the last remaining students that the tool is officially lame. I think there is a lesson here for any organization. As important as social networking and communities of practice are within an organization, people are venturing out into the blogosphere for good reason – reasons that will benefit them and your company. Don’t follow them and don’t let the worlds collide.

Ken

Is smashing a student’s cell phone with a hammer in class a good idea? Articles like Samuel Freedman’s recent piece in the NYT, “Class(room) War: Teacher versus Technology,” paint a very depressing and inaccurate picture of our students as irresponsible or unwitting device addicts who don’t appreciate the value of a good, old-fashioned lecture. He glorifies instructors who waste time and intimidate students in class by staging demonstrations of their disdain for student devices. My guess is that all campuses endure these melodramas, but they are few and far between.

We have an instructor who ceremoniously disconnects the classroom wireless access point at the start of each class period. Another has earned the nickname, “Professor Click,” because he tells his students that he wants to hear the sound of their laptops clicking shut. I can imagine the confused looks on first year students’ faces as they sit down in Professor Click’s classroom and proudly pull their shiny new laptops out of their backpacks, ready to take notes, find relevant information on the Web, engage in all sorts of laptop-supported learning activities, and maybe chat a bit with a new friend in another classroom or instant message their mothers that they are sitting in class at that very moment, only to be told to close the lid.

These cases notwithstanding, I think Freedman describes a rather minor skirmish in a much larger conflict. There is a deepening political struggle in higher education that is tied to the advance of information technology, but isn’t about cell phones and laptops in classrooms. Most instructors set clear expectations that stop short of prohibiting devices that could serve legitimate academic purposes. This is just one of the many classroom management issues that most instructors handle calmly and professionally without resorting to the use of hammers. The vast majority of our students respect those rules because they are in class to learn.

It also has nothing to do with competing for students’ attention. Students not paying attention to instructors in class is nothing new. You could be on fire and some students wouldn’t notice. This has never had much to do with distraction. As a student, I was not “distracted” by the crossword puzzle that I worked on during class. It did not lure me away from a riveting lecture to which I was desperately trying to attend. I chose to attend to the crossword instead of the instructor. Today’s students are not distracted by instant messaging and Facebook; they are choosing them over the instructor consciously and purposefully and this is driving some instructors absolutely nuts. Much of why students behave this way is also not new. Some students find certain teaching styles too painful to endure for extended periods. Some don’t find the overcrowded conditions in many college classrooms very conducive to learning. Some don’t understand or see the relevance of what’s being discussed at that moment and figure they can study it later if needed. Some already know the material or feel confident that they can learn it quicker and easier from the textbook or online. Some students are not in class to learn content at all, but rather to learn what it is that they need to learn later when they are with their study group or alone in the quiet of the library. There is nothing new here. Take laptops and cell phones away and these classroom realities remain.

Some believe that new devices have brought new problems to the classroom. I do think there are a few, but I also think this has been greatly exaggerated by those who fear change. Students want to be engaged in the classroom and engaged students do not play online poker or instant message their friends during class. An EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research survey of over 20,000 undergraduates indicated that students do not necessarily want more technology used during class time. In a recent study at WSU, over 1800 students reported spending an average of 78% of a typical 50-minute class period giving their undivided attention to their instructor, slightly more than they thought was required, and an average of 22% of their time engaged in nonacademic activities on their laptops. They reported that they did not find the nonacademic use of laptops by other students in class particularly distracting and they agreed that instructors should set clear guidelines for laptop use. They reported that their decision to use their laptops for nonacademic purposes was not because they felt powerless to resist, they were effectively multi-tasking, or they were completely disinterested in what was happening in class. These are not the responses you would expect from device addicts.

So what’s new? I will leave my thoughts for another post and encourage comments. I think the larger conflict and what’s really bothering some instructors has more to do with the redistribution of power and authority and what Larry Lessig described in a recent TED talk as the return of a read-write culture. Technology is helping to change the students that instructors face in today’s classrooms in ways that most colleges and universities are only beginning to address.

Ken