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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.