Streaming Content in Sakai – What service do you use?

Before I really begin this post, I have to mention how much I love being an instructional designer.  It might be that I’m just in the sweet spot of my ‘job’ life right now (seeing the culmination of my technology exposure along side my education and life experiences) but is that so bad?

I had the opportunity today to be a guest panelist for a segment on using Video in Sakai the LMS (learning management system) we use at my institution.There’s no question about the viability of video or video content within an instructional or learning context – it has value and can add value to other aspects of learning and education. The explosion and diminishing expense of video content creation has really led to a boon in ‘regular’ people being able to put together quality content and use it in their own courses or build it for other courses if they’re a course designer or instructional designer.  I’ve even had faculty tell me how excited they would be if they could ‘retire’ just designing course curriculum with video!

In any case I think there are some major or critical aspects of choosing a streaming host you need to look at from an institutional standpoint, and a few questions you should examine.

First, let’s get the elephant out of the room – COST:

Cost is typically the bottom line for just about any great foray into adopting a new service or product.  This is a recurring cost year after year, and will probably grow in time.  It can grow in two ways, typically. It can grow based on the amount you store (storage cost of all the stream able content), and it can grow based on the bandwidth cost (how much or many streams are being watched and accessed annually or monthly).  We user a provider who charges a flat rate for both (storage and bandwidth) so it’s an easy to manage operational cost year after year.  The storage is unlimited and so is the bandwidth – a great feature.

The next feature everyone else really should examine is, well – FEATURE SET:

Just what are you getting for your money?  Do certain features cost more or are all features offered under a flat rate?  Do certain providers offer the same features that are referenced differently or not offer certain features at all.  One of the more significant features today is HTML5 compatibility.  It’s critical for us to have students (and faculty) be able to access content regardless of device.  You never had a student email you and say, “My pencil told me I need a certain plugin for it to work on the paper I bought from Walmart.” I needs to work for everyone, regardless of platform. Other features might include (or that you might consider):

  • user segmentation – (one institutional repository, but aligned with specific userid’s and passwords for everyone who access the service – in some cases some services leverage LTI to do this, others can do so based on LDAP, ActiveDirectory or something similar)
  • LMS integration – this takes two forms, and both have to do with the functional ease with which faculty/course designers can add video content to the course.  The method we use follows the process most are accustomed to using in YouTube.  You grab the embed Share code at the bottom of the video area and paste it into a special text area of the LMS. Other more sophisticated (and $$$) platforms do this with a customized API or set of APIs, which you may or may not have to figure out yourself.  For a small school like ours – we don’t have the man power or extra $ to figure it out so we just do the standard copy/paste of an embed code provided to us by the streaming service we use.
  • HTML5 – This is a big one – probably bigger than the LMS integration, but it also hits on an issue that can affect those who are accessing the content once it’s created and published.  In the early days of video on the internet everyone came up with their own proprietary format – because no ‘standard’ format existed, and everyone out of necessity had to create their own. Now instead of people creating their own video format, we have devices begging for a standardization of format (think iOS, Android, Windows/OSX) regardless of the device. So while the market is profligate with devices variants there’s a determined push toward standardizing the coding that video uses to display on all devices.
  • Metrics – This is just a nice to have, but can (depending on the amount of video content and how granular the metrics are) help inform you about the instruction that’s using the videos.  How often are videos being watched completely? How often are videos being watched, and by whom?  Which parts of the video are being watched over and over again? At which points are videos being stopped or paused? To think about metrics in a different sense, what would it be like if you knew what text(s) students in your class actually read – down to the word in the text? This is sort of like what it would be – only with video content in a course.
  • Copyright/Fair Use/Digital Rights Management (DRM) protections – does the platform provide a mechanism (or mechanisms) for addressing this?  If a course designer is paid to develop video content, are there functional protections in place with the streaming platform to enforce intellectual property rights on that content.  Further, does the institution have policy (published and shared with those designers) that there is such a policy and what that policy is?
  • Bandwidth constraints – Video takes up space – somewhere on some server or server farm, so you’ll get charged for storage in one way or another.  You may also get charged (separately) for how much bandwidth you eat up. Most platforms will provide some type of initial price point and then provide an overage cost. Keep in mind though if you host your own service, you may be eating into the amount of bandwidth already being used by other faculty/staff and students on your campus, so off loading the service might be a good idea just to segment the bandwidth needed to provide the video assets to your courses.

There are other features you may also want to investigate including but not limited to: presence of an administrative portal, being able to brand the content, organize or tag the content, add other types of assets other than video (audio, documents, images, etc.), the ability to add captions for accessibility, the ability to browse the entire institutional library, being able to use the content outside of your LMS (such as for special events, admissions and advancement uses), the ability for the platform to provide a live stream (such as for graduation or commencement ceremonies).

You should also consider what type of mechanisms you want to use to create the content initially.  In our case, most our faculty and course designers are familiar with PowerPoint – and have lots of their lesson content organized using it as a framework.  We used to just put the presentations into the LMS and expect students to download and review them – and sometimes that happened.  More so, though we looked into how we could take the PowerPoints and add voice to them and still make it easy for students to engage with.  The solution was clear – we needed to ‘vidioify’ the PowerPoints – adding the lecture part as voice over to them.  There were several software ‘add on’ solutions we could have considered.  Instead we decided to go with a web-based  (java dependent) screen capture service – which would allow any of our faculty/designers to capture any content on their desktop or laptop screen including audio so long as they could login to the service.   We used screencast-o-matic for this – and we did the right thing and snagged a license that allows 25 concurrent users to access the service in a given 30 day timeframe, for less than $200 annually. With designers who prefer Mac over PC or otherwise, the fact that some of our faculty and designers are scattered across the world and the headache of possibly having to deploy software on end-user’s computers – the choice of a web-based service was obvious.

There are likely some other things you should consider before formally adopting a platform but these were some of the aspects we wrestled around with.  While our solution isn’t the Cadillac of options, it does fit with what we need.  It’s scalable, functional and provides us with a methodology that is supportable, and helps to standardized the way our institution is using video in our LMS and online course design framework.

There are several services that provide this functionality out there and here are just a few that we took a look at:

Service Name URL Approx. Cost*
Kaltura www.kaltura.com $ 14k initially **
Brightcove www.brightcove.com $ 14k initially **
MediaCore www.mediacore.com $ 15k initially **
MediaCast www.inventivetec.com ?
Sharestream www.sharestream.com $ 18-22k **
Avalon Media System www.avalonmediasystem.org ?
Matterhorn (OpenCast) opencast.org/matterhorn ?
Longsight www.longsight.com $ 2500.00

* for a school of our size
** may vary based on selected tier level, storage and bandwidth needs and feature set needed

Just make sure you do your homework and ask lots of questions. Know what you’re getting and if it’s a good fit for your institution or organization.

UPDATE: If you’d like to see a webinar on the subject – take a listen to the one below:

Post Bookmarks 11/06/2013 (p.m.)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Post Bookmarks 11/06/2013 (a.m.)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Post Bookmarks 11/05/2013 (p.m.)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

#blend13 Session: The Perfect Blend, Strategies for Developing Quality Hybrid Courses

Developing blended learning courses depends on a good definition – a definitive definition.

Hybrid/blended courses can’t simply be the amalgam-oration of offline content and things you do in the classroom to an online environment – you must also leverage those pieces (based on course objectives and pedagogy) to synergistic-ally connect. Activities or learning experiences done in isolation are not valid forms of blended learning.  Those individual online and face-to-face components must be connected – those individual components are merely nodes.

What’s the structure of the blended learning course?

Content replicated online is not necessarily a form of blending either – you must functionally leverage them for learning effectiveness.

  • Strategy 1: Planing
  • Strategy 2: Focus on student-centered learning & interaction
    “If interaction is missing, the course is considered to be web-enhanced, not blended.”
    “Content in a blended course does not indicate that the content has changed, rather that the methods have changed.”
  • Strategy 3: Making the Connection
    “Interactions should not begin and end in only one component in the course.”
    “The ideal here would be to have individual components somehow seed other new interactions.”
    “Ping Pong Model of Delivery”: and in this case, the interaction can begin from the online end or the face-to-face end
    “The goal here is to have the interaction help meet a course objective.”
  • Strategy 4: Use a rubric to help devise the online part of the course, some that can be used are the Quality Matters rubric, the Ely-Pipitone Rubric, these rubrics should be (and do) evaluate courses NOT instructors
  • Strategy 5: Backward Design (reverse engineering) Model: Begin with the End in mind – which essentially is all about STARTING with objectives/goals, developing assessments that will demonstrate that the goals have been achieved – and these assessments can take place online and/or in the classroom, this also means you want to develop activities that will bring students through learning experiences that help them meet with the course objectives/goals (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005)
  • Strategy 6: Think through the process of the connections you’ve scaffold-ed

photo[3]Think through the course design/redesign protocols so that the blend has connectedness – by thinking of the connections as interactions the way a ping pong ball is used in a ping pong game. Once a point is ‘made’ (objective met), a new ball (or objective) can be served.

Interactions should have these types of interactions:

  • student-instructor
  • student-student
  • student-content

#blend13 Session: Online Professional Development: Perspectives on the BlendKit Course

Kelvin Thompson

Kelvin Thompson on Blendkit

What is it about the concept of “Online Professional Development” that brought you to the session?

Part of the reason to have OPD is that it helps to leverage some of the same benefits that blended learning does.  Blended learning initiatives sort of begs that things like the blendkit be used.  Faculty don’t want to come to face to face workshops – but they seem like they’d like to ‘attend’ the online modality – similar to preferences that students have. Some of the reasons to offer online PD is that it helps to bridge the gap and help build buy-in by faculty to reinvent their courses into hybrid/blended courses.

Observation: Not many in the session are familiar with the ‘blendkit materials’.

The objective of the blendkit course materials are intended to provide ‘courseware’ and a segment or ‘experience’ brought on by doing professional development online.

Take a look at www.blendedlearningtoolkit.org, which provides, “free, open resources for educational institutions who are interest ed in developing or expanding their blended learning initiatives.”

Within the above website exists OER’s (open educational resources) that can/could be used at other institutions.  Part of the intent of the course materials there is to help faculty to design and develop blended learning courses.  The blendkit also provides a mechanism for faculty to be grouped into cohorts to understand and work through the content.

The blendkit includes:

  • instructional modules
  • blendkit reader
  • do-it-yourself design tasks
  • recordings of interdisciplinary faculty interviews
  • recordings of online webinar discussions with faculty group

All of these are available for use at your institution for no cost. Look up: http://bit.ly/blendkit

The site also has a blendkit course schedule, which happens to give a good structure or unit chronology through the blendkit chohorts.  There are do-it-yourself project deliverables.  The activities included five weeks of encouraging messages, 30 minute webinars, weekly reading and response opportunities, as well as social networking opportunities -within Blendkit2011.

The Blendkit2012 delivered some modifications: LMS use, participant roles, online badging, certificates of completion (carrot dangling), new guest faculty in webinars, additional case study faculty audio interviews.

Check out HootCourse – http://bit.ly/blendkit_hootcourse Check out Diigo Aggregation – http://bit.ly/blendkit_diigo

There are ‘attractive elements’ of blendkit2012:

  1. it was a MOOC, and it wasn’t on Coursera
  2. there are many ways to participate
  3. there were badges and credentialing
  4. Adobe Connect synchronous session
  5. public learning log
  6. reusable materials

See also: http://bit.ly/ak_perspective

See also: http://idstuff.blogspot.com

See also: http://johnoke.blogspot.com/2012

See also: TOPR (Teaching Online Pedagogy Repository): http://topr.online.ucf.edu

See also: http://bit.ly/teach_online

#blend13 – Day 1

So much to think and digest.  I feel like I went to the local well-reviewed five-star restaurant and couldn’t make up my mind about which thing to order off the menu.  Everything was just so good!

I attended the following sessions:

  • Making the Move to Blended Learning – A Faculty Summer Camp Experience by Karen Hesting and Jennifer Haber
    This session was amazing.  I couldn’t stop taking notes and felt fully engaged in what they had to offer by way of ‘stock’ information and by way of their combined experience.  The session was well attended, nearly filling the room.  My biggest purpose in attending this session was to find out what someone else was doing to help further the adoption of blended learning strategies and/or course builds by faculty.  Getting faculty to adopt or buy in can be a pretty tough process, especially since most faculty tend to think “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Education is always in a state of flux – of change, of reaction to change.  There’s no denying that. It’s not good enough to change for change sake, but it is good ‘enough’ to change if it warrants better opportunities for success – for our students if we change up how we teach – and conversely how they could learn.  Hesting and Haber offered some great concrete steps and examples from their own experiences with launching blended learning courses and programs.  The information from this session and it’s related website will definitely help expand what we’re trying to do here.
  • Blended Learning Initiative: Implementing a Faculty Professional Development Program by Michael Matthews and Charles Graham
    This session more than anything spelled out just how to do PD with faculty practically – similar to the one by Hesting and Haber.  While both sessions focused much on the same subject matter, they both went about it differently, and seeing the contrast between the two was insightful. Graham and Matthews provided an expansive process and that was in it’s third iteration, due to launch this coming fall.  They described how implementing the BLI required at least 3 months of pre-planning and data gathering from faculty and other stake holders.  In their case, they’d been tasked by their administration to come up with a way to address increasing enrollment with an ever shrinking amount of resources (time, space and money). Blended learning implementations can address all those areas, but only if done strategically – with planning and intention. Their site, and the related course they developed (and continue to revise), addresses the practical pieces of helping faculty understand how to develop hybrid or blended courses. This is a great resource that warrants some greater review.
  • Towards a Taxonomy of Blended Course Designs by Sydney Brown
    This session was one I really anticipated attending.  As one of the participants at the conference said, “You can’t measure the success of something, unless you can define it.”  For that reason (and others), I feel there’s a necessity to put ‘flesh’ to what blended learning is. In some cases it may be easier to indicate what blended learning is not.  In other cases it may be easier to describe the affects of blended learning or what it looks like, rather than provide a definitive definition. This session went a bit beyond coming up with a definition and sought to describe blended learning ‘types’ – and from my understanding – sought to provide a means by which courses could be laid out based on the type of students taking a blended course.  Brown indicated the taxonomy has many functions – it can help instructors redesign their courses, evaluate their courses and troubleshoot courses for areas of weakness and strength.  The taxonomy seemed to assume a homogeneous set of students – leaving little room to support (within the framework) students who need additional help, and students who need to be challenged more. Her intent is to think through and conduct research to refine and possibly vet the research.  She further indicates that the taxonomy could be used to allow students to choose they type of blended course to take, such as a B4 or B7 or B9 course, all based on the taxonomy.
  • Institutional Blended Standards: Develop to Improve Development by Samuel Gedeborg
    Sam’s session was super-engaging.  Just as the earlier two sessions on blended learning adoption and faculty development drew me in, so did this one, and this one again, provided a contrast – a variable to compare with how someone else ‘does this blended learning thing’.  The great thing about building out standards (and descriptors that go along with those standards) is that it helps to better define – at least at the institutional level what ‘blended learning’ is. This further encouraged my own research based on the idea that an institution can come up with a feasible definition – and then mechanize the use of that definition toward faculty adoption and development. Sam’s presentation is available here.

I still have several other sessions to attend, and I haven’t even begun to talk about Alec Couros key note presentation at the end of the day. I’d never been exposed to Alec Couros as a person or his work.  I’ve got to scour the web to try and find a recording of the presentation the he did – I just couldn’t soak up what he had to say fast enough.  Alec was not only doing a ‘presentation’ he was actively engaging the audience, included audio and video in his presentation that was completely on topic and at the same time very engaging.  He even functionally tweeted at least a dozen times during the course of the presentation – I was flabbergasted at just how tech-soaked the presentation was, w/o being invasive, detached or awkward.  I really did feel like a sponge that had been soaking for hours and was asked to take just another drop of water into my being – I just couldn’t soak it up, digest it and ‘save it’ fast enough.

Still learning quite a lot and I have more to go.

Looking for a Definition…

As I continue to come up with a definition of hybrid courses or at the very least how to put adjectives to the noun I’m trying to get a handle on, here’s a first attempt.  What do you think?

A Definition: Hybrid courses leverage the best of what traditional face-to-face instruction offers with the flexibility, power, and accessibility of online instruction.  Merely taking elements of both and throwing them together into a course does not embody the best representation of a hybrid course any more than throwing a bunch of diverse components together to form a hybrid vehicle.  Rather, the intent behind building a hybrid course is to take into consideration course goals and objectives, best practices in pedagogy, appropriate face-to-face methods and available technologies to create a course whose individual components work together synergistically – by design, not by coincidence.

Monty Python and the Holy GrailDecisions about course design are driven primarily by the course goals and objectives.  Courses can go lots of places and directions – and inevitably they will, even if they have a great instructor, but if they’re not designed with a particular end or target in mind the end point may not be the intended destination. There are thousands of books, articles, papers and peer-reviewed research that points to the importance of pedagogy. Highlighting the goals of a course against the backdrop of a proven and relevant pedagogy sets the course up for the addition of the next to elements: face-to-face methods and online technologies.  Using course objectives as a lens and pedagogy as a mirror, instructors/designers should then take into consideration the differing components of face-to-face and online instruction.

It’s often here that most instructors/designers get hung up.  Everything seems to get pinned on the answer to the question: “What do I do online and what do I do face-to-face?” The answer to the question is not unlike the answers King Arthur’s knights had to give at the crossing of the Bridge of Death – they will were different, but they were all true – that is for those who made it across the bridge.

The easiest thing to do would be to determine all the various types of face-to-face methods that could be used, alongside all the technologies that online could provide and align them with the course goals and objectives.  I’ll grant that course design this way requires an extensive amount of work, especially going into the course.  It requires the instructor/designer to have an awareness not only of the content to be taught, but also to be aware of who they will be teaching, the context in which they’ll be teaching, and to be well practiced in good pedagogy and the available technology.

optimalhybridcoursedesignblendedcourseinstructionaldesignonlinef2ffacetoface

I spent a bit of time growing up in Europe, and one of the things that always fascinated me was the majestic and towering character of the church buildings there.  My impression of each of them always left me thinking how precise and intentional the builders had to have been.  The Sistine Chapel with it’s awe-inspiring back-story (whose designer) had many, many design talents – surly had to have been intentional about how he pulled together the strengths of each element he employed in his work.

I can’t imagine that the work of course designers/instructors should be any less when constructing a blended course, or any course in general for that matter.

Is it blended or is it hybrid?

flvsheaderanywhereanythingSo I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on what many have heralded as the next big thing in higher ed (and in some cases in secondary ed) – the confluence and juxtaposition of face-to-face instruction with the power, flexibility and potential of online instruction and learning.  In two words: blended or hybrid.

Blended or hybrid courses often adopt some elements of what is commonly done in face to face environments along with some elements of what can be done online.  There are lots of learning activities or experiences that can be done in a face to face setting.  There are equally as many that can be accomplished in an online-environment.  I believe the direction of western education tends to swing between the extremes of the times.  It’s either this way or that way. It’s one way or another.  I recall the dawn of the Internet bringing about quite a buzz about how all things online freeing people to learn whenever they wanted to, where ever they wanted to and whatever they wanted to.  To some extent  that’s been realized, esp. when you see the perceived success of things like Phoenix University, Kaplan University and others like it. But aside from all the success stories we see, and even the rise in the ‘flipped classroom models’, perhaps there’s something to be said for bringing the best of both together.  I sort of think of this like I think of ice cream and salted peanuts.

Think about it.

(At least for those who don’t have aversions to either, by way of choice or genetic makeup): There’s something very enticing, enjoyable and satisfying in a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream with salted peanuts.  I recall a professor of mine several years ago that actually used to get vanilla soft service ice cream and sprinkle salt on it.  I was aghast at first.  I thought, “How gross!  That’s never going to work.”  He quickly replied – “Don’t knock it, till you try it.”  I never did try it, but later I reflected on just how good salted peanuts in an ice-cream sundae can be.  He definitely had something and I could (then) see what he was on to.

What if we can do the same sort of thing with the best elements of face-to-face (f2f) instruction and what online can provide or leverage? Instead of jumping on the ‘next big thing’, wouldn’t it be prudent to at least pause and ask if there could be a synergistic coalescence of how we talk, interact and engage with people paired with the ways that technology can help accomplish some of the more routine aspects of teaching and learning?

In the course I teach about technology integration for pre-service teachers, I tell them over and over again that technology should never replace a good teacher, but it can come along side and be a mechanism for enhancing or supporting the learning.  Instead of giving paper-exams that inevitably have page upon page of multiple choice, true/false, matching, and fill in the blank questions – why not relegate such an assessment to the efficiency of a learning management system or online quiz service, freeing up valuable class time to invite students to higher levels of thinking – and engagement with the material? Determine how in-class time is spent based on the question, “What do my students most need to get out of time spent face-to-face that they cannot gain from the online environment?” While many online courses leverage (and even recommend) the use of discussion forums for student engagement (with material, other students and with the instructor), some discussions may need to happen synchronously allowing students to glean from the communication of others that comes by way of facial expressions, body language, tone, inflection and/or the lack there of?

My initial intent with looking into blended learning was to settle on a set of parameters that would constitute a blended model that could be adopted and used by the institution I work for.  Yet the more I look into the issue (and the current research), there’s not a solid, concrete answer to my question.  Even the definitions of blending learning are scattered all over the place. Some of them take into account the chronological evolution of blended learning itself, especially in context with how technology continues to evolve. Some definitions indicate that portions of face-to-face and online are enough to constitute a course as ‘blended’.  Other researchers (Graham C. in Blended Learning Systems: Definition, Current Trends and Future Directions, 2006) indicate that there are differing levels of blended courses, going so far as to invoke specific percentages of online and f2f components to determine if a course is blended or not.

While I’m convinced I set out to discover something I believed to be very concrete in nature, it’s actually more conceptual and far more difficult to define.  On the one side, it seems everyone agrees blended learning is about bringing online and face-to-face together.  On the other, there are so many examples, guidelines and variables  as to how that happens, when it happens and in what context it happens, that there’s nothing super-definitive.  I have to remind myself that often folks apply an industrial age model and thinking to current modern day problems or issues.  We look for, and even want a one-size fits all process – it’s efficient, it turns out a lot of product.  I think however, that we need to allow for courses that are deemed ‘blended’ to be differentiated in the same vein that we look to differentiate in our instruction to individuals.  There are some ‘tenets’ for how blended courses should look or feel, or be organized, but there’s levity within that framework.  I would best describe it along the same lines as how there is fluidity and variability within music terminology.

One of the things I’ve found most enlightening is reading through much of the current research on the topic, especially that of Graham C. out of his Blended Learning Systems: Definition, Current Trends, and Future Directions.  In attempting to visualize  what a researcher from the University of Wisconsin coined as a ‘continuum of courses’, I developed the following model as a way to think about hybrid courses using the various blends that Graham differentiates.

blendedlearninghybridlearningmodelcontinuumofcourses

Modeling theories, processes or concepts helps me to better understand how they relate to other processes, concepts, or theories.  What I’m now focusing my work on is that middle area – the part between the 1’s that Graham terms “Enabling Blends”.  I’m persuaded to think that blended learning’s ‘ethereal definition has lent to the wide swath of courses that are so termed.  Yet it’s also within lack of definitive boundaries that I see freedom in leveraging the best of what both online and face-to-face bring to the table for any course.