One of our most-watched webinars this year features Neil Morris, the architect of the world’s largest, most-automated, integrated lecture capture system. Scratched out with pen and paper during a creative brainstorm a couple years ago, the University of Leeds successfully deployed more than 250 rooms in the fall of 2014. In the first year, they created more than 31,000 videos – and that number has been multiplying ever since.
The initiative has catapulted Leeds – a campus-based university with more than 30,000 students – into a modern, digital campus, and has had immediate positive impact on teaching and learning.
Read on for some of the lively Q&A from the webinar. Neil speaks with candor on automation and integration, why they chose a hardware solution, storage, and what he would do if he could do it all over again.
And, if you haven’t had the chance to see the webinar in its entirety, watch it here. It’s a veritable strategic roadmap to creating a fully-integrated, campus-wide digital learning strategy.
Usually lecture capture is rolled out department by department, school by school, and sometimes even faculty by faculty. Why did you roll out everything at once?
This project was of such strategic importance and had such transformational impact for our students, we needed to do it across the whole campus all at once. The problem when you go area by area is that you have that inequity, that inconsistency of experience. And you have students from one part of the university saying, well I've got this wonderful experience, and you've got other students saying I've got nothing. And it's not fair.
It was a very, very difficult decision to say we're going to go from zero to everything. But once you've designed lecture capture for one room, you've designed it for everywhere. Designing that integration and that automated workflow was going to have to be done, whether it was one Recorder or 250.
The only real difference between scaling from one room to 250, was the work needed to put the Mediasite Recorders in the room.
You have clearly chosen hardware. Is there any software capture in any of your rooms? Why did you choose a hardware solution versus a software solution?
We use hardware Recorders in all teaching rooms. We didn't want software capture for important things like lectures. We didn't want hours and hours' worth of recordings being done by software capture and then having to be transcoded in our transcoding farm. With hardware is it's transcoded on the box, and then it's moved over. And we didn't feel we could securely and robustly capture this amount of content by software.
But of course, all of the at-desk capture, which is done on people's computers, is done as software capture through Mediasite Desktop Recorder. And that gets transcoded in the IT system. But they're generally not recording very long segments. It was because of the duration of and just the sheer volume of recording in our teaching rooms we needed a hardware solution.
Storage is an issue for many universities. How long do you make content actively available for students before archiving? Also, once archived, is it easy for faculty to retrieve and reuse?
Our policy around lecture capture is that we will keep recordings for the year that they were recorded, and one year afterwards. And then they will be deleted, not archived. They can be kept forever if people move them over to a different folder. But the bulk of lectures that the students have seen will just disappear. And that will give us a plateaued storage over a few years that is manageable.
The only growth in our storage comes if all of our 30,000 students start recording stuff themselves, which they will. And then it starts to go up very quickly. So we have plans for 700 terabytes of storage in five years.
How important are Mediasite analytics?
We did a survey before the project, we're doing one as a post-project evaluation, and we probably won’t do any others. We just wanted to take a before and after view of the staff perception.
In terms of adoption, I get a weekly report that tells me how many lectures are being captured by school, by department, by faculty, across the university. As of now there are 30,000 recordings. We recorded 60% of all lectures. Analytics are my survey.
Tell us about your scheduling automation, and how that relates to your Blackboard integration. How important is this integration with your campus LMS to the overall automation of the system?
Mediasite is at the center of our automation. We have scheduling software called Scientia, which gives information to Mediasite; and then Mediasite gives data to Blackboard, our LMS. Scientia and Blackboard are not connected. So it goes Scientia, Mediasite, and then Blackboard. That's the flow of information. The automation means faculty don't have to worry about recording or any of that. They just go and do what they're good at, which is the teaching. How important is that? It's absolutely crucial for us to get that kind of adoption level.
If you had it to do over again, what's the most important thing that you would keep in mind from the beginning?
The most important thing is listening to your staff and getting them on board with using a system that they are comfortable with. We did that by developing the policy and asking for feedback. Those really important things about control over publication came from staff saying, “I really am nervous about lecture capture. I want to be able to control the publication of my recordings.” Just imposing a system that records everything and publishes it automatically would have caused a riot on the University of Leeds campus, I assure you. So listening to your staff is the most important piece of advice I can give.