Northwestern University School of Communication

Northwestern University School of Communication bridges the gap between distance learning and on-campus classes with Mediasite.

Northwestern University School of Communication bridges the gap between distance learning and on-campus classes with Mediasite. The Northwestern University School of Communication wanted to offer students top-notch technology to complement traditional class learning. The Distributed Learning Center was created to research and implement the latest technology for distance learning, videoconferencing and web interaction. Prospective students wanted a Northwestern education but couldn’t access programs because of travel time and costs. The Distributed Learning Center selected Mediasite to facilitate a high quality distance learning program.

Northwestern chose Mediasite because of its live streaming function and ability to integrate student participation from remote locations.  Distance learning students experience a higher quality education due to synchronous videoconferencing participation with students who attend an on-campus course. The university captures more than 120 classroom sessions each year, and graduate students record final presentations. The Mediasite benefits enjoyed by the School of Communication have prompted colleges across the Northwestern campus to adopt the technology.

At a glance

  • University wanted to offer programs to students in different geographical locations
  • Mediasite promotes classroom discussion with students able to focus on the information being exchanged rather than on note taking
  • Use of technology extended beyond the confines of one school or department to promote inter-departmental collaboration


The Distributed Learning Center located within the Northwestern University School of Communication has the primary responsibility for helping faculty and students apply new interactive technologies to teaching and learning.

The purpose of the Distributed Learning Center is to research and implement the latest instructional technologies for distributed learning environments, videoconferencing, video and voice over internet protocol and peer-to-peer interactions. The Center provides a place for students in the School of Communication to work with new interactive technologies that provide a joint learning experience for both faculty and students.

“We found that we needed to offer additional resources to continue our top notch learning environment,” said Dennis Glenn, assistant dean for distributed education at Northwestern. Northwestern attracts the best and the brightest and as such it is our job to deliver the best education possible,” said Glenn. “We developed the Distributed Learning Center with the latest technology in mind that would allow students on campus or anywhere in the world to attend class.”

With one of the nation’s leading executive education programs, Northwestern was committed to offering students a solution for distance education that was dependable, convenient and easy to access. The School of Communication had many potential students who expressed interest in our programs, but because of the time and travel commitment were unable to attend courses on campus. “Northwestern was asked by companies located in the Silicon Valley to offer a distance education solution which would make it possible for their employees to attend our programs and reap the benefits of a Northwestern education,” said Glenn.


The Northwestern University School of Communication looked at several other systems before selecting Mediasite as the solution to launch with its graduate distance learning program.

“We wanted a live streaming solution,” said Glenn. “Other companies offered some of the components we wanted, but we continued to search because we simply did not find a solution which met our very high standards. We delayed implementing our distance program until we found a technology that would provide us with a way to deliver distance education that was equal to that of our on-campus experience.”

Northwestern was committed to embarking on the program only when a viable solution was in place. The quality of viewing and archiving the courses was a key determinant for success. Glenn wanted to be sure that the chosen technology would be capable of enhancing the educational value of both local students and distance learners.

Northwestern made the decision to offer synchronous videoconferencing as a way to bring distance students into class with students who attend the on-campus courses. The determining factor was the ability to have students participate in class synchronously. The technology converged and permitted the distant students the ability to attend class with resident students. “The added benefit Mediasite provided to the program was we now could do a live stream and archive simultaneously, which was a critical factor in the selection of Mediasite technology,” said Glenn.

In an executive education program, it is understandable that students will occasionally miss classes. Before employing Mediasite there was nothing Northwestern could do – the students had to go to their professors and fellow students for the material. With Mediasite, students now can go directly to the source.

“The local students demanded archived links to the material,” said Glenn. “We agreed that all students in the class should have access to the same materials. With Mediasite, we were able to offer both on-campus and distance students the ability to access the same material at their convenience.”

“Mediasite has taken the place of note taking and offers students a superior education because they can go straight to my lecture, watch it again and simply print off the accompanying PowerPoint®,” noted Glenn. “I do not allow students in my courses to take notes. If they are taking notes, then they are not listening to what I am saying. Class time should be spent asking questions and interacting between students and the professor.”


Northwestern University is constantly evaluating new ways to use Mediasite. On average, the University conducts 120 classroom sessions a year using Mediasite. In addition, final presentations of graduate students are captured which allows them the opportunity to review and better prepare for the graded presentation to the larger class.

Interest in Mediasite is now spreading across campus to other colleges. “When I demonstrated our current capabilities using Mediasite to the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine - Prosthetics and Orthotics Center, they immediately saw the benefits and made the decision to utilize the technology to create a blended learning program,” said Glenn.

About Northwestern University School of Communication

For 125 years, the Northwestern University School of Communication (formerly the School of Speech) has provided leadership and vision in the art and science of communication. Since beginning as a single elocution course in 1878, the school has grown in scope and size, becoming one of the most respected institutions for the study of human expression and communication. The Northwestern University School of Communication offers a comprehensive program of study in the arts and sciences of communication. Undergraduate, graduate and professional students work with world-class faculty to create new understandings of communication and develop new approaches to improving human performance.