On Thursday last week I attended a presentation from the folks at Echo360 about their range of lecture capture solutions. The presentation was hosted down at Camosun College in Victoria. We were delighted to be invited to attend by our colleagues at the Centre of Excellence for Teaching and Learning at Camosun.
From what I can gather, Echo360 offers one piece of hardware and a range of software solutions to capture lectures. The current hardware offering, a rack mountable mediacentre called the SafeCaptureHD, will accept audio and visual inputs and create a video which can be accessed and streamed online. The SafeCaptureHD will also handle scheduled recordings and live streaming which is a nice addition.
The software offering from Echo360 includes tools for Classroom Capture, Personal Capture and Media Uploads. Classroom capture can be used in conjunction with the SafeCaptureHD to capture the computer screen which the instructor is using or be set up to capture a document camera or tablet. Personal Capture works much like Camtasia and allows the user to capture their computer screen and/or webcam with audio. Media Upload allows users to upload exiting video for sharing online.
Once video is captured it is made available in an online environment called the EchoCenter where students can access video relevant to them. The EchoCenter also allows students to create forum posts linked to videos and ask questions and discuss the content of the video. Also built in are tools to make notes on the videos and bookmark key topics. If the videos include a slide deck component, the notes as well as the discussion posts can be linked to each slide in the presentation. The EchoCenter also provides tools for the instructor to see what videos have been watched, the duration of the videos viewed and where questions have been posed.
Echo360 recently acquired LectureTools, a piece of software designed by Perry Samson, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Michigan. LectureTools allows students to use their own device in class to follow along with the presentation, create notes per slide, ask questions (anonymously or not) or participate in instructor polling. I found the LectureTools software was the most interesting demo of the day. The software encourages student’s engagement with the presentation media, allows them to make real time notes and pose questions in real time. As this product was only recently acquired by Echo360 it is not entirely clear how it will be integrated into the current offering of software and hardware. I inquired about getting LectureTools on our campus but the current offering is software as a service only and hosted in the United States.
To be honest I was actually hoping for more of a hardware solution for lecture capturing. Echo360 does not offer all of the recording devices needed to capture the lecture, for instance camera and microphone. So the recording part of the lecture capture still becomes an issue. There are a number of ways to handle the recording of lectures. One can outfit rooms with video and audio capture hardware to capture lectures, of course this means recording can only happen in rooms equipped with the hardware. You can also have instructors bring their own recorders to capture their lectures. This method results in variable recording quality depending on the device the instructor has available and the hardware and settings used. I have also seen universities build “recording carts” which can be wheeled into any venue and are equipped with a camera, microphone and computer for capturing and processing the recording. I think the latter option is most flexible allowing one to capture video in a somewhat stable format and quality in multiple venues.
For me the biggest hurdle to lecture casting is getting the logistics of the recording organized at our institution. There are a number of tools which will soon be available to share video online at VIU which we will be rolling out in the new year. We will then start looking at hardware options for recording quality lectures on demand.