a) An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technologies
There are many times in my career where I have had to weigh up the benefits of different technologies and sometimes I wish we could pick the best from two or three different systems and combine it with something more traditional, in order to produce the best learning outcome. However, we have to work with the systems we are offered (although I have often worked with companies to develop better solutions.)
The example that I will give here is one where I recently had to make a decision about the best technology to use for our learners, when two solutions were available. As we went into lockdown in March, we realised that academic staff would be delivering much more of their work online, almost certainly by video. We had three systems available at the University:
- Panopto has the capacity to make screen-recordings, which can be viewed through our integration in a Canvas module (although they are located on the Panopto server). From there, they can be embedded into pages, thereby allowing staff to contextualise the video and pose pre- and post- watching questions for the students to aid their learning.
- Canvas also has its own video upload system, where a video can be uploaded directly into a page, as described above, but the video must be created in a different way (and staff who lacked technical ability were keen to export an audio-narrated powerpoint as a video).
- Camtasia studio is available to staff and allows them to make screen recordings, together with narration. Depending on the skills of the user, this can then be edited into quite a ‘professional’ video which can be uploaded either into Panopto or directly into Canvas.
Explaining all this to academic staff could be very time-consuming and over complicated. Most of all, we wanted a solution which would require no extra learning on the part of the student in order to run the videos in their modules.
At the University of Stirling, we had already got an established lecture capture system, where staff would log onto their module in the teaching room and the video they recorded would be added to the ‘Listen Again’ area of the module.
In discussions with the rest of the learning technologies team, we recognised that it made sense for staff to use a system they were already familiar with, and making the recordings could easily be done on their own computers in the same way.
However, in the summer of 2020, Panopto dramatically improved their ASR (Automated Speech Recognition). This meant that we could switch on ‘closed captions’ for a video and they would detect the speech automatically and add them as words to the video. This has huge advantages for disabled and international students. I led the testing of the ASR (as this was something that I had already been working on directly with Panopto, ever since raising the issue of the poor-quality captions with them in 2017). I then requested that automated captioning be switched on for all newly uploaded videos in our system in early summer. This meant that any staff member who uploaded content for Autumn 2020 would automatically have their videos captioned. Discussion around accuracy of these is beyond the scope of this submission, but it is something that I have discussed at length with colleagues and with the JISC AT committee.
This led to a decision that all our videos should be uploaded using Panopto. The User Experience for Panopto is very good for the student, allowing playback at different speeds, searching for key words, download of the video, closed captions and personal annotation. Many of these advantages did not apply to the Canvas video upload.
In terms of our advice to staff, it was hugely simplified: You can create your video by Panopto screencast, PowerPoint export to video, or Camtasia studio, but whatever you create needs to be added to Panopto and then embedded into a Canvas page, with some additional context given for students.