Technologies for broadcasting your class

Last week at Enriching Scholarship here at the University of Michigan, Perry Samson — Thurnau Professor, founder of the Weather Underground, and co-founder of LectureTools — discussed a set of technologies for broadcasting your class. He uses these technologies to broadcast to remote students while other students are simultaneously in his classroom. I was so intrigued by his demonstration, I asked for, and today I received, a demonstration in my office by one of the sales people with the company. What follows are my impressions of the system, based on both his presentation and her demonstration.

These are the tools that Perry uses in his class:

These tools fit together well, but it was a bit confusing for me to get my head around. I’’ll try to give you a sense of what each piece does.

Splashtop is the easiest for me to understand, and the one that most people probably have the most immediate use for. At the most basic level, it mirrors your computer’s desktop on your iPad. In a classroom, it allows you to use your iPad as you walk around the room as the ultimate remote. You can control slide navigation while also being able to annotate the slides through your iPad’s interface. I never go anywhere without my Kensington wireless presentation remote; I appreciate being untethered from the lectern. However, walking around with the whole interface in my hands sounds like a real win-win.

LectureTools is more complicated to understand. This is a cloud-based service to which a professor uploads a PowerPoint or Keynote file. The professor, over the course of a semester, can upload all of his or her slides for a class. The service reads in the presentation file. In addition, the professor can insert what are called “interactive slides.” On these slides, the professor puts either a multiple choice question, a free response text question, a list of items (that students are to then rank order), an image (that students can point on), or a multimedia slide. At the appropriate time, the professor makes the slide visible to the class, and each student participates in the class by indicating an answer, writing a response, ordering the items, or pointing out an important part of the image. As the students are submitting their answers, LectureTools is collecting and/or summarizing these responses. The professor can them immediately share the students’ answers with the class and comment on anything interesting that pops up. This is quite a useful tool. It’s like a clicker on steroids.

Students, remote and local either log into the LectureTools Web site or use the iPad application to access the service. This gives the student access to a cloud-based copy of the presentation. This then gives the students the ability to do several things:

  • The student can take notes in a text area to the right of the slide area. These are not shared with anyone.
  • The student can draw directly on the slide; again, this information is not shared with anyone.
  • The student can type in a question that is immediately transferred to the professor’s dashboard. The student can see a list of all the questions (and associated answers, if the professor or an aide has provided any) that she has asked as well as those asked by other students. This ability to ask questions anonymously in this way has dramatically increased the number of students who ask questions during class according to the results of some experiments Perry has run.
  • The student can click on an icon to indicate that he/she is confused by the slide. The professor can see for any particular slide what percentage of students are confused.
  • The student can click on an icon to bookmark the slide if he/she thinks it is important to review later.

I found LectureTools to be a compelling tool. It is a bit rough around the edges, and is clearly still being developed, but I wouldn’t have any issues with using it in its current state in any class that I am presenting with PowerPoint or Keynote files.

Finally, Wirecast and Wowza are a program and a service that seem to go hand-in-hand. Wirecast allows the professor to produce live webcasts. You would either have to be fairly technically literate or have an assistant helping you out during a class, but this program would allow you to either broadcast from a classroom or anywhere on the road — on location at a company, in a hotel room, while interviewing someone at their work site…whatever you want. It’s a highly capable piece of software. Wowza is the service that broadcasts the stream to the Internet audience; it acts as the broadcast station on which your show (Wirecast) appears.

I can see the usefulness of a couple of these separately and all of them together. What alternatives are there? What am I missing? Have any of you had any experience with these, or competing, technologies? I would love to hear from you.

4 thoughts on “Technologies for broadcasting your class”

  1. The first thing I would think would be to wonder why all four of these platforms could not be integrated into one another. If educators are using all four at once, why not develop a platform that seamlessly integrates all four? Also, the issue for the webcast and live stream would be to get people to actually use them. While the percentage is growing, I do not know if it has become mainstream enough yet. On that note as well, do these streams only play while live, or do they stay up on the site for later viewing, as that would be a huge asset to both teachers and students.

  2. AJ – Thanks! First comment on the site!

    They could be integrated, but they serve four separate needs and have four different sets of competitors. I’m sure there are integrators out there selling their services who would be glad to show you how to integrate these four tools (or some other four tools). Also, what if you, as a faculty member, didn’t want, for example, Splashtop? You wouldn’t want to pay for it or complicate your installation with it. Similarly, what if you didn’t want LectureTools because you never lectured to a live audience?

    I would think the problem of getting people to actually use the webcast and live streaming is going to be smaller and smaller. Many schools have online classes — more schools and more classes all the time. There are your users right there.

    Also, the streams are able to be viewed live and are also saved for later distribution. And, yes, that’s a big deal to all concerned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *