Apr 30 2012

Three Tools Every Virtual-Learning Environment Needs

Enliven students’ and teachers’ online learning experience with lecture capture, webinars and interactive web conferencing technologies.

Most virtual-learning technologies fall into three broad categories. These are not precise divisions — technologies and functionalities overlap as each category evolves.

Lecture capture: These technologies have come a long way from their roots in rough audio and videotape recordings of class sessions. Lecture capture system (LCS) use involving hardware and software tools to record fully integrated presentation began at colleges and universities, but K–12 districts are catching up.

Lecture capture can stretch teaching resources and enrich the curriculum by building a growing store of reusable digital resources. The Cornwall–Lebanon School District in Lebanon County, Pa., adopted an LCS two years ago as a way for its more than 4,700 students to both receive information and create presentations.

An LCS records every aspect of the speaker’s presentation, including all the additional materials, such as Microsoft PowerPoint slides, interactive whiteboard annotations or output from a document camera. The recordings are then edited and annotated to create rich, complex presentations for asynchronous viewing by students. Many lecture capture systems also stream live audio and video, providing remote real-time access to the presentation.

Lecture capture lets students catch up on or review class content whenever it’s convenient for them. The edited recording can be integrated into a virtual-learning environment and thus becomes a component of a fully online or blended course.

In a software-based LCS, an agent is downloaded on the presenter’s computer, which is networked with the other hardware (microphone, video camera and interactive whiteboard) used for the session. The software agent integrates the output from the various tools, including keystrokes on the speaker’s computer.

When the edited recording is complete, the LCS automatically distributes a link to students registered in the course and others on a predetermined distribution list. Teachers can also release the lectures on a set schedule. Many systems include tools that promote student interaction, such as polls or requests for responses to the captured content. Results of the polling and student commentary are then integrated into the presentation. Current LCS systems offer high-definition recording and playback at a pixel resolution of 1920x1200 or better.

Webinars: These interactive online presentations are usually delivered first in real time and then recorded and made available for review or first-time viewing by a new audience. In K–12 districts, webinars are most often used as training vehicles for instructors, though creating a webinar is a common assignment for students in virtual courses in the higher grades. With their highly structured format, webinars offer an excellent platform to focus or expand on important topics.

Most webinars consist of PowerPoint slides that are accompanied by audio explanation by the teacher. Audio is delivered over a standard phone line or streamed via Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Using remote desktop sharing, teachers can talk students through complex topics while using a variety of tools and applications to display information on their computer screens.

The technology needed to support a webinar varies with the technical complexity of the presentation. Webinars work best if everyone in the audience has a high-speed Internet connection. There are many stand-alone software offerings that let schools or instructors create and deliver webinars; that functionality is also available in many course or learning management systems. Hosted webinar applications are also available as cloud services.

Interactive web conferencing: This technology takes many forms, but the main focus is on two-way communication over a distance, with the Internet providing the link between locations. Interactive web conferences can range anywhere from an online chat about homework to a lecture delivered via telepresence. But even in its most basic forms, these technologies deliver real-time interactivity over distance.

School districts often use interactive web conferencing to extend the geographic reach of classes. Web conferencing can let a teacher or expert speaker deliver a lecture simultaneously to multiple classrooms anywhere in the world and respond in real time to questions from students at all locations. The North Slope Borough School District, which is administered from Barrow, Alaska, but includes seven villages spread over 88 square miles, uses video conferencing to deliver courses from Barrow to the secondary schools in each small community.

The requirements for the most basic forms of interactive web conferencing are pretty simple — a software application and an Internet connection. Some districts use web conferencing for virtual-learning courses, virtual review sessions for traditional or blended classes, or collaboration among teachers or students at separate sites.

For more information, read CDW•G’s Virtual Learning in K–12 Education white paper.


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