Monday, May 15, 2006

Podcasting System Australian Made: Lectopia for Lecture

Lectopia screen image
After I mentioned the Australian National University (ANU) had turned some of my web design lectures into podcasts, someone pointed out that another University had been doing this for years and was now marketing their system world wide.

The system is Lectopia (known in Australia as the iLecture System), from the University of Western Australia. Because this is a system which the UWA uses, rather than something they are just selling, you can get a good idea of the practicalities from their experience. The system has also been used at UNSW, Duke University (USA) and Curtin University.

UWA has 45 rooms equipped with the basic facility to record the audio and video of a lecture, 32 of which can also record what is on the screen directly (screen capture). Their experience indicates that 60% of the recordings are just audio, 25% with a document camera (from a paper document), 10% Screen Capture from a computer screen, and only 5% with video.

UWA also have an extensive set of Staff Guidelines, detailing how to use the system in the teaching context, use in Learning Management Systems and Copyright issues. Copyright is an example of a tricky issue with such a system. University lecturers have more flexibility in how they can use copyright material. But they need to follow the rules, especially if what they are doing is recorded and could be played back in court as evidence.

A real lecture

Most of the recorded lectures at UWA are in their course management system and you need to be an enrolled student to play them. But some are publicly accessible. As an example Foundations of Information Technology (CITS1230).

It should be noted that this is not a polished distance education course, but just a regular lecture recorded, complete with "ums". The presentation is available as audio only for dialup connections and with slow speed video for a range of broadband speeds (the lower broadband version seems to display at QVGA, the higher at VGA resolution).

It happens I have seen an early version of this system in use at the UWA's Albany campus, when a consultant for government. Albany is closer to Antarctica than it is to the rest of Australia, so distance education is a boon for the students. The web based system had an interesting use of the document cameras, which looked like "talking hands". Instead of videoing the face of the lecturer, or a overhead projector screen, a document camera was used. The camera showed the lecture slides on ordinary pieces of paper on the desk. You could also see the lecturer's hands pointing, writing on the paper or highlighting. This is much more efficient than sending video. A similar system is used for screen capture, with the cursor and changes in the screen show as low speed video.

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