Last week I had the privilege of moderating a panel at Vidcon titled “Transforming Education with Online Video”. The panel was a stunning array of thought leaders in educational online video, and included Noel Waghorn, Lead Producer/Writer for the Reactions channel at the American Chemical Society, Malik Ducard, Global Head of Family and Learning at YouTube, John Green, Co-Founder of Vidcon and Vlogbrothers, Logan Smalley, Director of TED-Ed, TED Conferences, and James Tynan, VP Strategy and Operations, Khan Academy.

When I first proposed the idea, I had hoped we could get a handful of YouTube creators on the panel. But as the panel grew, it was clear we were going to approach this much more from the “big idea” perspective. As anxious as I was about the whole thing, I was most concerned that I wouldn’t have enough questions to fill a whole hour on the main stage. This was further exacerbated by the news that we were one of the panels that had been selected to be live streamed. But Jim Louderback, editorial director for the Industry Track at Vidcon, was very encouraging, and gave me the best advice: Just wind them up and let them go. These were truly thought leaders in the industry, and I absolutely knew my stuff. Back stage, as I met the panelists, and we got to talking, it was clear we would have no shortage of things to discuss. And once we were on stage, one hour flew by quickly. I didn’t get to ask half my questions and already I have new questions and ideas I want to expand upon should I get an opportunity to do this again in the future.

As I mentioned, the entire panel was live streamed and therefore a recording exists. I’ve tracked it down and made it available below.

— Raul Burriel

Lecture capture is an important part of any higher education institutions media infrastructure. It can also mean a lot of things. In the context of this report, we’re talking about recording lectures in the classroom and making them available online after the fact. We’ve seen no shortage of inquiries over the years from our colleagues in higher education as to “what’s the best lecture capture system?” or “what lecture capture system are you using?” Usually, the feedback we saw was generally very subjective: “this works for us,” or “this is what we’re using,” without any substantive reasoning given as to why these might be the right systems for anyone.

Ultimately, it made sense that we should reach out to the top manufacturers in the industry and invite them to submit their equipment for testing. For the better part of half a year, Chris Dechter and I have been working to assemble a report on lecture capture devices. Throughout early 2016, we received equipment from these manufacturers based on specifications we provided them, and ran the machines through their paces. I say “we”, although I’ll be honest. My job generally involved opening boxes and then closing them up again when we were done. Chris did most of the heavy lifting, mounting the equipment in our testing rack, connecting everything, setting up the machines, and running the recordings and streams. I did additional recording and stream testing, explored options in the web interfaces for the devices, and reviewed the recordings after the fact.

We took notes throughout our testing, and those notes eventually became our report. We parsed every detail and discussed the results both internally and externally. We weren’t shy about communicating with the manufacturers and seeking clarification on specific elements that may have left us scratching our heads. We wanted to be sure we left no stone unturned.

I’ve been frustrated by the closed and proprietary nature of lecture capture platforms for quite some time. For years it felt that if you wanted to deploy lecture capture on your campus, you had to go “all in” not only with the hardware – and associated licensing and maintenance costs – but also the delivery platform, whether it be servers on campus or in the cloud. But my optimism was piqued at the Educause conference in 2013 when Sonic Foundry’s Sean Brown spoke of a more modular approach to lecture capture, where you could use anyone’s hardware to upload to any server or service. During our evaluation process, we also had the opportunity to speak to Matt McCurdy of Sonic Foundry, who reiterated this platform agnostic approach. It is therefore ironic that Sonic Foundry is the one manufacturer we evaluated who produces hardware which does not yet adhere to this concept. Other manufacturers, such as Crestron and Extron, make equipment that are oblivious to the delivery platform. But beyond that, we’re starting to see manufacturers of production equipment crossing over into the capture realm. By that logic, a NewTek TriCaster can be considered a lecture capture device since it can record what’s passed through it, but it’s overly complex for that purpose, so for these manufacturers, simplification is key, boiling it down to the key essentials.

It was a long process and we know that the industry does not remain static. Already we know that firmware updates are due imminently for some of these devices which may impact their scoring. The report is a window in time, and we’re likely to revisit it in the future and revise our results. In addition to updates to some devices, there are newer versions sure to come out at some point, as well as a spate of devices due from competitors not evaluated here. A couple of things we know for sure: equipment is getting smaller and more affordable. You can wait forever to purchase your lecture capture solution, but if you’re looking for something right now, here’s what we have to say about it.

Please feel free to download this report and share it with your colleagues. And should you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

— Raul Burriel

Download the report here.