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So-called Class Capture is Stupid

October 28, 2011 by Steven D. Brewer

I got an email from one of technical staff in another department wanting to consult with me about setting up a streaming server. When we met, he explained that the faculty in his department were doing "class capture" and wanted to set up a server to provide access to the video files. We mostly talked about the technical issues involved, although I couldn't resist at least mentioning the pedagogical underpinnings.

So-called "Class Capture" is stupid. If you're teaching in such a way that a video recording of the screen is useful, then you're doing it wrong. The time the students and faculty are together is incredibly special and can be used much more effectively than as a memory dump by one person. In particular, you can have students discuss problems in small groups and report out to the larger group: class capture doesn't work for that. You can have students work on group projects. You can have students actually do things and not just sit there. If you do anything interesting with the class time, class capture doesn't work: it would be pointless. To do class capture in an environment like that, you'd need a team of camera-persons and sound persons. And an editor to provide a comprehensible stream of footage. Class capture only makes "sense" if you have someone lecturing. Sigh...

I pointed out that I understood that the poor tech couldn't make faculty choose different pedagogy and that he needed to just make something that would work for them. I showed him an approach that I thought would work. I pointed out that you really only need a "streaming server" if you want to provide live feeds and that for posting files, you could probably get away with just posting video files (probably .flv, transcoded using ffmpeg) and a player like flowplayer. I pointed out that you could put a pretty front-end on it with Drupal, but he said that people just needed to embed their videos in their course websites, so that probably wouldn't be necessary.

We also talked a bit about hardware and OS: he suggested getting a tiny Dell computer and using Windows. I pointed out that you probably wanted more reliable hardware than that, but he said that his department was notoriously cheap. It turned out the only reason he was talking to me was that they'd looked at purchasing some kind of video streaming solution that cost $5000. If money hadn't been an issue, they'd have just bought it, I guess. Sigh...

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