Learning on Demand: The Technology Behind Custom-Order TV and Movies Is Storming the Educational Market

By Miller, Matt | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), June 2006 | Go to article overview

Learning on Demand: The Technology Behind Custom-Order TV and Movies Is Storming the Educational Market


Miller, Matt, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


PATIENCE MAY BE A VIRTUE, but don't tell that to consumers, who have come to expect prompt--even immediate-delivery of services. Over the last few years, we have transformed into a society that wants everything on demand--from the TV shows and movies we watch, to the radio programs and music we listen to. So why shouldn't learning be the same way?

Considering that kids would be lost without their iPods and TiVo, it's understandable that the way students consume content and expect to be educated is different from the way things were done in the past. And as each generation becomes more technically savvy, this new breed of students has come to expect a learning environment where content is accessible anytime, anywhere, at the click of a button. Witness the growing popularity and excitement surrounding podcasting at the K-12 level.

Even so, podcasting is already yesterday's news. Digital media experts, including those at Business 2.0 magazine, predict that 2006 will be the year of Internet video. It's a forecast that's reinforced by a 2004 study by Wainhouse Research (www.wainhouse.com), which projected that the market for on-demand rich media would grow from $68 million in 2003 to nearly $1 billion by 2007. And it seems to be on course to hit those numbers, thanks in part to new solutions from companies such as VBrick Systems (www.vbrick.com) and Sonic Foundry (www.sonicfoundry.com) that are now making Webcasting feasible and affordable for schools. "There have been people for the last decade or so who have seen this vision, yet the technology wasn't quite ready--the Internet wasn't fast enough; the storage was too expensive; the bandwidth wasn't there," says Rimas Buinevicius, Sonic Foundry's chairman and CEO. "We've been able to overcome some of those barriers so that we can work with the progressively minded institutions and educators."

One such cutting-edge educational solution, launched in April, is VBEduCast, a webcast kit from VBrick Systems. Priced at about $5,500, the kit is an out-of-the-box presentation streaming solution that combines real-time audio and video; live, synchronized multimedia slides; and Web content, as well as interactive audience polling and Q&A capabilities. The portable system comes with everything necessary for a user to power up and start streaming in about a minute. It includes a VBrick Windows Media Appliance to stream video, a Sony Handycam (www.sony.com) with a built-in microphone, and a new software component, VBPresenter, which is a plug-in for Microsoft PowerPoint (www.microsoft.com), plus prepaid streaming/hosting service from PowerStream (www.Dowerstream.net). The kit can record and save presentations so users can go back and watch the webcasts at any time--whether the user is a student looking to review a lecture, or a teacher looking to take advantage of on-demand staff development.

To help districts understand the possibilities of the new digital video solutions, VBrick started a marketing campaign called "Did You Know?" which provides simple one-page data sheets and Flash presentations showing common uses of webcasting for schools, such as broadcasting the principal's morning announcements, cable-TV distribution, distance learning, remote field trips, and various HR training. Another of the kit's creative applications, according to Pat Cassella, VBrick's senior director of Marketing for Education, is that it can be used at graduation to deal with audience overflow. By just taking the kit to the field, he says, a school can stream the ceremony wirelessly and have friends and family tune in from anywhere. He also cites the kit's ability to multicast, which enables an unlimited number of LAN users to view a video stream, yet only requires the bandwidth for a single stream. "Webcasting is an emerging market that is still in its infancy," says Cassella. "But where video used to be a luxury, it's starting to become a required component in the classroom. …

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