Capturing results at South Denmark University
A 15-year commitment to lecture capture at South Denmark University (SDU) has come to fruition with an extensive system that is having a tangible impact on pass rates. Charlotte Ashley finds out more.
"We’ve being doing lecture capture since 2001, but things sped up a lot in 2011 as it became an integral part of the university’s strategy,” recalls Michael Håhr Larsen, project manager at SFEO IT Technology and Development, South Denmark University’s main support service for e-learning. The university recently upped its investment in lecture capture as part of a larger focus on the student learning experience. “Looking back, we had to modernise and have a more blended approach, and move on from what we’d been doing for 800 years and get students being more active in the lecture theatre.”
Driven by its aim to increase student participation, SDU prioritised making learning as accessible as possible for its 32,000 students. This resulted in the introduction of live streaming lectures to students both locally and internationally, with some as far afield as Dubai and North America, and a significant proportion also based at sea on sailing boats. To bring these students an authentic lecture experience, Håhr Larsen opted to install extensive Blackmagic production kit, alongside Sony cameras and Sennheiser microphones, after consulting local supplier Stjernholm, with whom the university has worked with on an advisory basis for five years.
“The main benefit is that students can now go home and see something again to help them put what they’ve learned into perspective. It also means that lecturers can spend less time going over the same explanations from a textbook and more time on facilitating interactive learning,” says Håhr Larsen. He adds: “Previously, if our mature students wanted to study a certain course they would have to be physically present every Saturday, which is tough if you have a family or are in full-time employment. Now they can stream remotely.”
The production facilities help differentiate SDU from other establishments with its course offerings, and has helped maintain the university’s status as one of the top five ranked establishments in the country. “We have a lot of students in Greenland and the Faroe Islands, as you can’t actually become a lawyer there without going to mainland Denmark – so we’ve strived to make that possible by putting our law course online.” The university’s business administration and business management courses also form part of its unique offerings. “We are the only ones doing it, so it is a competitive advantage,” says Håhr Larsen.
The benefit of the technology has also been felt in-house for those students studying engineering or media-related subjects, 27 of which currently work as production assistants in the university’s master control room, overseeing production and gaining invaluable hands-on work experience. “We’ve made the network design and installed a practical live teaching tool as part of the syllabus, for trainees to learn,” says Håhr Larsen. “Mainly they do monitoring, but also live production, things like scene changes and picture-in-picture changes.” The assistant overseeing production can control the vision mixing (including picture in picture and DVE) from an iPad app.
The intuitive nature of the equipment proved a deciding factor when choosing what type of equipment to go for.
Each of the 11 lecture rooms with video streaming capability feature Sennheiser Speechline and EW300 microphones for audio capture of both the students and lecturers. Video is recorded via PTZ cameras or 4K cameras for larger spaces, fed over SDI to an ATEM 1M/E Production Studio 4K, with one installed for each room. The university’s camera selection includes four 4K Blackmagic Production and Studio cameras used with a variety of Samyang lenses (one of which is used exclusively in the university’s recording studio), two Sony 4K cameras deployed for on-location and slow motion production, and 18 PTZ cameras for in-room streaming.
The system is integrated with Crestron control systems, meaning lecturers or guest business speakers are met with a simple two-button push system to ‘start’ and ‘stop’ the capture (if they need to disclose something proprietary only to the room). Graphics, Powerpoint and other media required are shared via the lecturer’s computer, routed via a scaler and to the ATEM.
“The main problems arose integrating Blackmagic with other equipment and older campus buildings with no cabling,” states Håhr Larsen. “Due to having to ensure all the frame-related resolutions were the same, we had to switch some cameras out and work with Blackmagic on APIs and integrations to come up with a solution.” He adds: “Luckily, equipment is not that expensive anymore. Budget’s always an issue. But we’ve come to the point now where funding is in the budget every year for upgrades and further installs.”
Live streams are recorded from the ATEM via SDI on to Blackmagic’s HyperDeck Studio broadcast decks (18 in total), where the production team can monitor each stream from a series of 16 input Blackmagic MultiViews. Professors can also record tutorials and lectures from the dedicated production studio if required. Recordings are made to the HyperDeck’s SSD, and copies can be saved on a central storage system and made available for post-production.
Students can watch lectures thanks to a bespoke Pod created by the university, allowing for HD multi-bitrate streaming for students with varying internet connection speeds. The stream is distributed internally using the university 10 Gbit LAN and onwards to DeiC, which hosts the installation. The stream is provided around the globe via the university’s Wowza streaming servers, which transcode and transrate the streams to provide multi-platform and multi-bitrate video for students. Streams are also distributed on campus when needed; “We also have the flexibility to stream from room to room when a lecture theatre is full,” adds Håhr Larsen.
“The technology has had a rather significant increase in the amount of students that actually pass courses, it’s up 4%.”
Although the full effect that capturing and streaming lectures has had on students’ final grades cannot yet be measured (as most academic disciplines using the technology are five-year programmes), there has already been a noticeable impact on individual courses. “The technology has had a rather significant increase in the amount of students that actually pass courses, it’s up 4%. If we look at the students overall (including non-attending students) it’s up 27%, so that’s very positive.”
“There’s some teachers that don’t want to use it and that’s fair enough,” says Håhr Larsen. The university’s law department is so far the only department to put all of its degree online. “It’s up to the individual, but usually the students encourage the teacher. They use it in one class and then ask the teacher in the next one, ‘why aren’t you doing this?’ and usually that pushes the teacher into doing it.”
Production is substantial at the university, with around 500 hours of lectures recorded or streamed per semester, but will soon increase further with the next stage of expansion at SDU, as it substantially grows the number of lecture rooms networked with video streaming capability. “We’re building another 15 rooms in 2017 and hopefully another 20 in 2018,” says Håhr Larsen.
Behringer X32 rack mixer
Sennheiser Speechline and EW300 microphones
Blackmagic 4K Studio and Production cameras, ATEM 1M/E switcher, Hyperdeck Studios, Multiview 16s and SmartView HD studio monitors
Crestron Capture HD Pro capture recorders and CP3 control processors
Matrox Monarch HDXs
Sony FS700 4K cameras and SRG-300SHE PTZ cameras