2 lecture capture systems enter, only one leaves!

After I did my evaluation of the Crestron CaptureHD and ruled it out as our primary capture device we started doing some evaluations of other products. There’s a lot of competition in this space. I’m lazy and I like to reinvent the wheel as little as possible. Fortunately we were able to piggyback on some of the great work that the Notre Dame executive education program had done about a year earlier. They had a Polycom/Accordent system that they had been running for years and was past due for replacement. They were also getting a beautiful new building and had some budget to work with. Those 2 things are a match made in heaven. Or Notre Dame. Or both.

They had whittled down the competitors to a fairly short list. Mediasite (Their eventual selection), Echo360 and Accordent. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we chose to re-evaluate their top two choices. Their use case is a little different than ours and enough time had passed that we couldn’t just pick their vendor and feel that we had done our job.


Does this mean that I am Tina Turner?

We wound up piloting hardware appliances from Echo360 and Mediasite. They’re in very similar classrooms that seat about 100 students. After evaluating a few cameras (a process which I will write up later), we chose the Vaddio HD-19. We chose the CCU version since it allowed for a very easy install. Simply run 3 Cat5 cables from the lectern where the capture appliance and switching gear live, back to where the camera will be placed. Mount the camera on the wall and plug it all in. It’s so easy that I did much of it myself. With the exception of the cable pulling. (I’m old and I wear nice pants to work. Sue me.)

Since the capture appliances are located in the lectern where the switching gear lives, all we needed to do was add a cable from the Crestron DMPS-300 to the capture device. The programmer had to do a little bit of programming to ensure that when the projector is blanked the capture device didn’t get content. This prevents a professor from seeing the blanked projector and then pulling up personal email or a gradebook on the PC and committing a FRPA violation. As I understand it, it only took him about an hour since he’s so talented. (One day he may read this and I’d like to stay on his good side.)

We already had Shure lapel microphones in these rooms but we had to get an output from the mixer into the capture devices. It had to be a combination of program and microphone audio so there was a little reconfiguration of the Ashley processors. One issue we have is that there’s no capability for picking up audience questions. We are considering adding a boundary or ceiling microphone to pick up these questions but it’s difficult to ensure that you don’t pick up ambient audio from HVAC systems and projector exhaust to say nothing of coughs and sneezes. It’s Indiana and roughly 6 months out of the year it’s cold and flu season.

And almost immediately after we started the pilot, we stopped calling it a pilot. Due to a combination of project management bureaucracy and our desire to keep expectations low, we started calling it a proof of concept. That was an infinitely more appropriate term since that’s really what we were doing. making sure the systems would integrate in our environment. Once we choose a vendor we’ll do an honest to goodness pilot and really try to build some demand.

My thoughts on Faceboook Paper

While this blog is primarily about ed-tech stuff, I also am interested in technology in general and social media so at time I will veer off topic. This is one of those days.

Yesterday about 3 million (est.) of my closest friends and I installed the new app from Facebook yesterday. Paper. Let’s ignore for the moment that there is already an app called Paper designed for content creators. (I suspect to hear about an undisclosed settlement in the next 6 months or an outright purchase by Facebook to squash any lawsuit.)


After installing the app, it prompts you to select a few news categories in which you are interested. Tech, Family, Humor and so forth. It then presents you with a magazine like layout of your Facebook feed along with stories based on your interests. It’s all very lovely and looks quite nice.

If it showed me the content I wanted, it might actually be useful.

You see, here’s my problem with this UI and the direction that facebook seems to be heading. I’ve totally lost control of what I see. I used to be able to sort my news feed into chronological order and have it stick. I used to see everything that my friends were doing. That’s no longer the case. Facebook now curates which posts I see. It only displays a small fraction of what actually happens on Facebook. I have about 120 friends. On any given day I bet I see content from 20. At least 80 of my friends post something every day. Where are the other 60? If I visit their wall I can see that they’re active and posting things. Facebook has just decided that I don’t care about what they post because I stopped responding or liking their posts. Hardly a valid metric by which to judge my level of interest.

My best friends in the world, with whom I interact frequently ( IRL and through Facebook) will post something on Facebook and I may never see it. Often times I will see them responding to comments a day or 2 later but I never saw the initial post. I often don’t see posts by my wife in my newsfeed and vice versa! If that doesn’t represent a failure of your social networking product, I don’t know what does.

Are they trying to save bandwidth? Are they trying to improve the experience? It sucks. Stop it. Don’t take away content and attempt to replace it with things you think I might be interested in. Show me what my friends are doing. Then add. In Paper, I can find no way to display items in chronological order any more. It’s simply “News Feed”.

What seems obvious and where the app excels is creating an app that becomes your hub for consuming and reviewing new content. Effectively they are making this the replacement for the space created by the shutdown of Google Reader. While there is currently no way to embed an rss feed directly, it appears that you get an amalgamation of the top headlines in the various categories. I suspect that’s enough for the average user.

They have also included options for the various read-it-later applications like Instapaper. This makes it easy to add items to a reading list which removes much of the chrome and annoyances that make many sites difficult to read. The open in safari option and send as message options appears to be gone.

If my complaints about the app and Facebook’s seeming inability to show me the content I want seem familiar, perhaps you’ve watched the wonderful video from Veratisum. He details exactly why Facebook is moving in this direction. Hint: it’s about money.

While I will continue to use the old Facebook app for a while, I’ll keep an eye on the new app as well. I do like the UI and find it to be fairly intuitive. Frankly, it’s pretty and I like pretty things. It’s also likely to undergo significant changes very quickly. I suspect that within a year though, the old app will be killed off.

While I love the way Facebook allows me to connect with friends and family, they would do well to remember that’s the core of their business. Not making money. If they continue to make it harder for me to interact with the people I care about and see what’s going on in their lives, I, and presumably many others, will find a new social media service which will.

Google+ anyone? Didn’t think so…

Backwards EdTech Flow Chart

I stumbled on this tool last week and thought it was really great. It’s a chart that shows you many of the tools used in education. But instead of showing the tool then the results, it works by asking what the desired outcome is, then pointing you to the correct tools.



It’s a very neat idea. You could almost take it and convert it to a web site and walk faculty through choosing a product or tool.

Katie’s entire blog is really great. I’d suggest you check it out.


I for one welcome our robot overlords…

Arstechnica has a writeup of an affordable telepresence robot. They affectionately call it an iPad on a Roomba. I think it’s kind of an interesting idea for higher ed. I can imagine a few scenarios where this might be handy:

  • A student that’s unable to attend class due to illness or injury.
  • Distance learning.
  • Meetings across campus when the weather stinks.
  • Attend meetings while taking flex/family time or telecommuting.
  • Long distance dissertation defences.
  • Perhaps a high profile quarterback at an SEC school could have used this to attend class without actually setting foot on campus.


Currently there are a few limitations that they need to get resolved:

  • 8 hour battery life.
  • Has to be plugged in and unplugged. Major Bummer.
  • Needs a flashing light to avoid getting run over in hallways.
  • Can the ipad be stolen easily?
  • At 15 pounds can I just pick up the device and run off with it?

The power and charging issues look like they will be resolved later this month with the addition of a $300 charging base.

All in all, this looks to be a pretty interesting unit that is substantially cheaper than some of the alternatives. C3P0 remains unimpressed however.


Evaluating the Crestron CaptureHD

When I came to this group, the only lecture capture appliance they had was a Crestron CaptureHD unit installed in our large (400+) auditorium. It had been there for about a year and was used to make some test recordings but not much else. An AV tech pacing back and forth, waving at the camera and tapping the microphone isn’t a real world use case scenario so I did some testing to see if it could be viable for larger scale use at Notre Dame.


I used to it record one class for an entire semester. To distribute the files I had the CaptureHD box upload them to an FTP server. From there, I downloaded them to my laptop and then uploaded them to our Echo360 server (currently in pilot). It encoded the files and placed them in a course which I specified. Access to the files was provided via an LTI integration between our LMS (Sakai) and Echo360. It’s a manual process but not difficult. Not at all scalable though.

While it’s a neat product and has some promise, it’s just not ready for prime time. Here were some of the limitations I found:

  • Couldn’t integrate with our Exchange or room reservation system (Not a deal breaker)
  • It records to an SD card and then transfers the files to an FTP server but it has no support for SFTP. That didn’t make our infosec guys happy. This has recently been rectified but the firmware release that added SFTP had other issues.
  • I had numerous issues with the device:
    • Occasional lockups on boot.
    • Some firmware versions would not pull metadata from the Fusion server to which is communicates.
    • Weird issues with recording not stopping at the correct time if it was a recurring recording.
    • Difficulty in scheduling recordings on the Fusion server.
  • It records both content sources (video and content) as one video stream, not 2. That means that if you record it in PIP mode, that’s the only way you can ever watch it. No resizing the windows or swapping them. Same thing with side by side or only one type of content.
  • It can’t stream and record simultaneously.
  • No content distribution mechanism. You get the files and they can compress them on their server into a multitude of formats, but then you have to figure out what to do with them and how to secure them. Not ideal for a low-touch process in higher-ed without a lot of custom development.

If you had no other options and didn’t care about delivering the files being a manual process, this would be fine. I’m not sure it’s worth the cost but it’s certainly viable.

I love Crestron control systems and switching gear and I’m DMCE certified so don’t take this as bashing their product. This is just one of those products that’s outside their core-competency and therefore not likely to get the time and attention it needs to succeed. I bet they drop it within 2 years. That being said: I hope they prove me wrong!

The next step was evaluating other options.