Spotlight

The Audio-Visual Information-Technology Local Area Network (AV IT-LAN) is a combination of a file-sharing system and an archival system for video projects.

With an average of almost 100 video projects (both productions and live recording) each year, there needs to be a way to enable efficient use of production resources as well as a systematic, searchable and thorough archival system.

The AV IT-LAN fulfils these requirements through a combination of two solutions. The first is EditShare, an all-in-one collaborative shared video storage solution. The EditShare Server, pictured in the diagram, provides central storage for all video projects. It is connected to the PCs of CIT's Multimedia staff, allowing each person to work on their part of the video project from their workstation.

While EditShare runs on LINUX, it connects across platforms, allowing projects to be shared between Windows and Macintosh computers. Likewise, EditShare supports Adobe Premiere and Apple's Final Cut Pro.

This is an improvement over the previous manual system, where anyone assigned to the video production had to digitise the video footage on their personal PCs before handing it to others who might be working on the same project. This was particularly problematic as CIT is spread over three locations on campus. With EditShare, the footage is digitised once, and is shared out to the relevant personnel, regardless of their physical location.

The second element in the AV-IT LAN is CatDV. CatDV allows CIT to archive source files, the final output and other media related to the production such as graphics, photos, scripts and storyboards.

On project completion, the producer will clean up the production materials, saving the necessary video and data. These will then be sent to a staging area, where the video elements will be compared to a checklist. The project is only archived once all required materials have been submitted. Once this is done, archival with the CatDV system will proceed. This new workflow also provides for a physical tape backup which will be catalogued to correspond to CatDV's database.

With CatDV, CIT staff can easily search, locate and procure previously recorded footage. This benefits the NUS community as staff will able to source for archival material. It also aids in projects where videos have to be updated.

Web 2.0 is a concept first mentioned by O'Reilly Media in 2005. This concept, at its core, distinguishes between the generally unidirectional character of the old web (read-only) and the flurry of new online applications and services which allowed for user input and interaction (read/write).

Prior to 2003/4, most web services and websites offered information with little or no scope for interaction or information sharing.

With better broadband penetration in the home user market, more powerful personal computers and better programming languages in recent years, web developers began developing services that offered interactivity, personalization, content sharing and content aggregation.

So, the term Web 2.0 is popularly used to indicate websites and web applications which allow people to subscribe to content; share and distribute it; and customize and repurpose it. These sites usually allow for a great deal of interaction and collaboration. Hence, Web 2.0 is often conflated with the term social software. Besides the interactivity of Web 2.0, the term is also closely linked with user-generated content.

Some examples of these new generation services include blogs and wikis and sites such as Flickr, YouTube, BaseCamp, Google Spreadsheets & Docs, Google Maps and MySpace, to name a few.

A substantial list of Web 2.0 sites can be found at Listible's Complete List of Web 2.0 Products and Services. A more visual list is available at Go2Web2.0.net. You can also keep tabs on the latest Web 2.0 developments at the Read/WriteWeb blog.

Personal Learning Environments

What are the implications of Web 2.0 for education?

The affordances which Web 2.0 enables - sharing, collaboration, customization, personalization etc. - has given rise to the concept of a Personal Learning Environment or PLE. The PLE is a new learning paradigm where learners manage their own learning using various software and services.

A PLE is not monolithic software like IVLE, Instead, it is an ecology of personalized software and services that the learner uses symbiotically. Since these software and services are already used on a regular basis by the learner to support his/her recreational activities, they allow for a high level of comfort and productivity. The learners are in their element in their own environments.


An example of a Personal Learning Environment

The diagram above shows a typical PLE. A learner might spend a small proportion of his time accessing NUS resources like IVLE, NUS Libraries, Student Information Services and curriculum websites to prepare for lectures and tutorials. For most part, the student is collaborating with his friends on MySpace, accessing videos on YouTube, uploading and sharing photographs on his field trip on Flickr, participating in a blog on some topic of interest, instant messaging his friends about a project meeting tomorrow and reading up on topics related to the course he is taking at NUS on MIT's free courseware website.

These activities are becoming the norm among students as broadband penetration in Singapore increases and as PCs, mobile devices and software become more powerful. Each student will have a different set of software and services contributing to his/her own unique PLE supporting the individual's learning preferences. This is a truly student-centered learning environment. A significant advantage PLE has over systems like IVLE is that it supports learning outside the classroom, i.e. informal and lifelong learning.

Ideally, systems like IVLE should work in collaboration and provide information exchange services with PLE type software and services. This will allow organization to keep some control of the information while providing maximum flexibility to students.

Web 2.0 in NUS

At NUS, a number of Web 2.0 services that support learning and networking were launched in 2005 and 2006.

Really Simple Syndication or RSS feeds in IVLE was introduced in 2005 to allow content updates to be pushed to the students and faculty desktop.

Our instructional blogs service, called NUS Module Blogs, was launched in 2006 to give the faculty and students the flexibility and familiarity of this popular service to support modules being taught at NUS.

To support mobile learners, podcast lectures were launched in 2006 that allow NUS lectures to be downloaded and played back on the learners' MP3 players.

Computer Centre has also announced the launch of a social networking site for all NUS students called Student Online Community. This site will allow students to form virtual social groups. Collaboration on the Student Online Community will be supported with Web 2.0 services like wikis and blogs, which can be customized and are RSS-enabled.

Finally, a free software called TiddlyWiki will be introduced on IVLE this year. TiddlyWiki will allow students to take notes and organize their notes more effectively for their modules. Students can download this software - a simple HTML file - which not tied to a central server but runs on the students' PCs.

References

In the never-ceasing quest for productivity gains, CIT has deployed SmartSight and Apreso to enable more webcasts to be conducted with less manpower. CIT will also be upgrading the webcast cameras around campus.

SmartSight

SmartSight allows audio, video and camera control to be brought to a central location. Instead of a Technical Support Officer being physically present at each of three – for example – concurrent lectures, the SmartSight system allows one TSO to handle webcast operations for three lecture theatres from one place.

This system has been in place at the School of Design and Environment since 2005. It has been so useful that CIT has deployed it at the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences from the middle of last year. The Faculty of Science is slated to be upgraded with SmartSight in the near future.

Besides the obvious benefit of manpower reduction, SmartSight enables other gains. Much time is saved as the TSOs do not need to travel from location to location. Operation from a central location thus allows recording of back-to-back lectures in separate localities, allowing CIT to increase the number of webcast man-hours.

Another benefit is that fewer encoding PCs are necessary. In itself, this reduces cost. It also has indirect benefits as there are now fewer PCs to troubleshoot if anything does not occur according to plan.

While SmartSight handles a webcast’s audio, video and camera control, it does not account for the lecturer’s presentation. To do this, CIT employs Apreso.

Apreso

Apreso allows desktop capture. Unlike previous generation webcasts which were dependent on the lecturer submitting their PowerPoint presentations beforehand, Apreso shows the students exactly what is on the instructor’s desktop. This means that any application which is open on the desktop is shown in the webcast. For example, the lecturer can be using a PowerPoint presentation, then switch to a web browser to show the students a website.

At the end of each lecture, Apreso can automatically extract the webcasts’ audio, which helps to automate our podcast creation. The programme benefits users as it available on different platforms and allows low-bandwidth users to view the desktop capture with audio.

Webcast Camera Upgrades

In addition to SmartSight and Apreso, CIT is in the process of upgrading the webcast cameras in the Lecture Theatres on campus. About half of the LTs are scheduled to have new cameras by next semester.

The current dome CCTV cameras, which have been around circa 2000, will be replaced with higher quality 3CCD Sony cameras. This will ensure that the webcast equipment is serviceable and provides quality video capture.

Related Resources
• Webcast information page
• NUScast

CIT, Computer Centre and NUS Libraries introduces the NUS Galleria, a multimedia repository containing video, audio and image files relating to the University. These cover various events and activities, spanning the length and breadth of NUS. Staff can also upload their faculty's or department's audio-visual materials for archival via Documentum.

Click for larger screenshot
Click to enter NUS Galleria

Since the 1990s, there has been an ever increasing amount of digital image, audio and video media in NUS. These are valuable in themselves but are also important in terms of documenting the University's direction and growth. More often than not, these assets, once used, never saw the light of day again.

To mitigate this situation, NUS Libraries collaborated with CIT previously on the Digital Media Gallery. This pilot project aimed at providing NUS with a media repository. However, this system was not suitable as it was not scalable. Also, it catered more for video than for media assets in general.

The university required a more robust and comprehensive solution. Enter NUS' Enterprise Document Management System (EDMS).

This proved to be an ideal solution to the University's Digital Asset Management (DAM) needs. With enhancements to the existing NUS Digital Office (Documentum), CIT was able to forge ahead with the Galleria project. The chosen solution allows users who are already familiar with the NUS Digital Office to use the Galleria with minimal additional training.

NUS Galleria required joint effort from CIT, Computer Centre and NUS Libraries. CIT facilitated the project's technical implementation and provided video assets to populate NUS Galleria. Computer Centre conducted the tender and dealt with the systems and servers, while NUS Libraries provided automation and cataloguing expertise.

This project is a big step in ensuring that the University's media assets are archived, indexed and readily accessible. NUS Galleria is a watershed development in the University. Now, all digital assets have a home and the entire NUS community will be able to search for specific image, audio or video content. Additionally, university staff are empowered to archive valuable media assets on their own.


eInstruction CPSrf response pad

The CIT Auditorium is now equipped with the state-of-the-art interactive response system – the CPSrf Higher Education – from eInstruction. CPSrf allows users to elicit responses to questions and tabulate results on the fly.

CPSrf – the Classroom Performance System, radio frequency – is a combination of hardware and software which promotes audience participation and enables instant feedback. Individual response pads communicate via a radio frequency receiver connected to a PC. The CPS software installed on the computer can work in conjunction with PowerPoint or on its own.

The most basic use of CPSrf is to employ it as an audience response system during lessons. This can be used to quickly gauge understanding of a topic. In this scenario, CPSrf works in a similar manner as 'Ask the Audience' in the popular television game show, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?

Users can either plan for questions to appear at appropriate points during the lecture/presentation, or they can ask questions as they go along. The CPS software is powerful enough to accommodate not only these functions but to generate reports in different formats as well as create Challenge Boards (quizzes). More importantly, CPS software allows the creation and administration of summative, diagnostic and formative assessments.

CIT is currently looking into the possibility of a semestral loan scheme and a partnership programme for one-off events.

N. Sivasothi, Education & Research Officer at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Faculty of Science, writes about the recent eInstruction CPSrf product knowledge and demonstration session: Overcoming the "silent majority"