Over the past few years, students have increasingly asked if there is a way that we let them view online course lectures on their smartphones and tablets. Students are more mobile than ever, and being able to view course lectures on any device in any location is very important to them. Making this happen, however, has been a bit of a challenge. We currently provide lectures in a Flash-based format, which does not work on mobile devices.
Beginning in the summer term of the 2013-2014 academic year, we are going to provide lectures in online courses in a video-based format which will enable students on laptops, desktops, iOS devices, and Android devices to view course lectures. This video-based format will replace the Flash-based format that we currently provide.
Switching to video-based lectures has a number of significant advantages:
- Students will be able to watch course lectures on desktops, laptops, iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) running iOS 5 or later, and Android devices (phones and tablets) running Android 3.1 or later.
- Students will be able to download the MP4 videos just like they download the MP3 audio. This enables them to watch course lectures on planes or in locations where they have no Internet access.
- Using the player on the class website, students will be able to speed up or slow down the playback of the lecture.
- In the near future, the video-based format will allow insertion of short assessments (quizzes) at appropriate points during lecture playback that assess whether students understood the previous material before moving on.
- As lectures are now delivered as simple video files, students will no longer have to pause lectures to play back videos inside of lectures. The videos will simply play on their own with no action needed by students.
- Instead of offering slides in 2/page and 6/page format, we will offer slides in a 1/page format so students can print them out as they see fit. This wasn't necessitated by the change to video-based lectures, but students have increasingly asked for this.
There are some things that will be going away when we make the switch to video-based lectures, however. Most of these changes have to do with switching from the interactive Flash format to the video:
- As lectures are now delivered as simple video files, there will no longer be a list of slides in each lecture section. This was a feature specific to the Flash-based format we previously used.
- As lectures are now delivered as simple video files, hyperlinks within lectures will no longer be clickable. Any links that students need to click on will be listed on the main lecture page for that lecture.
- The "Download all MP3s and PDFs" option will no longer be available. Each file must be downloaded separately (although there will be only one PDF per lecture, rather than one PDF per lecture section, reducing the total number of files required for each lecture).
- Internet Explorer 8 will not play the video-based lectures properly. Note that the Center stopped supporting the use of Internet Explorer 8 for accessing online courses in May, 2012, and you will not be able to sign in to online courses using Internet Explorer 8 starting June 1, 2013.
Finally, videos are almost always larger in file size than their Flash-based counterparts. To help limit the impact of this aspect of the change to video-based lectures, we will utilize Amazon's global CloudFront content delivery network to distribute the lecture files to students. Using CloudFront will significantly speed up the download and playback of the files. By putting files much closer to wherever the student may be on the planet, download times are sped up and playback of the videos can begin more quickly.
We're very excited about these changes and the new flexibility they bring to students in online courses. While we do have to give up some things, we think that the gains outweigh the losses by a significant margin. If you have feedback about these changes, we'd like to hear it!
3 comments - Posted by Brian Klaas at 10:05 AM - Categories: Online Courses