The University of Maryland has been using distance technologies for over 25 years. It now boasts an impressive distance learning setup that includes six studio classrooms outfitted with high-definition cameras, videoconferencing, LCD displays, lecture capture, webcasting capabilities and an annotator which allows educators to write over displayed images.
The idea behind these technologies are old, but the equipment itself is new and is housed in the renovated Arnold E. Seigel Learning Center, which is affiliated with the university’s School of Engineering. Every engineering class is streamed live and also captured to be stored for later on demand viewing. The live recording of lectures is what sets the University of Maryland’s distance learning program apart from others.
“It’s not like someone comes in and is recording some overly produced lecture for a subject. They’re teaching a class so as a student at a distance you’re getting the exact same education as you would if you were here on campus,” says Marty Ronning, assistant director of Distance Education and Technology Services at the University of Maryland.
Providing educational equality has always been the goal for distance learning at the university. The design of the renovated learning center and the technology inside reflect this desire. Each studio classroom has a Polycom videoconferencing system and two LCD displays by NEC. They also have Sony HD cameras, a Panasonic A/V switcher, an Extron annotator and Mediasite as a webcasting and lecture capture platform.
You can display images from a classroom PC, laptop, document camera or videoconferencing system on the LCD screens. All digital images are scaled to 1080i and lecture recordings are captured as dual streams that include both a video of the professor during a lecture and any images displayed on the LCD screens during class. This method of capture provides a more realistic classroom experience for distance students who are viewing the lecture after the fact.
“When you’re sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture you can focus your attention on either the faculty member or the screen and you do this back and forth without ever knowing it,” says Ronning. “When you’re a distance student you don’t always have that option. You just ingest whatever the person is sending you, but in this case we give them two streams so we try to get as close to an on-campus environment as we can.”
When distance students watch a recording of a lecture captured via Mediasite they see two windows. One window contains the video of the professor giving the lecture. The other is whatever graphics or annotations are displayed on the classroom LCD screens.
Professors can annotate over images displayed on the LCD screens using a Wacom graphics display tablet and the Extron annotator. The annotator scales images to one kind of output and then allows the professor to write or draw directly over the displayed image.
“If a faculty member plugs in their own PC we flip a switch and the annotator scales their PC to