E-Learning | Feature

Lecture Capture Brings K-12 Classes Online

A Pennsylvania school district is using lecture capture to offer online access to classroom content. As one of the early adopters of lecture capture in K-12, the district faced some unique challenges. But, according to Technology Director Ken Dunkelberger, it's been worth the effort.

Ken Dunkelberger got his first taste of lecture capture in an educational setting at an EduComm conference in San Diego five years ago. There, a vendor introduced Dunkelberger, director of technology for the Tamaqua School District in Pennsylvania, to the idea of using technology to record what happens in the classroom, and then making that recording available in a digital format.

At the time, lecture capture was being used by higher education, but had yet to make inroads in the nation's K-12 schools.

"The vendor told us that it was more of a collegiate solution, with the Big Ten and Ivy League schools as the biggest users of lecture capture," said Dunkelberger, who was undeterred by the fact that K-12 had yet to embrace the technology. "We didn't let go of the idea, and eventually the vendor decided to give it a shot because we were so interested."

Not a Replacement for Teachers
And with that, a school district situated in the coal regions of northeastern Pennsylvania became one of the first public K-12 schools in the nation to integrate lecture capture into the classroom.

Dunkelberger said his department worked to get teachers on board with the idea first and spent time ensuring them that the technology would not "replace" the educators in the classroom, but that it would support and supplement their efforts.

"We spent the time explaining the solution and educating our teachers on its value," said Dunkelberger. For example, instructors were versed on how the technology allows students who may not have absorbed a complete classroom lecture to access the content later via the Web and "get up to snuff with what's going on in class," he said.

Testing It Out
The school district rolled out the new initiative slowly, beginning with a "testing phase" using two lecture capture appliances. Developed by Echo360, these portable devices were developed specifically for academic use, and incorporate inputs for typical AV sources in a compact design for teachers to use in various settings (such as podiums and lecterns).

During the test phase, Dunkelberger said the district conducted internal studies and set up a few control groups to try out the technology. The studies centered on the solution itself and whether it was something that the district would use over a multi-year period or not. The student control groups gave the IT team further insights and were monitored and reviewed.

"We wanted to get a feel for how this technology would work if we were to implement it across the district," said Dunkelberger, "before we approached the board about investing in it."

Funding the Lecture Capture System
After all, the initial investment and the long-term maintenance and upgrade costs for lecture capture aren't cheap. "This is not something that you buy for $400 and forget about," Dunkelberger said "We're talking about a couple of thousand dollars per classroom."

Fortunately, the district was already known for its tech-savvy ways before the 2006 EduComm conference. "We've always tried to stay a step ahead of technology, and everyone from the board to the teachers to the administration has bought into that vision," said Dunkelberger, who has been with the district for 16 years. "We're always looking for the new flavor of the year."

When it comes to fund allocation, Dunkelberger said the district's board actually listens when determining whether to put money into a particular project, or not. "They almost let us decide how to spend that $10," said Dunkelberger, who typically spends four to five months researching and justifying technology purchases before presenting them to the board, "knowing that they can trust us to do what's best for the [students] and the taxpayers."

In the case of lecture capture, that approach has paid off for the Tamaqua School District, which now uses six appliances (a number that could grow to 10 this year) to provide online access to classroom content and supplemental materials via computers and wireless laptops. Lecture capture is also used for day-to-day communications with students and parents, who can view three-minute videos on topics like bus routes, student pick-up and drop-off logistics, and letters from the school district's superintendent.

"We're no longer relegated to sharing this information via a four-paragraph letter," stated Dunkelberger. "It only takes a few minutes to put together a short video, embed it and distribute it."

The Challenges of Early Adoption
Being one of the "first" schools to implement a specific piece of technology comes with special challenges. Back in 2006, lecture capture was considered "bleeding edge," said Dunkelberger, whose team had to work out several bugs and kinks to get the technology running correctly in the classroom. And because teachers don't always understand the inner workings of such solutions, the IT team wound up overtaxed during the first few months of its use.

"There were definitely some growing pains during the first year," said Dunkelberger. "At one point, we were getting constant phone calls about a bug on the server that was limiting our weekly reboots."

This school year, Dunkelberger's team will be fielding calls about a new IT initiative: the introduction of 50 iPads that will be bar-coded like books and available for loan (during classroom time) through campus libraries. The initiative will once again put the district on the leading edge of technology, said Dunkelberger, "because we're rolling out the applications- and curriculum-driven devices not as toys, but as valuable supplements to classroom instruction."

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