The Universal Library: EdTech’s Next Revolution

How students actively participate in the learning process is changing.

GUEST COLUMN | by Eric Burns

CREDIT Panopto.pngOver the last ten years, higher education technology and pedagogy have witnessed several notable hype cycles.

In 2012, Sebastian Thrun predicted a future in which only 10 institutions would deliver higher ed through massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Half a decade later, the MOOC revolution has yet to materialize. More recently, online program management (OPM) experienced meteoric growth, creating a $1.1 billion market by 2015.

“In the 1990s, the TV cart was a staple in schools and universities. Wheeled into the classroom from the library, its VHS player enabled students to watch copyrighted films, broadcasts, and other media.”

However, the market has quickly become overcrowded, with supply outstripping demand even as online enrollment continues to grow.

By contrast, the adoption of lecture capture has been a silent revolution. The technology hasn’t received the media attention enjoyed by MOOCs and OPM, yet it’s had far greater impact on the student learning experience.

Lecture capture technology has also enabled the rise of the flipped classroom, which has transformed the way that students actively participate in the learning process.

The Next Revolution

As lecture capture becomes as pervasive as campus email, universities amass vast repositories of institutional knowledge in the form of video. Yet today, these repositories are incomplete, as they lack a type of video that has been essential to classroom instruction for decades—third-party media.

In the 1990s, the TV cart was a staple in schools and universities. Wheeled into the classroom from the library, its VHS player enabled students to watch copyrighted films, broadcasts, and other media.

Surprisingly, this model for consuming third-party content hasn’t transitioned into the internet age. Institutions still largely rely on physical libraries of DVDs and Blu-Rays to present this type of footage.

Physical libraries of media have several inherent problems. First, their resources become obsolete as formats change.

This is particularly pertinent now, as Blu-Ray appears to be the last physical media format. How many Blu-Ray players will exist, let alone function, five to ten years from now?

Second, classroom-only viewing isn’t optimized for the current accessibility landscape. If a student is unable to attend class due to a disability, they may be excluded from an essential element of instruction.

Finally, as blended and online learning become the norm, faculty are prevented from including this media in their course materials.

A “universal library” of digital media assets can address these issues. The library consists of three types of content, two of which are already in widespread use:

  1. Lecture recordings, captured in class and surfaced through learning management systems
  2. Personal libraries, with faculty recording flipped classroom videos and students recording assignments
  3. Access-controlled third-party media, the key to completing the online learning experience.

Copyright law has made it difficult to digitize third-party media, but that hasn’t stopped innovators from finding a solution.

A Solution for Streaming Copyrighted Materials

United States copyright law states, “The fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

In recognition of the fair use doctrine, leading institutions are now pioneering the universal library, building media repositories of course videos, live event webcasts, faculty recordings, online movies, archival content, and more.

Initially, these universities used specialized software to digitize content on DVDs under fair use.

This process was time consuming, so they began contacting copyright holders directly to secure streaming rights for various media assets.

This was a breakthrough. With unencumbered streaming rights, institutions laid the foundation for the third pillar of a universal library. As a result, instructors are now able to assemble sequential lesson plans from recorded lectures, their own content, and third-party media, all of which are stored in the institution’s video platform.

The ability to support all video content, including third-party material under fair use, will be revolutionary.

It will help democratize education by enabling universities to provide the same learning experience to students online as they do for those inside the classroom.

It will enable businesses to improve career development paths for those who don’t have time for traditional education.

And though it may seem paradoxical, building an online library of instructional materials will only serve to strengthen brick-and-mortar institutions.

As demand for online education continues to grow, universal libraries will enable schools to provide controlled access to their institutional knowledge, maintain ownership of their curriculum design, and scale revenue in a way that is consistent with their business model.

Eric Burns is CEO of Panopto, a leading video platform for businesses and universities. He’s spent his career building massive-scale digital media libraries and innovating in the fields of distance learning, multimedia serach, and video streaming. Previously, Eric was a senior engineer at Microsoft. Contact him through LinkedIn