Higher Education Needs an Online Video Strategy, Too

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[This article appears as "What's in an Online Video Strategy" in the Autumn 2012 issue of Streaming Media European Edition.]

In my last column, I made the proclamation that a school or college that doesn't have a video strategy isn't ready for an online learning strategy. I received feedback from a number of folks who said that assertion resonated with their experience, so I want to take the opportunity to explain why a video-specific strategy is important and delve into the factors that should inform it.

Video has moved into the IT spotlight on many campuses, but too often the move is reactionary. Faculty, students, and staff are asking for ways to share and distribute video. When there isn't an accessible on-campus solution, they upload to sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo. While those can be fine solutions for many applications, the lack of strong security gives many administrators chills, as does the difficulty in managing the life span or intellectual property rights of what is shared.

A common, and very reasonable, response is to adopt one of any number of solutions that vendors call a "campus YouTube." At first blush this looks like a good plan, since a campus YouTube should immediately meet many needs and provide a more easily managed ecosystem. But not every platform is created equal, nor are attempts to offer the same feature set.

Choosing an online video solution is no more a one-size-fits-all decision than choosing any other enterprise system, such as email, learning, or financial management. Building a comprehensive set of requirements ahead of time, before reviewing available platforms and certainly before signing a contract, will help your campus choose a platform that will serve your needs for years.

Five years ago, one of the biggest factors in a video strategy was the choice of codecs and file formats: Were you a Windows Media, QuickTime, or Real Video campus? Thankfully, those days have passed. Most platforms offer the ability to ingest and transcode videos in most major formats. Nevertheless, it's a very good idea to get an inventory of the codecs in use around campus. In particular, determine which instructors, programs, or departments own cameras and are currently producing media to find out what's in use there.

Your school likely also has archives of legacy video that is still in use every day in courses and websites. Get an accounting of as many of these videos as possible, and then determine if they should be managed in your new platform.

A critical factor is to know who is producing videos and who is viewing them. On the surface this seems simple, but as we explore just a few permutations it becomes clear that you may need more flexibility than you first thought. You might decide that you want just faculty or staff uploading videos that only students enrolled in certain courses can see. Or perhaps you want students to upload videos, but only for viewing by their teachers. What if some faculty want students to share videos with each other selectively for group project work, like the way they share photos and other media with each other on Facebook?

None of these scenarios are mutually exclusive, and there are platforms that can support these use cases. However, the staff who are administering the system will want to know how difficult it is to manage these permissions. Will students be able to add viewers and collaborators on-the-fly, or will a staff person have to manually create each group at the start of the semester? There's a wide gulf between those shores when it comes to administration time and overhead.

These are just some of the most important factors to consider when drafting your online video strategy. Additionally, not every video should be available in perpetuity, and there is often the need for public access to videos, or limited access for viewers outside your institution. It's important to decide early on how to manage these and other significant considerations. I'll take this up in my next column.

Paul Riismandel is a co-chair of the Enterprise Video Conference, which looks at video use in education and business. The Enterprise Video Conference will take place October 30 and 31, 2012, in Los Angeles.

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