Cyber-Guest Lecturers: Using Webcasts As a Teaching Tool
G uest lecturers are often used to give students the best pos- sible learning experience by combining academic theory with real world experience. They are typically subject experts who can bring to life what students only read in a textbook. The real challenge is in identifying and locating dynamic guest lecturers, and then convincing them to visit your class. Now a rapidly evolving technol- ogy may make the difficulty of finding guest lecturers a thing of the past. Thanks to Webcasting a host of subject specialists and experts are becoming more accessible to serve as guest lectur- ers, even though they may never know they were.
Scarcity is the primary barrier to the practicality of the Webcast. Finding sources of quality Webcasts on a range of academic subject matter is no easy task. It still isn't and may not be for some time, but the ability to find suit- able Webcasts is improving. More or- ganizations are creating Webcasts, but more importantly sources for finding or tracking them are being made available. As more Webcasts are con- ducted a growing archive is materializ- ing. It is archiving that is creating versatility. Unless they are accessible at a desired time and place, Webcasts are of no value. Archives are creating accessibility.
While Webcasts themselves are of interest from the technological per- spective, the more critical issue for this article is how to best integrate the Webcast as a teaching tool. This article will touch on some of the technology matters, but focuses on pedagogical
issues related to Webcasts. Specific topics covered in this article include: 9 Types of Webcasting technology; 9 Finding, tracking and using Webcasts; 9 Do's and don'ts for classroom use; 9 Impact on instructors and students;
and 9 Future potential for Webcasts.
While Webcasting offers a great deal of potential in distance learning, as a mechanism to deliver lectures, as way for faculty and students to inter- act globally, and as a way to enhance learning by engaging students' multiple intelligences, this article will focus primarily on settings in which faculty use Webcasts to bring a cyber-guest lec- turer into the physical classroom.
WHAT IS A WEBCAST AND HOW DID rr GET THERE? There is a technical definition of a Webcast. Put simply, it is the transmis- sion of live or pre-recorded audio and/ or video to computers that are con- nected to the Intemet. k more contem- porary definition is that it generally refers to the delivery of audio, video or both of these content formats to large groups either locally or distrib- uted (Boettcher & Nardick, 2001). Schneider (2001) provides the follow- ing good working definition:
Webcasting can mean a lot of things, but if you can produce sound or video over the Web and make it available as a live, real-time recording or provide it for download later, it's a Webcast. The dif- ference is whether you experience the Webcast while it's happening or whether you are able to download it later (p. 94).
By Steven Bell Webcasts are typically live presenta-
tions in which a remote audience may participate, but real-time interactivity is not critical to the definition of a Webcast. Sorae archived events were never live on the Internet, but may simply make available a recorded lec- ture or program. In most in-class teaching situations, live interactions with the Webcast participants will rarely happen owing to the complex- ity of academic schedules. In most teaching situations recorded archives will be of greater use to instructors than live Webcast events.
Streaming media is the software that enables Webcasting. The soft- ware transmits audio and video from a centralized server to an individual's media player. When the user requests a streaming media file, for example a pre-recorded video of a lecture, the server sends a stream of data to the media player where it plays the video on the client computer accompanied by audio. The increase in the number of Webcasts being produced is aided by the greater availability of Webcast service providers, or for do-it-yourselfers, the decreasing technological barriers to homegrown Webcasts. Any organi- zation with access to video cameras, a mixing board, computers for encoding the video for the live Webcast, and a server with an Internet connection can produce and make Webcasts available (Boston University, 2001; Association of Meeting Executives, 2001).
Several converging technological and social factors contribute to the growth of Webcasts. In addition to the growing ease of producing streaming
10 TechTrends Volume 47, Issue 4
video for Webcasts, their proliferation is aided by gains in bandwidth capacity. High-speed connectivity is not essential for Webcast transmission, but the in- creased availability of fast connections will make Webcasts more amenable to a broader audience. Along with tech- nological advancements, global growth trends in videoconferencing are facili- tated by declines in travel as institu- tions seek ways to economize and individuals are more inclined to seek alternatives to air travel. The need for scholars to travel to conferences to dis- seminate and exchange information can certainly be mininaized by Web- casting technology. All of these factors contribute to an enviromuent in which Webcasts can only grow in popularity.
WHERE ARE ALL THE WEBCASTS? No single directory for locating archived Webcasts is currently available. Iden- tifying sources requires a mix of strate- gies. One needs to gain familiarity with the firms that are emerging as leading Webcast providers. This group includes HorizonLive, LearningWeek Live (LWL), CREN, and the TLT Group. Individual universities are also producing Webcasts that can be ac- cessed from archives. HorizonLive is a good example of a firm that is making it easier for organizations to develop Webcasts of lectures and other pro- grams. Their primary business is selling their proprietary Webcasting technol- ogy and services to colleges and univer- sities that want to produce their own Webcasts, ideally as a distance learning resource. Using a technology called "LiveApp" HorizonLive offers a unique Webcasting interface that allows lec- turers to appear via video, allows them to show slides, and converse with the audience via a chat window.
It is through a secondary service called The Desktop Lecture Series, that HorizonLive makes available live and archived Webcasts. Examples of some past Webcasts include titles such as "A View of the History and Future of Technology in Education" and "Providing Library Services for Dis-
tance Learners." Visitors to the Horizon- Live archive will find the bulk of the available Webcasts are concentrated within educational technology and related disciplines. One is far less likely to find, for example, a lecture by a renowned physicist through the Desk- top Lecture Series. But as the use of Webcasting for education expands the diversity of disciplines for which pro- grams are available should increase~
LearningWeek Live (LWL) uses HorizonLive's technology to "power" their Webcasts. Because LWI2s mission is to present programs on the "tech- nology of learning," like HorizonLive it is an excellent source for coverage of education and technology topics, but is less viable as a source for Webcasts on topics, for example, in the physical or social sciences. Those wishing to access LWL Webcasts must register to receive a member account. TechTalk Transcripts are another source of Webcasts, but they are less sophisticated than what the others of- fer. The Transcripts are audio-only events, but that is not necessarily bad; the amount of technology and band- width for good audio is much less than for video (Boettcher & N ardick, 2001). One advantage is that there is a HTML transcript for each TechTalk that makes them easily previewed.
Past TechTalk Webcasts include "State of the Art: Peer-to-Peer Networking," and "Streaming Video Applications: Planning and Delivery."
Other options for Webcasts include organizations and institutions deliver- ing them as educational development programming for members. The TLT Group, a Washington, D.C.-based division of the American Association of Higher Education uses Horizon- Live's technology to produce their Webcasts. The TLT Webcasts are typi- cally geared to the promotion of their mission, enabling academic institu- tions and their faculty to integrate technology for teaching and learning. Professional society members may find their associations offering Webcasts as part of a continuing education pro- gram. For example, the Association of College and Research Libraries is now making Webcasts available to its mem- bers (for a nominal fee). Finally, various higher education institutions are com- piling their own archives of Webcasted lectures and events. Examples include Penn State University, Rice University and the University of Washington's Research Channel. Finding out which universities offer such archives is often a hit-and-miss exercise, but once the archive is discovered it is possible, us- ing a Web page change alert service (to learn more go to http://staff.philau.edu/ bells/keepup/detectit.htm), to find out when new Webcasts are added to the archive.
What about using Intemet search engines to find Webcasts? The terms "Webcast" and "Webcasting" are more common then anticipated and when searched return large numbers of irrel- evant Web sites, a better strategy is to include in the search the desired topic, such as "webcast and terrorism." That search, when conducted using the Google search engine, returned quite a bit of irrelevant sites, but did locate a page with links to a whole series of United Nations video Webcasts of de- bates on terrorism. It also helps to use the advanced search to eliminate .com sources so that only productions from .edu, .org, and .gov domains are re- trieved. As with any search engine,
Volume 47, Issue 4 TechTrends 11
what you miss is often more important than what you find. That is, you may find something that looks of interest, but in reality you may be missing much better Webcast productions archived elsewhere. What is needed are engines capable of finding just Webcasts, per- haps using technology that locates files that work with media players.
GETTING STARTED WITH WEBCASTING IN THE CLASSROOM Fortunately for faculty wanting to use them in the classroom, the technical requirements for viewing Webcasts are minimal. Assuming one has access to a "smart classroom" (computer, projector, soundcard, speakers, etc.) technology, the rest is relatively easy. The universal requirement is a multimedia player. RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, and QuickTime are the most readily available players, and the likelihood is great that one of these is already avail- able on office and classroom comput- ers. If not, acquiring, installing and configuring the player is a fairly straightforward process. Webcasts will work best with a high-speed Internet connection such as a T1 line, but it is possible for a Webcast to work with a connection as low as 56K.
Webcast novices are advised to begin with some exploring and experi- menting on their own computer first. In other words, avoid making a class- room Webcast the first outing. The HorizonLive Wizard will run a diagnos- tic test of your computer to determine if it is Webcast ready. If it isn't the Wiz- ard will provide some guidance on what you need to do to bring the com- puter up to the minimum technical re- quirements. As an instructor grows more comfortable connecting to and viewing Webcasts on their own com- puter, he or she will be better prepared to make a smooth transition to pre- senting them on the classroom com- puter. If complications do occur on the office or class computer most instruc- tors should be able to obtain technical assistance from computer support per- sonnel or an instructional technologist.
The first time I tried to show a Webcast in the classroom everything seemed to be fine, except for the lack of audio. Fortunately I had notified computer support I would be attempt- ing a Webcast for the first time in this room. The computer technician who met me before class discovered the room had a manually controlled vol- ume switch under the lectern. Properly adjusting the sound level solved the problem. So even if the Webcast works fine on a personal computer, delay the classroom presentation until it's been proven to work flawlessly in the room. Another time I found it necessary to halt a Webcast owing to static that made it difficult for students to under- stand what the speakers were saying. I've since learned to listen to the Webcast from several points in the classroom and at multiple volume set- tings to make sure it sounds as clear in the back as does in the front. Despite the few occasional glitches that occur, Webcasts are typically dependable and of acceptable quality.
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF WEBCASTS IN THE CLASSROOM In several respects the Webcast as teaching tool shares commonalities with other types of multimedia pre- sentations. As with videos or DVDs, the Webcast is more than a prop. It must relate to and facilitate a topical discussion. Advance preparation for a Webcast exceeds that required for a real guest lecturer. Instructors should plan on viewing the Webcast several times before the classroom presenta- tion. Like video and DVD players, the multimedia player allow the instructor to stop at points where discussion might be appropriate or replay signifi- cant passages of the Webcast. Where multimedia players differ is in the pre- cision of the controls; pinpoint fast- forwarding, reversing and pausing will take more practice to master. Advance viewing and preparation are necessary to mark important pauses and replays for those times when points must be made and discussion is encouraged.
Showing Webcasts is not without some risk. Videos and other non- networked multimedia formats are sub- ject to occasional breakdowns, but moving into the Webcast arena does ratchet up the number of mishaps that can occur. The extreme worst-case sce- nario is that when it's time to show the Webcast it is not available. Instructors have no control over the stability of the server on which the Webcast is located. As with any live demonstra- tion involving Intemet sites network connectivity is a critical issue. Whether the connection fails locally or any- where between campus and the host server it's a disaster for Webcasting. Other technical difficulties can occur should the Webcast freeze up, lose audio, load slowly or produce any glitch that makes the Webcast difficult to view or hear. Fortunately, Webcasts are reliable and failures should be rare. Pre- paring and viewing the Webcast in the classroom in advance will help instill confidence that it will work.
EXPECTATIONS FOR STUDENTS AND FACULTY It's been suggested that students re- spond enthusiastically to innova...