The last time the Streaming Media Sourcebook included "The State of Video in Education" was 2 years ago. The article concluded with, "2020 is shaping up to be another year in which educational video will undergo a deliberate, well-considered transition rather than any sort of revolutionary transformation." My prediction was immediately disproven when weeks later, all schools, from preschool to law school, moved online and stayed there for months to more than a year in many cases, with streaming media proving its role of a critical technology in keeping schools functioning. Two significant revolutions took place. One was the massive expansion of synchronous video usage in schools. The other was the ubiquitous exposure to educational video technology for all teachers and students.
Synchronous Video Takes Over
Synchronous online interaction—by which I mean real-time, multidirectional communication—has been in use in online education for many years, and, in fact, was baked into the very first online learning platform, PLATO IV, in 1972, with text messaging (see the discussion starting on page 6 in this document from 1977. Synchronous video in schools has been around since the late 1990s, with specialized videoconferencing hardware using H.323 over http, starting in 1999 with the launch of Webex, which is still running strong within Cisco and seeing use in many schools. LogMeIn's history goes back to 2003, as does Adobe Connect's. LogMeIn's synchronous webinar platforms originated from Citrix's intellectual properties and are also used in education and training. Another noteworthy and education-centered platform is Blackboard Collaborate, initially a Java-based synchronous tool allowing multiparty screen, webcam, and audio sharing that Blackboard, Inc. acquired from Elluminate in 2010. Blackboard Collaborate also kept up with the times and is now a full-featured, modern HTML5 solution.
It presented recommended practices for using synchronous (live, real-time, multiparty) and asynchronous (video-on-demand) video platforms for education in the September 2019 issue of Streaming Media. The advice then was to use asynchronous platforms for curricular lecture performance videos, since:
The students benefit from the lack of interruptions, but additionally gain the ability to rewind and hear a portion of the lecture again, to tailor the playback rate to suit their available attention, and to take advantage of high-quality captions to ensure familiarity with all the terms used. And of course, the students can watch the lecture on demand to fit into their schedule instead of needing to be in class, well-rested, and ready to go at a specific time.
As for synchronous platforms:
The synchronous online lecture is the worst of all worlds. Teachers need to perform the lecture each time the course is offered. Depending on the platform, students can interrupt the lecture as easily as in a traditional physical classroom (and may feel a strong need to, since they cannot rewind). Students and teachers must be available at specific times, which is not only inconvenient but also risky, since synchronous video sessions are a case in which education trades paint with show business. If there are technical problems with any component of the synchronous lecture system, such as the teacher's camera and microphone or the platform to the student's computer setup, the scheduled class time is frustratingly wasted for many people.
However, synchronous platforms do have their place:
The two major use cases for synchronous video in a course are providing high-engagement interactive activities and enforcement of academic integrity expectations.
It believe these claims hold up well over the full-scale testing applied during the past 2 years, although We've heard few reports of teachers (at least at advanced grade levels) having synchronous class sessions derailed by student interruptions, rather than having more problems motivating students to participate meaningfully in synchronous sessions. In spite of my well-intentioned advice, synchronous video was the dominant technology keeping schools open, and its adoption was a dramatic transformation from the "deliberate, well-considered" adoption rate that it was fair to presume would continue into 2020. Figure 1 tells the story of synchronous video over the past 2 years.
The graph in Figure 1 is of BigBlueButton plugin installations in registered Moodle servers over time and is a useful proxy metric for synchronous video platform adoption over time. BigBlueButton is an outstanding open source synchronous platform designed specifically for education. Moodle is a popular open source learning management system (LMS) used by thousands of schools around the world to securely manage course content, enrollments, grades, and other elements necessary for running online courses. From 2012 until February 2020, BigBlueButton plugins were installed at a remarkably steady pace of around 75 schools per month. From February 2020 to November 2020, installation numbers almost tripled, increasing from 6,947 Moodle servers to 21,065, a month-by-month adoption rate of 1,630 servers per month, which is almost 22 times the previous adoption rate. In fact, the BigBlueButton plugin will become a preinstalled part of the core Moodle LMS, starting with Moodle 4, which was due for release in early 2022.
But the hands-down victor in the synchronous space is Zoom. It can't be overstated what a magnificent 2020 Zoom had, with a 367% revenue leap for Q3 2020 over Q3 2019. Zoom absolutely crushed it and has become a daily part of life for a non-trivial swath of humanity. The company handled the surge in usage with remarkably few growing pains and earned its position at the top of the heap. Since Zoom is a publicly traded company, it is legally required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to file a 10-K form every year, with candid information for potential investors and insight into how it views the industry. In 2021, Zoom warned possible investors of "the potential effect on our user growth rate once the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic tapers, particularly as a vaccine becomes widely available, and users return to work or school or are otherwise no longer subject to shelter-in-place mandates." That uncertainty is indeed the question facing the industry, not to mention our society. we're confident that Zoom's 2022 10-K filing—which should be published contemporaneously with this issue—will show that plenty of demand materialized through 2021 and contain insightful observations about the market for synchronous video solutions in 2022.
While Zoom won the day, that company and competing synchronous video platform vendors have been rapidly adding features to win over users. Google Meet provides a very attractive option for school districts, since many K–12 schools use Google Classroom as a bare-bones LMS and already have accounts created for students. In addition, from Day 1 of the pandemic, Meet included Google-powered automatic closed captions of reasonable accuracy. Throughout the past 2 years, Google has added features to Meet to satisfy the needs of education, including background obfuscation so students don't need to share their living conditions with the rest of the class to participate, plus improved whiteboards, breakout rooms, attendance tracking, "mute-all" for teachers, hand-raising for students, multi-language captions, and improvements to mobile apps to best support students across the digital divide.
Microsoft Teams likewise offers high-quality, classroom-sized videoconferencing solutions for schools with Office 365 subscriptions and also provides automatic live captions out of the box and many of the other features already discussed. Teams is not just a videoconferencing application, of course: It even includes a gradebook and student information system integration.
For both Microsoft and Google, offering baked-in automatic captions using the speech-to-text engines owned by these titans of the information industry is a substantial differentiator. While Zoom has good mechanisms for accepting and displaying caption data, it didn't have the resources to provide that as a feature for free users until October 2021, a huge and likely expensive accomplishment that We're curious to learn more about in the company's 2022 10-K.
Among the biggest players in educational video services, Kaltura announced its acquisition of Newrow in January 2020. We admit to total ignorance of the existence of Newrow at the time, but acquiring this WebRTC-based synchronous platform originally designed for schools was, in retrospect, a brilliant addition to the company's portfolio—although unfortunately completed a whisker too late to be fully integrated into the Kaltura product line in time for March 2020, when schools (and business customers) scrambled for solutions. With Kaltura's IPO finalized in summer 2021, in its first 10-K filing (which may be out when this issue publishes), we can look forward to insights into both its very strong position in the asynchronous video market and its emergence into the synchronous space.
Universal Exposure to Educational Video
According to a survey published in Inside Higher Ed, prior to COVID, there was a strong division of attitudes toward online learning by faculty, based on whether they had personally taught an online course themselves. Of the professors surveyed who had never taught an online course, 14% believed that online courses could produce equivalent student outcomes compared to face-to-face instruction, while 42% disagreed. However, of professors who had taught online courses, 61% believed student outcomes could be equivalent to face-to-face, while 20% disagreed.
A timely work of research is the recent dissertation by Pete Watkins, adjunct faculty at Temple University and director of teaching, learning, and assessment at Villanova University, exploring faculty responses to the move online after spring break 2020. In a survey with a population skewing to junior college faculty without previous online teaching experience, 49.3% reported an improved attitude toward online teaching versus 22.9% with a more negative outlook.
On the same question as the Inside Higher Ed survey, 49.3% of faculty believed online course learning outcomes compare equally or better to in-person courses. We suspect that this much more even split compared to faculty views from Inside Higher Ed in 2019 is due to the widely held, defensible belief by almost all school administrators that the easiest path to moving operations online was to attempt to analogously re-create the in-class experience using synchronous video platforms and, thus, the ramshackle, improvised approach to online course design faculty endured. This interpretation is largely supported by the qualitative research from the dissertation consisting of interviews with exemplars from the survey population. Interestingly, 63.9% of the respondents were neutral or in agreement that "online education can be as effective in helping students learn as in-person instruction." We believe the difference here is the aspirational phrasing: Faculty saw the potential that what they were doing could work well.
In any case, the Inside Higher Ed survey found that in 2019, 46% of faculty surveyed had taught an online course for credit, up from 30% in 2013. By now, very close to 100% have. For many, their experiences with streaming media in that time have changed the way they look at teaching. When trying to improve their online teaching, many looked to popular educational video channels on YouTube and found their own online lecture quality falling quite short on production values and engagement factor. Excellent educational YouTube channels like CrashCourse, Smarter Every Day, Veritasium, Stuff Made Here, or ChrisFix are beyond what even the most talented and highly motivated faculty member could produce on their own, given how much material they need to cover for each course; the time for other requirements of running a course, such as grading assignments; and their other professional and personal commitments.
Performance-wise, teaching to a camera requires both experience and positive feedback before you can find your voice. Many faculty members learned along the way that there is absolutely no shame in using freely available videos from well-produced channels as guest lectures and filling in details that are needed to apply the instruction to novel problems. This discovery may lead to existential introspection about what they can do best to create value in an online course when outstanding video curricula are available that students find on their own to supplement or supplant the teacher's own instructional efforts—and have been doing for many years in both online and face-to-face courses.
Unlike in 2020, We do expect continued dramatic transformation in education over the next year. The closest analogue for the school closures we experienced over the past 2 years is the heinous resistance to school integration during the civil rights era, and it is difficult to quantify how much harm was done. The massive and growing body of literature this time around uses much more reliable data covering more diverse populations, but, inevitably, the most at-risk K–12 students have been completely disengaged from educational expectations and structured socialization for the past 2 years. Revitalizing the lives of such children will require firm support and rigorous, goal-driven rehabilitation that modern public education appears too poorly resourced and enabled to provide. Unfortunately, our anecdotal observations are that the grit required to help such children and salvage their educational potential is too often grinding experienced teachers into a pulp. We suspect that more time will be needed for these children than is available in the school day, thus a flipped classroom approach—providing students with engaging and high-quality instructional material to watch on mobile devices or school-provided Chromebooks at home while working on problem sets with support from teachers during the day—would be pragmatic.
We do more generally expect that online learning at the K–12 level will continue to be part of school operations, although rapidly developing more along the lines of university online learning, with a mixture of asynchronous and synchronous materials. Instead of fully remote class sessions, We anticipate that we'll see more self-paced accommodations for students who are out sick or on disciplinary suspension or for when schools are closed for weather, with office-hour-type online support sessions available for students who need them.
Furthermore, the work-from-home lifestyle has proven to be intensely attractive to many working adults. We suspect that higher education will be seen as a pathway to these "laptop-class" or "pajama collar" jobs and that well-designed university online courses will successfully prepare students for the type of self-discipline required to work effectively without direct in-person supervision. This demand will be met by adaptations that are already underway in higher education.
Additionally, we expect that the next several waves of incoming first-year students will need extra college preparatory work due to a combination of lost learning time during their K–12 education and the current trend of skepticism of standardized test scores in the college admissions process. To guide these students toward graduation within 4 years, this uncredited remedial work would best be strategically done online during the summer before moving to campus, ideally incorporated within a broader curriculum that acclimates incoming students to campus practices, building locations, and avoiding common disorienting experiences.
Written by Liam Moran