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From CUNY Academic Commons

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Echo360
Introduction

Recently, staff from Queensborough’s Academic Computing Department attended a product demonstration of Echo360 (formerly Apreso Anystream + Lectopia) at Hostos Community College (many thanks to Varun Sehgal, Assistant Vice President – IT). Echo360 is an automated lecture-capture system, a product-line that we at Queensborough have been monitoring for the past few years (see The Competition below).

Major lecture-capture characteristics of interest are:

  • Capturing classroom lectures – voice synchronized with any kind of computer-based presentation, and video capture when desired
  • Automatic creation of major playback entry points thus allowing students to “jump in” to any point in the lecture
  • Editing capability
  • Making captured lectures available in Blackboard and as Podcasts in iTunesU
  • Doing this with little or no teacher intervention or learning curve

Echo360 seems to do all of this and more.

We are rarely impressed with products in this space, because when you dig deep, especially on the technical side of things, you always find major flaws.

From all appearances Echo360 seems to be the real deal. It not only exhibits the major characteristics described above, but it seems to do more and it’s affordable as well.


Technology

Echo360 uses Adobe Flash technology, while most other lecture capture solutions use Windows Media Audio (WMA) or Video (WMV) formats only. In fact, raw recordings begin with H.264, meaning that they can be converted to any desired output format. This makes recordings editable as well.

Lecture capture can be scheduled, or controlled by the teacher:

  • When scheduled, a teacher simply wears a wireless microphone and teaches as she/he normally does – nothing else to do. On schedule the lecture capture is started, stopped, sent to the server, converted to desired format(s), and finally uploaded to the pre-selected destination(s) – Blackboard, iTunesU, etc.
  • When controlled by the teacher it can be as simple as programmed “Start”, “Pause”, and “Stop” buttons on a lecture podium’s control panel. Once stopped the remainder of the process can be as automatic as the teacher chooses.


Editing

If Echo360 has a weakness, it is in the area of editing. The current version allows for editing by a system administrator only, so teachers cannot edit captured lectures themselves. Furthermore, editing is limited to removal of material only, not substitution or addition of materials. The company promises that enhancements to the editing capability are high on their upgrade priority list. Software-Only vs. Hardware-Assisted Capture: There are two ways to entrée into lecture capture with Echo360, the less expensive – less capable software-only method, and the more capable hardware-assisted method. Both require Echo360 server software (therefore a network server to run it) and a Flash Streaming server license (therefore another network server to run that as well).

The Classroom End

  • Software-Only: With Echo360’s capture software installed on your classroom computer or laptop; your voice will be synchronized to whatever appears on the screen.
  • Hardware-Assisted: Echo360 sells an appliance that will capture whatever goes to the projector. This, therefore, supports any and all installed classroom technologies. Whether you teach projecting PowerPoint, a document camera, an annotation screen, digital slides, DVDs, Web sites, programming environments, etc., all will be captured and synchronized with your voice.

The Back End

You will, of course, need the help of your IT department because this is a network-based solution. If there are installation issues, experience tells me that most will be network related, so get your IT Department involved early on.

As stated before, Echo360 server software (therefore a network server to run it) and a Flash Streaming server license (therefore another network server to run that as well) are needed to store, covert, and deliver captured lectures. An Adobe Flash streaming server license can be expensive, but there are alternatives such as the WOWZA server that we are told works well.

Also, in the case of Blackboard delivery, a “building block” must be purchased and installed within the Blackboard environment by, in our case, CUNY IT. I mention this because there is time and a cost ($10,000) associated with building block installations at CUNY. Obviously this would be more cost effective if Echo360 were adopted by multiple colleges and the $10,000 cost divided amongst them.

Sample Rich-Media Output

Click here to see some examples of rich media content created using Echo 360.

Preliminary Conclusions

Is Echo360 a perfect solution? Of course not, but it comes closer than any other platform we have seen to date. Please take a moment to read the experiences of one of Echo360’s early adopters in this article entitled “Lecture Capture Pitfalls”.

Also, please click here watch the first 1:36 of this YouTube video.

At Queensborough we intend to conduct a pilot project using Echo360 hardware-assisted capture in two classrooms with delivery to iTunesU. We will report our experiences at the end of the pilot.


The Competition

Echo360 has much competition including: Tegrity, Panopto, Mediasite, Accordent & others I am sure. Other products such as Camtasia provide pieces of the needed functionality, but are not completely automated solutions.

Queensborough has invested in, and therefore has some experience with, Mediasite technology which works very well, but is not scalable – not easily made available in many classrooms at once. Mediasite is married to Windows Media only, and it is very expensive to purchase and maintain. One thing Mediasite does that the others do not is live Web broadcast, but if you do not need that capability I suggest that you look elsewhere for an automated lecture-capture solution.