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OWL-Socrates set to expand

By Jennifer Shen     2/10/11 6:00pm

Two years into the OWL-Socrates website pilot project - capturing videos of classes which students can watch from home - the Educational Technologies Department plans to expand the project.According to Director of Academic and Research Computing Gary Kidney, the program has captured certain classes under the Schools of Engineering, Natural Sciences, Business and Music. Around 10 professors currently use this technology. Kidney said that he hopes to increase that number by encouraging faculty to use the technology in his discussions with them, but the choice to use the technology or not remains the prerogative of the individual faculty members.

"[This project] started out with just a small number of faculty in the first year," Kidney said. "We've expanded into an additional group of faculty, but it is still a long way from being commonly used on campus."

Manager of Educational Technologies Carlos Solis said the project will expand and evolve according to the needs and input of faculty and students.

"What particular products will be behind OWL-Socrates can change," Solis said. "Our vision is that we will make this available in many ways."

Kidney said they started this project because of the maturity of the technology and student and faculty demand.

Faculty members can choose to record their classes through an automated system that includes a webcam, recording software and an optional wireless microphone. The required computer software is already installed in all podium computers on campus, and it is available for download for faculty online. Once the professor presses the record button, the software records the image of the lecture, the voice of the professor and the computer screen the professor is using.

Solis said the Educational Technologies Department suggests this technology to faculty when the need arises. It is also available through request.

Course capture may be useful for students to catch up with classes they miss when they get sick, have job interviews or join a class late during the add/drop period.

It also better accommodates the schedule of student athletes, who often miss classes because of games. Kidney said the videos are useful for reviewing, too, as they are automatically indexed in a fashion that is easy to find the part one needs.

Chair of the Materials Science Department Andrew Meade said he was the one to first officially propose the project to Information Technology.

"I thought it would be helpful for some of my graduate students, who are already working in Clear Lake and aerospace industries like the Johnson Space Center," Meade said. "After talking to the department, we figured it would be helpful on the undergraduate level, too."

Baker College freshman Sarah Arnold said the recording of the lectures of her MUSI 222 class allowed her to keep up when she got sick.

"Also, I am rarely able to pay attention at 9 in the morning, and I am able to get much more out of the lecture when listening to the recording later in the day," Arnold said.

Solis said the technology also provides faculty an opportunity to experiment with different forms of teaching, such as recording lectures beforehand and using class time for discussion, or collaborating lecture series with other universities through podcasts.

Recordings also give students the option to not take notes in class if they deem it distracting.

However, Kidney said the biggest obstacle to expanding this program is the fear of losing attendance. This fear seems unfounded, according to Kidney, since the experiences of other universities and Rice faculty who have done it indicated that attendance is unaffected by the recordings.

Assistant Classics Professor Edward Anderson said the OWL-Socrates website sounds interesting, but he would not use it himself.

"I think students might not come to class because they can get it online, and it might cut back on the dialogue in class," Anderson said.

Viewing the recorded lectures requires a plug-in called Silverlight, which is compatible with Mac and PC. It is also compatible with Linux through another implementation named Moonlight.

The costs for software and hardware are shared between IT, the School of Engineering and the School of Natural Sciences, Kidney said.

The site can be accessed by students and faculty at http://owlsocrates.rice.edu/Panopto/Pages/Default.aspx.

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