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Thought Leaders in Online Education: Sean Brown, SVP of Education, Sonic Foundry (Part 3)

Posted on Wednesday, Jun 4th 2014

Sramana Mitra: The names that you’re rattling off – are they more of state schools? I haven’t heard you mention Harvard, MIT, or Stanford.

Sean Brown: They are. Quickly speaking, schools that have a business school, medical school, and law school with 20,000 students or more tend to be the kind of schools that are adopting this first. It’s not your Ivy League exclusively. It can be your state schools. Your four-year research schools have the most pervasive adoption of these technologies of which I speak.

You mentioned specifically a couple of Ivy League schools. We’re very proud to count MIT as a very good customer but honestly, their Sloan School is a customer of ours. On the other hand, MIT has been committed to academic video capture across the board for years. They are a pioneer in it. That’s a little bit of my narrow partisanship accidentally showing in that we have a particular approach – end-to-end automated and searchable metadata.

Sramana Mitra: MIT was the first to start open courseware.

Sean Brown: That’s right. There are schools that have committed to it centrally but there are more schools that have committed to it department by department. You could go to a university and you might find that Temple University – in the Fox School of Business – has a lecture capture system built into every single classroom, but the density of video creation drops off significantly. It’s not that they’re not committed to academic video capture. They’re just being considered, started, or piloted in some other departments in Temple. That’s more typical than a wall-to-wall centralized commitment. That’s why I say to you it’s a trend towards adoption.

Sramana Mitra: What is the assumption? That it’s permissible for students to skip class now and just use the lectures that are available on video? Is that part of the assumption?

Sean Brown: Absolutely not. As a matter fact, that was a barrier to adoption in the mid-2000s. Original adopters of this technology wanted to use it for online live classes to replace being present. We have an online class mission. This is a really nice way of letting the teacher teach the way they normally teach but still end up with a broadcast. Those were the early adopters. But then what happened was, people started to say, “Even if I go to class, it’d be nice if it was recorded.”

Just like you said, a lot of folks said, “Wait a minute. Even if we had the money to incorporate this into these classes, wouldn’t that be tacitly endorsing students to skip class? Wouldn’t most students skip class if they knew that they didn’t have to go?” We were agnostic. We were, “Hey, this technology exists.” The reality is that the distribution curve in the research that we’ve done internally is just as you would expect – which is that good students go to class and they very much value being able to watch it again and again.

Sramana Mitra: That is the use case of replacing notes. They can pay attention and not have to worry about remembering because they can play it back.

Sean Brown: Exactly, you nailed it. There’s a slight improvement in the overall performance in the presence of lecture capture. There’s dramatic improvement in satisfaction in the presence of lecture capture. Basically, if you’re the kind of student that was going to skip class and get behind, you know what else you’re going to get behind on? Those hour-long lectures stacking up. How many of us have bought a show on Netflix? That’s what your semester is. Your hour-long lectures pile up. Bad students remain bad students. Good students are happy to have a text and be able to concentrate.

This segment is part 3 in the series : Thought Leaders in Online Education: Sean Brown, SVP of Education, Sonic Foundry
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