On the Utility and Uses of Video in Higher Education

​Written by Peter B. Kaufman on Sunday, March 15, 2009

The remarks below present seven focus areas and metrics for involving more video and rich media in the OER environment and those parts of higher and k-12 education on the road toward greater openness.

1. Service the demand for video

The growing demand side for video in education—what students and faculty want—needs to be better understood by video producers and media funders.  Educational use of video is heading skyward.  To satisfy that demand, video services and solutions intended specifically for higher education are likely to be built, in part on the order of the JSTOR and ARTstor repositories of text and images, but also drawing upon the collective intelligence of multiple stakeholders—faculty and student users especially.  What lessons can be learned from the text (JSTOR) and image (ARTstor) repository-building/clearing/ business-modeling experience?

As we note in “Video Use and Higher Education: Options for the Future,” a 2009 study prepared for NYU and the Copyright Clearance Center, if we catalyze new work with faculty and library staff at NYU and other universities, we can build these solutions more organically from a range of sources—professional, archival, amateur—and in the process leverage moving image collections now being digitized and cleared across such cultural and educational institutions as the Library of Congress, National Archives, BBC, MIT, UC Berkeley, and USC.  The assets in customized audiovisual repositories will need to be made accessible across multiple formats and platforms and be rendered searchable through keyword application and intensive metadata preparation and tagging.  Repository assets will need to be rights-cleared, cataloged, tested with teams of faculty and students, and preserved in robust file formats.  Once these repositories are being built—in fields such as history, medicine, public policy, for example—producers and funders of new video will have the requirements of these educational repositories in mind (see item 6, below), much as they now take the web, iTunes, and DVDs into account today.  NYU Libraries, home to NYU’s unique Avery Fischer Collection of media, is excited to work with Intelligent Television to serve as a leading locus of this effort.  An executive summary of our forthcoming 2009 research paper will be posted here shortly.1  

2.  Study educational uses of video

Satisfying this growing demand for video—and open educational resources generally—ought not to “stop at the point of provision.”  Research and feedback loops for video use need to be monitored and adjusted, much as the Open Learning Network initiative from Open University and Carnegie-Mellon describes how “capacity-building and research [for OER] need to happen at the same time”—and in the context of understanding societal needs.

Columbia University’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning and other institutions are beginning to propose the establishment of one or more “educational video commons”—laboratory-like research environments for video use in particular where university faculty and staff can capture and monitor the ways in which openly available video assets from various points of provenance is put to educational use across a variety of disciplines.  A model of this new kind of collaboration between CCNMTL and WGBH over how to deploy legacy assets cleared for the purpose of education in various university course curricula from the 13-hour 1983 PBS documentary “Vietnam” A Television History” is illustrative:

CCNMTL is excited to help build new prototypes of this educational video commons, leveraging the Hewlett Foundation-supported work Intelligent Television has conducted at the Center and this “Vietnam” project which we helped to design and fund.

3. Clear rights for OER and open content

The legal regimes governing the rights to moving image assets are complex and need to be better understood if more video is to be cleared and made available for education—and open educational resources in particular.  WGBH has provided leadership (2008’s Public Broadcasting and Private Rights symposium involving private rights holders and especially unions and guilds was notable) and Duke University’s Center for the Public Domain and the Center for Social Media’s work on fair use and now OCW rights has been most useful.  The BBC too has been leading conceptually with efforts to establish a BBC Creative Archive, but as a current report from a recent “Beebcamp” illustrates, “The rights issue [is] never solved. For a 3 minute news package, content came from lots of different rights owners, so assessing the rights for an archive is functionality almost impossible. One problem with the Beethoven release was that they discovered at the last moment that there was a freelance conductor and they weren’t sure about the rights….”2

The opportunity now exists to dissect the rights anatomy of a modern film clip head-on and make this complexity fully understandable to all relevant stakeholders in teaching and learning and thus make video and a/v rights generally less daunting.  With new annotation tools from Google/YouTube, Michigan State’s MediaMatrix, and Columbia’s VITAL and others, the opportunity now exists to explain in a short film with annotation on the video itself how the anatomy of rights in the clip3 get sourced and can be cleared.

Channel 13/WNET is excited to play a leadership role with Intelligent Television in developing such a demonstration as part of our joint Hewlett Foundation-supported project on open video using pieces of new public media assets and older legacy materials.  General media platforms such as YouTube have signaled an interest in new rights regimes for educational video4 (but see below).

4. Open distribution

The distribution of video assets has blown open on platforms such as YouTube and MySpace — an estimated 13 hours worth of video get uploaded to YouTube every minute.  But the opportunity both to a) prompt the systematic distribution of high-quality video and b) make that distribution take place in truly “openly” accessible environments using open source/FLOSS video technologies has yet to take place.

The good news is, it will.  Opportunities now exist to seed video into open-access-oriented portals and communities—taking several small private steps and one giant public step.  Small private steps involve harvesting legacy video and producing new video assets for actively used sites now dedicated to education—from existing components of CCNMTL’s video commons, the University of Toronto’s Open Oasis (http://openoasis.org/), Stanford University’s Open Culture website and blog (http://www.oculture.com/), and the forthcoming work of Children’s Television Workshop and the Cooney Center—as well as the Intelligent Channel we too hope to build online in 2010.  Small steps also include seeding video in learning games such as productions in the Learning Games Network (http://www.learninggamesnetwork.org/), given that gaming has a larger market presence that many other forms of media.  
The large opportunity involves Wikipedia.  Recently the Wikipedia Foundation received a grant from the Mozilla Foundation to make video available on Wikipedia—specifically to make video available in the non-proprietary, open source video codec Ogg Theora, which is different from proprietary players such as QuickTime (owned by Apple), Flash (Adobe), and Real (Real Networks).5   Ogg players are available in various places today, including for some of the filmic assets of the Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org/details/movies), but Wikipedia will mandate that Ogg-encoded assets be made available for liberal reuse by the public in accordance with its GNU free documentation public license (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Copyrights).  When that happens, in an online universe that returns Wikipedia entries for almost every search for a proper name or creative work, the video universe will truly open wide.

The opportunity now exists to work with Columbia, Stanford, CTW, and rich public domain archives including the National Archives—the Smithsonian Institution is ready!6 —to harvest audiovisual assets and provide them to Wikipedia.  These can be elaborate new productions, digitized legacy assets, and segments of lectures and interviews, including materials funded by Hewlett at Yale, Columbia, and Thirteen/WNET, for example.

5. Prepare new tools

Plato explains in the “Protagoras” that books may be inferior to people—books cannot talk back:

If a man were to go and consult Pericles or any of our great speakers about these matters, he might perhaps hear as fine a discourse; but then when one has a question to ask of any of them, like books, they can neither answer nor ask; and if any one challenges the least particular of their speech, they go ringing on in a long harangue, like brazen pots, which when they are struck continue to sound unless some one puts his hand upon them; whereas our friend Protagoras can not only make a good speech, as he has already shown, but when he is asked a question he can answer briefly; and when he asks he will wait and hear the answer; and this is a very rare gift.7


Online environments will render Plato’s objection partially otiose not only for text and images but for video as well.  YouTube is opening up interactive annotations:


Universities across the world have been building editing and annotation tools — we have been supporting Michigan State’s Media Matrix — (http://matrix.msu.edu/~mmatrix/index.php) — and advocacy groups are also developing worthwhile solutions.  Today, the opportunity exists to support a new “Open Video Alliance” of advocates and producers keen to continue the development of these tools in a FLOSS environment in particular — many of which are becoming workable:


The first gathering of the Open Video Alliance will take place in New York June 19-20.

6. Fund new production experiments

Efforts such as the BBC Creative Archive and even the monumental Dutch Sound and Vision Project are sometimes described as looking backward, working to clear legacy creations most of which were produced without knowledge of today’s digital possibilities.  The production efforts that are launched today are indeed likelier to meet with success as deployment opportunities are known to producers before the camera even starts rolling.  Yet the production efforts that attempt to motivate the opening up of resources and community participation still appear marginal


while WGBH, WNET, KQED, and other production powerhouses find themselves producing by and large — though not always — using the same rights and payments models as they were 15 years ago.  Sometimes these old-style productions will be funded by foundations and government agencies — Ford, Hewlett, the National Science Foundation — even as other branches of those foundations attempt to support liberalized use regimes through funding significant demonstration projects in education!

Today the opportunity exists to pluck a single national production out of the pipeline — the public media pipeline in particular — and fund that production in order to demonstrate the rich opportunity for a national, marquee-named director and production enterprise.  We have applied for funding for one such PBS project we are producing on the history of the American South — requesting in 2009 that the Institute of Museum and Library Services provide $750,000 in funding to support the construction by the University of Richmond of a “Southern History Lens” to process for classroom education the new materials and legacy materials we produce and gather for the eight-hour series.

The University of Richmond Digital Scholarship Lab, recently invigorated by Richmond’s new president Ed Ayers, is excited to build this initiative, and the narrative of this proposal, an executive summary of which will be posted here shortly, can serve as one model for leveraging national productions on behalf of open education (clearing all components is a huge part of the plan.  Many other PBS productions in development and production would benefit from such support — http://www.current.org/pipeline/ — and would in turn provide benefits to the educational initiatives we discuss above.  Thirteen/WNET and other public television producers would be delighted to participate in the development and production of such showcase national projects.  As a recent Yale Law School paper notes, the design features of new cooperative models of media production matter a great deal—at the start!8

7. Study and experiment with sustainability

Finally, video producers and funders need to find new ways to make their video productions sustainable.  Challenges abound for subscription models and pay-per-view models of content.9 The U.K. government agency JISC has commissioned Intelligent Television to study sponsorship models in the commercial world for highbrow content and see what lessons can be applied for noncommercial cultural and educational institutions.  Likewise, Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media has commissioned Intelligent Television to interview funders to determine what monies are being spent on media, media policy, and media infrastructure—a six-month project that will conclude with a landscape white paper and convening of 50 or so major media funders in the summer of 2009.

The opportunity here may be to redirect some media funding into explicit explorations of new sustainability models.  Fox has established just such an experimentation environment with MySpace’s Slingshot Labs (http://www.slingshotlabs.com/), which provides a startup environment for media investments.  A similar initiative for educational video would be welcome!

While video use is skyrocketing, and screens become even more ubiquitous on phones, cameras, laptops, smartboards and beyond, much remains to be done to see that moving images become more useful as open educational resources.


1) See also: Paul Rissmandel, “Advanced Learning: Education Year in Review,” February 12, 2009, online at http://www.streamingmedia.com/article.asp?id=10966&page=1

2) http://strange.corante.com/2009/02/19/beebcamp-co-creating-content-with-bbc-stuff

3) See: http://library.wustl.edu/units/spec/filmandmedia/  Thanks to David Rowntree, who presented this diagram at our “Harlem on Film” planning session last year.

4) On YouTube and Creative Commons, see: http://www.youtube.com/blog?entry=Mp1pWVLh3_Y

5) http://blog.wikimedia.org/2009/01/26/mozilla-and-wikimedia-join-forces-to-support-open-video/

6) See Lee Rainie citing Smithsonian’s Michael Edson’s paper, “Imagining a Smithsonian Commons,” at: http://smithsonian20.typepad.com/blog/2009/01/from-lee-rainie-director-pew-internet-american-life-project-.html and http://smithsonian20.si.edu/schedule.html

7) See: http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/protagoras.html.  Thanks to Arthur Beckman.

8) See: Leah Belsky, Byron Kahr, and Yochai Benkler, “Everything in Its Right Place: Social Cooperation and the Production and Distribution of Creative Works,” online at http://commonsresearch.wdfiles.com/local—files/fc2008-paper1/Belsky_Kahr_Benkler_Revised.pdf

9) See: “Online Video: Hulu Who?” The Economist, February 5, 2009, online at: http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13059735.  Lessons in creative destruction from Asian markets are particularly relevant.  The last major-studio DVD producer pulled out of South Korea in 2008, as sales became negligible in a broadband-saturated world marked by ubiquitous file-sharing.