Video tech to aid KZN varsity

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Kathea is set to pilot real-time, interactive video technology called ZOOM, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

"This video technology will enable UKZN students to access live lectures from their smartphones and other devices from anywhere, anytime," says David Sales, head of product management at Kathea.

ZOOM, created by London-based digital video streaming company Disruptive Vision, will enable live broadcasting of lectures on the university's portals.

Ismayeel Syeed, technology officer for Disruptive Vision, explains that the video technology is browser-based, meaning that UKZN students can access it over the university's wireless network, the Internet or intranet.

In preparation for a live broadcast, he states, lecturers need simply upload their PowerPoint slides on to a laptop. A Web cam is then set up and the lecture is linked to the university's portals. Students can then log on to the portals to access the live lecture from their devices.

Syeed adds that the technology comes with a real-time commenting feature, which allows the students to comment and ask questions and also allows the lecturer to answer questions.

In addition, he says, the lecture session is stored in a central library for search and on-demand viewing for revision purposes. This allows the lecturer to test students' comprehension before access is provided for new video material. This broadcast feature will also enable students from UKZN to participate in lectures when off-campus, ensuring that lectures won't be missed.

"To ensure the broadest possible access, ZOOM offers adaptive bit-rate streaming, automatically optimising the video stream to eliminate buffering and to ensure that the student viewing experience is a good one," Syeed says.

UKZN's CIO Richard Jansen states that the university's 43 000 students are spread across five geographically dispersed campuses and the university's 1 000 lecturers are consequently having to travel great distances only to repeat the same lecture to other members of the same large (up to 1 450 students) class.

"With the rapidly growing student numbers and additional pressure from government to facilitate this student growth, it became apparent that this model was inefficient and unsustainable and UKZN needed to find a technology that could solve this problem," Jansen adds.

He explains that UKZN has a student community that is not expected to arrive at university equipped with a tablet or laptop on which they can then perform a large portion of their academic engagement.

"We decided to follow a strategy of equipping students with low-end Android tablets to ensure that the delivery of lectures by video will not exclude those students without their own device. This strategy still considered inexpensive when compared with the alternative of establishing and resourcing new physical facilities," says Jansen.

There's more to come, notes the university's academic computing manager, Dale Peters. Next year, students will be able to move content 'offline', downloading it onto their devices with digital rights management applied to the video. Student interactions will then synchronise when the student returns to campus, providing feedback to lecturers.

"This will break the barrier of no Internet connectivity at home, enabling students to prepare for class, revise properly before exams and catch up if they have missed anything," Jansen concludes.

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