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Distance Learning, Portably? Soon There'll Be An App for That

Want to watch a lecture by a professor in Old Dominion University's distance learning program? Soon, there'll be an "app" for that.

Promising portability, but maintaining the proprietary nature of the instructors' lectures, an application will soon be available whereby students can watch a streamed version of any faculty member's lecture delivered via ODU's distance learning program on their iPhone.

"Right now, all of our distance learning courses are archived, so you can watch them through your desktop or laptop," said Miguel Ramlatchan, interim assistant vice president of Academic Technology Services (www.dl.odu.edu/ats).

"Many other universities have lectures available through Apple's iTunes. However, we were very concerned about the proprietary nature of the material if it was available for download. But this application allows students to access the material from our instructors anywhere they have an Internet connection with their iPhone."

The ATS network support staff and programmers developed the Web portal application to stream video directly to the mobile device. To receive it, students navigate the same Midas password-protected entry page used for all video streaming courses (www.dl.odu.edu/tools/vstream).

"While standard iTunes content is downloaded and stored on the device, here video is streamed wirelessly to the viewer's device and played back without being stored locally, so the university maintains ownership of the original content," Ramlatchan explained.

But users will still be able to stop, start, fast-forward and rewind the material, to take true advantage of the portability of the iPhone.

"It's the type of thing that a student could watch for 15 minutes at a time, on the bus, between classes, anywhere," Ramlatchan said.

It's also ideal for someone who is taking a course from ODU, but doesn't have access to a traditional office setting, he added.

"We've looked at the data, and we have a surprising number of pass-throughs (to the distance learning program) by our deployed military students from places like Iraq and Kuwait," he said.

The application is being tested on a small scale by a handful of faculty members and their classes.

The plan is to roll it out sometime during the spring semester. For now, it is optimized for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, Ramlatchan said, because the interface of those devices better matches the distance learning Web site and they are the most flexible.

Later next year, plans call for expanding to other wireless devices, like the BlackBerry, Palm Pre, Motorola's Droid, and other smartphones running Google's Android Operating System. Ramlatchan said that development processes were helped by a smart decision made by ATS to stream video on the distance learning Web site in a universal format used for broadband video streaming - the same format used by file-sharing sites like YouTube.

"We would be one of the first schools to offer this unique mobile streaming service, an option that will be available for all 200-plus distance learning courses," he noted. "Also, the video looks great!"

This article was posted on: December 1, 2009

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