By David Shield
David Trottier, foreground, project leader from the Division of Media and Technology, and his Information Technology Services counterpart Cyril Coupal.
Photo by Colleen MacPherson
David Trottier says making university classes available online is considerably more complicated than it sounds.
An editor and project leader at the Division of Media and Technology (DMT), Trottier is in the middle of a pilot project to film selected U of S lectures with webcams, and then post them on the University’s website. Along with staff from Information Technology Services Division (ITS), Trottier completed the first phase of the project this summer. He recorded a Political Studies class, added PowerPoint presentations to the media file, and then made the video temporarily available to students over the Internet.
While a lot of technical information was gathered from the first part of the project, he says the second part – examining teachers’ and students’ concerns about the new technology – is far more important.
Ever since the dawn of the Internet, professors have treated the idea of posting their classes online with a certain amount of suspicion. Trottier says many issues – from the intellectual property rights of professors to the privacy rights of students who may not want to appear on screen – have come up so far. Trottier says the pilot project has been very careful to respect the wishes of both groups.
Lectures are posted online through the PAWS system, he explained, making them only available to students enrolled in the class. As well, it is up to the professor to decide how long to post (and archive) the lecture.
“We’re trying to build into the pilot controls for the teachers so that they feel secure, so that they feel like they have a certain amount of control in how that information is distributed.”
Kalyani Premkumar, curriculum and faculty development specialist in the College of Medicine, is the coordinator of the interdisciplinary Form and Function of the Human Body course taught to first-year medical and dental students. It is being recorded as part of the pilot project. She says the College of Medicine is an excellent place for this technology to be used.
“Medicine is a profession where (students) need a lot of information, and if they have the foundation, they’re going to be better physicians when they work out there.”
While Premkumar says it would be very useful to be able to record labs for her students, right now the technology is only available for lectures. Still, she says some of her students are already saying the online component is making classwork much easier.
“From at least one student, I heard that it’s very valuable to be able to go back and review what needs to be done in terms of images and certain concepts,” she says.
While images of an entirely filmable campus may be dancing through some people’s heads, Trottier says that’s not very likely. He believes that if the pilot is successful, the University will eventually select certain strategic classrooms on campus and put webcams inside them, rather than trying to put them in every room on campus.
“We’re not in any financial position to be outfitting every classroom with this, so it doesn’t become a situation of ‘big brother is watching you.’ There will be strategic locations that will be marked as being a videotaped area, and your image will be of public domain within these certain areas. Classes that need to utilize a tool such as this would be directed and scheduled through those classrooms.”
Trottier says he hopes to be able to make the webcams officially available to professors in the new year, but their use will have to wait for the University to set up legal and ethical protocols around the new technology.