Current technology is now available that can remove the restriction of time from the delivery of classroom lectures. By utilizing Microsoft’s PowerPoint software along with RealNetwork’s RealPresenter plug-in, any school can easily provide a low cost, efficient way to offer recorded lectures over the Internet. With the emphasis on life long learning and the increase in non-traditional students in classrooms, Internet accessible lectures let students "attend" a class lecture that they may have missed due to shift change, unexpected overtime, or an out-of-town business trip. This gives them the flexibility to listen to any recorded lecture at their convenience, from a computer lab on campus or from any Internet accessible computer.
The Web Enhanced Audio System
During Winter Quarter, 1999, North Central Technical College offered recorded lectures from seven different courses using the Web Enhanced Audio System. Using conventional portable audio tape recorders, lectures were recorded and then processed through a computer into single-slide, PowerPoint presentations, with up to one hour of lecture embedded into the slide. NCTC already had a standard web server and network on campus and were also using Microsoft’s Office 97 software. Adding to this, the College purchased RealPresenter software ($39) and a number of portable audiocassette recorders ($50 each). The only other hardware used was an audio cassette player for playback into the computer ($70). With an outlay of less than $500, the school was able to offer asynchronous delivery of course material via the Internet.
There seems to be two major roadblocks that hinder the development of Internet accessible course material: time and money. This Web Enhanced Audio System was designed to overcome these two obstacles. The nominal amount of hardware required, assuming a school has an existing web server and Office 97 software, eliminates the financial portion of the problem. And the other roadblock is finding the time and expertise to create or develop web accessible material. The Web Enhanced Audio System solves this by not requiring instructors to have computer expertise, nor burdening them with additional class preparation, aside from wearing a recorder during class. A web course coordinator can perform all of the processing and must simply have a working knowledge of PowerPoint and be familiar with standard audio equipment.
Once a lecture is recorded, it is sent to the web course coordinator and downloaded into a one-slide PowerPoint presentation using the "Record Narration" function. The single slide identifies the course number, date, and lecture subject. The software captures the audio lecture as large wave file (up to 70 megabytes for a typical one-hour lecture). The RealPresenter plug-in software then compresses the lecture (about 2 megabytes per lecture) and creates a web page suitable for publishing onto a standard server. A Table of Contents web page is created for each course and linked to the instructor’s home page. The Table is then updated with the addition of each new lecture, acting as a directory for locating class meetings by date. To access a lecture, the students simply go to their instructor’s web page, click the appropriate audio course button, and select the date of the desired lecture. Students can access their lectures from any campus computer lab by plugging head phones into the computer speakers, or from their own home, at their convenience.
There are many benefits to this Web Enhanced Audio System. The low start-up cost in hardware and software for any college that already has a website makes this system possible without causing a major impact on the budget. The level of expertise for instructors is limited to the ability to push the record button on a portable tape recorder. The level of expertise for the Web Course Coordinator is limited to knowledge in PowerPoint software, simple web page creation and revision, and some audio equipment expertise. In addition, the impact on the web server and network infrastructure is minor due to the gradual increase of storage requirements and activity as the quarter progresses. And the benefit to students is the removal of the time barrier associated with traditional class schedules. Plus, they can use this material for review purposes as well.
One drawback to this system had been the slow download time found with traditional audio tape recording media. With the availability of new portable digital recorders, even the transfer of recorded media has been reduced for a "real time" 45-minute lecture down to about 4 minutes. Digital recorders are now available that can record up to two hours on a flash memory card, which can be handled like any other electronic file, and can be converted into a wave file in a matter of minutes.
The level of web enhanced lecture can also be upgraded by adding pictures or text to the web pages to be seen during the lecture. In addition, instructors already using PowerPoint slide shows during class can include the entire slide show, time-encoded so that it appears on the web just like it was given in class. The software used in this system could even be used to embed video of a process or procedure into the slide show if desired.
The Web Enhanced Audio System is a practical and low cost method of placing lecture material onto the Web. Using cutting edge tools that are inexpensive, coupled with a technique that is time efficient and extremely user friendly, any school can develop a web presence without the typical obstacles associated with new ventures. The Web Enhanced Audio System can also be used to augment independent study courses and can become the first step in developing complete online courses at any college. The insignificant impact on faculty’s time and the low hardware cost make it a practical and economical method of converting and delivering lecture material over the Internet.