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Saturday, August 8, 2009

PITT-BRADFORD STUDENTS, PROFESSORS TO BENEFIT FROM NEW ABILITY TO ‘CAPTURE’ COURSES

BRADFORD, Pa. – Students and faculty at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford will have a new tool to help them with their coursework this fall, a new software system called Panopto CourseCast 2.1 that “captures” classes as they occur.

Panopto does more than just record professors’ classes in video or audio format. It synchronizes that recording with slides from a PowerPoint presentation (used by many faculty members) and any additional material a professor might use, such as a YouTube video. Anything professors display on their computers can be captured by the software.

Students have accounts that allow them to keep personalized versions of every lecture. They can take notes as the professor lectures or as they play the recording, and the notes will remain synchronized with the rest of the presentation.

Students can even search a lecture for specific content that was missed or misunderstood in class.

If a professor uses an interactive whiteboard (think of a computerized chalkboard), the notes he or she makes on the whiteboard can also be captured.

“It is an incredible piece of software,” says Bernie Picklo, academic technology integrator and director of distance education.

In addition to recording classes, faculty can record lectures anywhere.

“If the professor is away at a conference, he or she can hold class from a hotel room if he or she wishes,” Picklo said. “Instructors and students can be anywhere in the world and still have class. As long as there is Internet access, class can go on.”

Dr. Mary Mulcahy, associate professor of biology, was part of a small group of faculty who tested the software during the spring term.

“When students want to learn something, I think it is helpful for them to learn it several ways – by reading about it, by doing problems or answering questions about it, and by listening to the same material,” she said. “Panopto complements the written textbook and assigned homework with verbal and visual material.

“A figure can tell a thousand words, but it is really helpful to have a voice that will point out the important parts of the figure.”

Robert Ellison, senior technical analyst for Computing, Telecommunications and Media Services at Pitt-Bradford who also teaches technology courses, uses this feature to record lectures ahead of class time, allowing students to get a sneak peek of the subject matter and come to class prepared with questions.

“It gives us more ‘hands-on’ time during class,” said Ellison, who was also part of the test group.

Ellison said that statistics provided by the software show that students will sometimes review a lecture several times. Students can also use the software to create a presentation of their own for class, he said.

Steve Ellison, a technical analyst who was teaching Introduction to Information Security in the spring semester, said he can also make demonstrations for students by recording what he does on a virtual machine.

Steve Ellison, who was also part of the spring term test group, said that he did not see attendance drop in his classes, which was one of the concerns about recording lectures. He also said that his students like to use the captured lectures to review for tests and noted that nontraditional students appreciated being able to easily access the information presented in a class that they had to miss for work or family obligations.

Traditional-age students, too, benefit from being able to get information presented in class if they have to miss due to illness or athletics.

Kelly O’Brien, a junior communications major from Bradford, concurs. She used Panopto for the first time this spring in Dr. Hashim Yousif’s Introduction to Physics course.

“If I had a question or couldn’t make it to class, it was nice to go back and hear the lecture again,” she said. O’Brien said she also likes that she can pause the lecture or rewind a portion that’s giving her difficulty and listen to it again.

“As a student in class, you’re trying so hard to get notes down, that you’re not really getting what is said. So it’s nice to have the recording available. I hope more professors use it because it’s very beneficial for everyone.”

Panopto will be available to all faculty members this fall.

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