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Institutional Innovation Programme

Name of Area Bidding/Submitting Interest For:
Large-Scale Institutional Exemplars
Name of Lead Institution:
Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS)
Name of Proposed Project:
Steeple - Streamlining Enterprise Level delivery of educational audio and video: Integrating a podcast encoding engine within institutional delivery channels
Name(s) of Project Partner(s):
Cambridge University (CARET)
Open University (KMi)
Full Contact Details for Primary Contact:
Name: Peter Robinson
Position: Learning Technology Group Services Manager
Length of Project:
18 months
Project Start Date:
1st September 2008
Project End Date:
28th February 2010

Outline Project Description

This exemplar project will investigate the processes supporting podcasting. The creation, production and delivery of podcasts will be streamlined to facilitate the use of the service across each university. This service will reduce both lecturer/researcher time in doing the podcasts and administration time in broadcasting them as the system will automate the whole process. The proposed project allows delivery of the podcasts to a range of technologies and devices so they will be able to be viewed on the user's preferred media e.g. mobile phone, laptop or desktop. The project will provide a showcase for eminent educators, a repository of high value podcasts and techniques and guidelines for use by the JISC community.

Steeple - Streamlining Enterprise Level delivery of educational audio and video: Integrating a podcast encoding engine within institutional delivery channels


Educational video and audio is undergoing a step change, posing new requirements on institutional workflows that have high overlap between institutions. Particularly the availability of affordable recording techniques as well as new distribution channels has changed the way in which audio and video visual material is used in UK higher educational. This institutional project will look at the processes supporting effective use of audio and video ("podcasts") using emergent technologies that can streamline complex audio-visual encoding activities through enterprise level services. This centralised institutional work will relieve the burden placed on departmental support structures and lead to long term savings from the reduced time and effort in creating audio visual materials for teaching, research and outreach. The project outputs will support the JISC community by providing a clearly documented example of processes necessary to implement an enterprise level podcasting encoding solution that will have been tested for robustness and interoperability within each of the three different collaborating universities.

Appropriateness and Fit to Programme Objectives

The pilot project will take an institutional perspective to see how audio and visual material can be efficiently collected by staff and delivered to end users. It will be doing so by the implementation of an institutional workflow, including video capture and encoding engines, together with emerging distribution channels geared towards Higher Education (such as Apple Inc.'s iTunesU). These channels have proved to be extremely popular in the US, and are now being launched in Europe. Oxford, Cambridge, and the Open University are among the early adopters of the service and through the present project, these three universities are forming a consortium to explore this Streaming Enterprise level project. Similar services are emerging around the YouTube platform, and with other Web 2.0 technologies (such as blogs, wikis, and RSS/ATOM feeds), and integrating with existing local authentication and authorisation services.

The landscape is exceptionally dynamic at present. On the one hand, the market is dominated by US universities, who have been very quick to adopt those new technologies. On the other hand, there are no standard systems available – commercially or open source – that would provide a complete workflow. This project will look at the most promising candidates for such systems, and deploy instances suitable for UK HE. So while some development work will take place, the project is primarily concerned with piloting these technologies and reporting back to the UK HE community on the usability and robustness of these systems and whether these systems are successful in streamlining the process of producing podcasts. We will assess whether these systems alleviate the burden on the individual, as well as the impact of services like iTunesU and YouTube on enhancing an institution's external impact.

Project Overview

Podcasting, here used synonymously with educational audio and video (whether online PC based, or offline mobile device based), is an emerging technology. Universities view podcasting as a technology that allows them to achieve three clear goals:

  1. Facilitating student support within the institution by providing easily accessible learning objects (such as audio, video, presentations etc) in a subscribable manner
  2. Communicating with staff and students about professional and career development
  3. Increasing the external impact of the institution, supporting outreach activities, and widening participation by delivering content via podcasting to the wider public

A particularly interesting movement within this area is the Berkeley-led OpenCast initiative (www.opencastproject.org). This promises to increase the potential of podcasting by providing open source tools for capturing, managing and deploying audio-visual assets. Audio-visual assets can be deployed to institutional networks, to iTunesU, to YouTube, and other devices and portals as appropriate, including OpenEducational Resources sites, and databases specifically created for teachers.

The consortium sees the distribution of podcasts as part of its strategic objectives, and there is considerable interest in the potential of podcasting across the institution. However, although some internal systems exist to facilitate part of this process, the overall process from creation to dissemination is cumbersome and off-putting to the individual and represents a considerable burden. Moreover, there is a distinct lack of cohesion to the delivery of the institution's podcasts with some appearing in personal blogs, others on department web sites, others via third-party podcast publishing sites (such as iTunesU).

Most institutions are looking to streamline the process and thereby reduce unit costs and increase production. This potentially is an example of a self-service system empowering the user to employ Web 2.0 technologies in a straightforward way. The emergence of iTunesU presents a final stage in the process. The iTunesU platform addresses one of the major issues with distributing content by presenting content from different sources through a simple and easy to use interface that presents a cohesive overview. Initially (in May 2007) Apple launched iTunesU for US HEIs. This allowed these universities to set up a dedicated space for themselves within the iTunes context to place their podcasts. In the US this has attracted some key HEIs: Arizona State, De Paul, Duke, Harvard, MIT, Penn State, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Yale. The figures also indicate that this is growing at an impressive rate. In iTunesU alone there were 1.8m downloads in January 2008, attracting 4m unique customers worldwide.

Recently (in June 2008) iTunesU has recently launched in Europe. The present consortium members are joining iTunesU this year, but in principle iTunesU is open to all UK HEIs, and there are clear indications that many of them will join. This project, therefore, fulfils a key evaluatory role: It will report on the ease of using iTunesU, the support structures one needs to put in place, and of its impact in terms of reducing the burden on the individual and institution for distributing podcasts, and also its effects on outreach. This project will report back on the infrastructure needed to do this, with the particular example of linking back to institutional single sign-on services. Similar 3rd part services are anticipated to be launched by other providers, and will also be reported on as appropriate.

However, media should not just be available through 3rd party services. Facilities are also needed to deploy media onto public institutional websites, shared web portals, as well as authenticated learning services (VLE/LMS). The current project will develop and deploy strategies to deploy media in multiple locations, without creating excessive additional work load for the institution.

Bringing these strands together, this institutional project will:

Detailed Workplan

The project will employ 3 Technical Officers (TO) for 18 months to provide technical support (i.e. setting up of servers and client machines, workflows, etc). The project will also employ a project manager, as well as senior staff, at each institution, to ensure institutional adoption. The project will be overseen by a Project Supervisor, and a Project Board.

Preliminary investigations have already begun into client hardware and software, and specifying the technical requirements for the supporting infrastructure.

Work packages

WP1a Scoping study and requirements analysis (resp. Ox)

Project start. Employ Technical Support Officers. Set up institutional server network and a small set of local client capture machines. All project members must compile their experience of the podcasting domain, with particular reference to the recommended workflows and best practices based on older use cases. A simple starting document is needed to explain the workflow path of capturing and delivering material for potential users of the system.

Deliverable: Briefing document "Enterprise Podcasting Requirements" for project staff and potential users including the JISC and OpenCast community. Compilation of current user orientated literature on public website.

WP1b Compile use cases (resp. OX)

Compilation of "use cases" from constituent departments and potential users who have already registered an interest. Emphasis on those departments with clear requirements and able to pilot. Document legacy material, current activity, audio and video format needs, recording situation, urgency of turnaround on recording content, mixing of material, scheduling etc. Understanding workflow for 'virtual' project teams.

Deliverable: 6-7 use cases typical of departmental and administrative needs for podcasting suitable for JISC community.

WP1C Policies and Processes (resp. OU)

Looks at highly collaborative institutional resource creation workflows, and IPR/copyright tracking.

Deliverable: Document and a simple schema for stages of processes mapped to policies

WP2 Investigate technical requirements (Ox, Cam)

The project needs to document the hardware requirements of the server, supporting server infrastructure and the storage and back-up for low and medium usage. The project will potentially need to process and store extremely large amounts of video and audio data at an enterprise level. Considerations must be made for a modular approach to the architecture built around server resilience and network security concerns must be explicitly stated. The online storage of material should be placed on a dedicated SMB/AFS network or similar to isolate and protect the encoding engine from public online vulnerability. Determine encoding engine, which may be commercial or open source (e.g. Podcast Producer or ETH Zurich's open source engine REPLAY), or a combination of commercial/open products.

Deliverable: Simple overview document of hardware demands and typical storage requirements based on use cases - emphasising security concerns and network bandwidth requirements.

WP3A Review of requirements for public access (web presence and 3rd party services, such as iTunesU, YouTube). (Ox, Cam)

Document pathways for material to be created, encoded and stored for an institutional presence in typical delivery channels, including public access (institutional web portals, cross-institutional web-portals, iTunesU, YouTube), Create various use case options that mimic a typical university's activities: Public material; Course material; Social and Campus material; Administrative activities e.g. Admissions; Document how local needs in departments can be met by central services. Test sample prepared content linked from institutional RSS/Atom services.

Deliverable: Document outlining different presentational options for an institution through content delivered by an institutional RSS service, including an institutional portal and an 3rd party service presence. Deliverable is suitable modules for delivery into websites and services (including specifications in DTD, as well as XSL and template transforms for XML/MYSQL databases where appropriate)

WP3B Review of requirements for private access (LMS/VLE). (Ox, Cam, OU)

Document pathways for material to be created, encoded and stored for an institutional use of media in VLE/LMS, such as Moodle and Sakai.

Deliverable: Document outlining different integration and presentational options. VLE/LMS module for integrating media.

WP4 Installing Encoding Engine (Ox)

Pilot the server based encoding engine and test material can be sent by remote clients under default workflows. Test that material encoded can be transferred to a simple secondary online delivery channels. Test with sample material under simplified authorization and test that the RSS feeds can be generated automatically on content creation and check integration with web portal delivery and 3rd party services.

Deliverable: Podcast site that shows publicly available test feeds.

WP5 Program workflows under devolved authorisation (Ox, Cam, OU)

Program workflows for ingestion and creation of file formats. Test client server capture via chose infrastructure. Modify workflows to meet user requirements for input and output format needs, special focus on highly collaborative production environment Authentication and Authorisation mapping of group workflows to the institutional LDAP domains. Convert sample analogue content to multiple delivery encodings for distribution online within University services such a web portal, VLE and within 3rd party services.

Deliverable: Detailed workflow description and associated tools.

WP6 Investigate management of service (to include policies for users) (Open U)

Overview map of the steps and workflow for managing IP and copyright policies for highly collaborative production.

Deliverable: Sample Policy documents

WP7A/B Pilot full service (Ox, Cam, OU)

Selected departments capturing podcasts via chosen solutions using established workflows for distribution via multiple channels, including 3rd party services like iTunesU. Report back on the ease of use, especially in terms of streamlining the process and relieving the burden on individuals. There will be two iterations of this 1) Public 2) Private authorisation

Deliverable: Pilot Public Service

WP7C Investigate training and support (resp. Ox)

A series of 3 one day workshops need to be held for institutional webmasters and communications officers. This will be supported by the OUCS training department and run by the Project Board members.

Deliverable: Training workshops

WP8 Evaluation (Ox, Cam, OU)

Evaluation of workflows. Evaluation of impact of 3rd party services at the institution. To include case studies, executive briefing, roadmap for the future. Issues include flexibility, costings, alternatives, and exit strategy

Deliverable: Case studies, Draft final report

WP9 Final Report (Ox, Cam, OU)

Creation, Publication and Integration of an institutional pilot podcast service Report back on the support structures needed and the strategic decisions required to make use of a key emerging technology

Deliverable: Final report

Sustainability Plan

Project Outputs Why Sustainable Scenarios for Taking Forward Issues to Address
Workflow programming and Kerberos integration with single sign on Code is reusable by other projects and institutions Make available on JISC or project Website Maintenance of project Website
Contribution to the community's understanding of the role of podcasting in "effective" learning Dissemination of outcomes and lessons of the project to the research and teaching community Identify opportunities for further research Availability of funding and resources
Increased expertise in the methodology for institutional audio visual integration and aggregation activities Can be applied in other institutions Investigate the needs and experiences of distinct institutional groups, and how materials can be shared and aggregated Availability of funding and resources

Evaluation and Institutional strengths

If funded, the project would be carried out in association with members of the Learning Technologies Group at OUCS, which has a strong background in e-learning development and evaluation, and a proven track record in other projects within JISC's various programmes. The project has assigned an appropriate amount of resources for evaluation of the work and to document the institutional activities needed to co-ordinate a pilot podcasting solution.

Exit Plan

Project Outputs Action for Take-up & Embedding Action for Exit
Case studies Publication within partner institutions Submit to JORUM, publicise and archive locally
Methodology report and recommendations Produce simplified technical and non-technical guides for staff to use if they wish to conduct similar activities. Also to provide institutional executive level summaries Submit to JORUM, Berkeley OpenCast wiki archive and publicise and archive locally
Project website Support & Synthesis project to host wiki for 3 years; "Project" pages, blog and podcasts to remain on OUCS webpages for 3 years Archive both via JISC and locally
Workflow guides and strategies to produce material This material will immediately be of use to departments within partner institutions and elsewhere to streamline and standardise audio visual recording and delivery Submit to JORUM, Berkeley OpenCast Archive

Benefits to the Lead institution

The benefits to the lead institution in terms of both qualitative and quantitative benefits include employing highly specialist staff for specific communications technology, utilising present permanent staff on an innovative and groundbreaking project and so enhancing the future workforce, developing podcasting facilities which will be of practical use as well as cost effective in the future and automating a facility, which has had growing levels of interest across the academic community. The nature of the institutional contribution has been clearly detailed in the justification of costs in terms of financial commitment. The project has a strong and involved team of established and senior staff who have previous extensive experience in projects of this kind. The proposed project aligns very closely with project partners' ICT plans on integration and high quality services available across the institution to the whole community.

Engagement with the Community and institutional Readiness

The present project partners have been invited to be one of the first users of 3rd party services (including iTunesU in Europe) and have already been beta-testing encoding engines and more generic workflow tools. For instance, Oxford has twenty-five academic units across all divisions within the University with material ready for conversion to podcasts, with half of these willing to record material for the project. This amounts to about 500 hours of material. Included in this are the award-winning PodOxford files (http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/), which are audio presentations aimed at introducing students to the admissions process. The institutional VLEs, iTunesU, and departmental websites are potential consumers of this standards based material.


Project Plan (including an Evaluation Plan, QA Plan, Dissemination Plan, and Exit/Sustainability Plan) : October 2008

Consortium Agreement : December 2008

Project web page on JISC web site, including copy of accepted project proposal : October 2008

Project web site at lead institution : November 2008

Progress Reports, including financial statement : Default 2 per year, schedule to be agreed with programme manager

Final Report : Draft January 2010, Final March 2010

Completion Report, including financial statement : April 2010

Technical and supporting documentation (for projects creating technical deliverables) : Timing to be agreed with programme manager

Dissemination and Evaluation

Specific costs related to these activities will be covered by the consortium.

Value for Money

The proposed project represent good value for money as the project partners are prepared to fund a good proportion of the staff for the project, will provide experienced staff and have already procured most of the equipment for the project. While the project is groundbreaking in content and involves a high level of innovation, the techniques to be used have already been tested and the system has been demonstrated in a simplistic way. We would now like to develop these techniques further into a fully developed and operational enterprise-level service for the whole UK HEI community, and for dissemination into the wider academic community. We believe that this project has a high degree of potential, is very likely to succeed and is of immediate and useful value to the university. Developing the podcast project further to allow dissemination down to mobile technologies and even to mobile phones is achievable and would be relevant to both the staff and students of the university. The institutional contributions are appropriate as the majority of the funding requested is for specialist staff that is required for this project but with a particular skill set which is not being used at present within the consortium. Additionally staff time and equipment are being provided by the consortium.

IPR and Copyright

According to the consortium's policy on Intellectual Property [Oxford University's IP Policy http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/rso/policy/intpol.shtml], (which covers all respective University employees and students), the respective Universities claim ownership of a range of intellectual property rights with commercial potential. The Universities do not assert any claim to the ownership of copyright in artistic works, books, articles or lectures, apart from those specifically commissioned by the Universities. Results arising from projects funded by the JISC to consortium partners would therefore usually be owned in the first instance by the consortium partners as the employing institutions. IPR is owned by the creating institutions and will be licenced under an agreed, common, open-source licence. The consortium seeks to maximise the commercial potential of its intellectual property through its wholly-owned technology transfer company, ISIS Innovation Ltd., in accordance with the desires of the JISC e-Learning Programme. It is proposed to release project deliverables under either a Creative Commons licence or, in the case of software, under an OSI-approved open-source software licence to maximise the benefit for the wider community. by the Universities. Results arising from projects funded by the JISC to consortium partners would therefore usually be owned in the first instance by the consortium partners as the employing institutions. IPR is owned by the creating institutions and will be licenced under an agreed, common, open-source licence. The consortium seeks to maximise the commercial potential of its intellectual property through its wholly-owned technology transfer company, ISIS Innovation Ltd., in accordance with the desires of the JISC e-Learning Programme. It is proposed to release project deliverables under either a Creative Commons licence or, in the case of software, under an OSI-approved open-source software licence to maximise the benefit for the wider community.

For the development of the encoding engine workflows, as in previous JISC-funded projects:

Previous Experience of Project Team

Oxford University Team

Peter Robinson
Peter works as manager of a team of learning technologists at Oxford University's central computing services. He is an experienced multimedia developer and has 13 years experience working on a variety of ICT projects with academics at the University. He is co-author of the 2004 JISC CLIC scoping study "Community Image Collections" and has been a member of various JISC projects including RAMBLE (integrating RSS and Blogs with the VLE), the CREE portal scoping project and THEMA – surveying the student learning experience. He is managing the institutional iTunesU project and regularly trains staff on podcasting and teaches on the Masters degree in e- learning. Peter also organized the 2008 international OpenCast Podcast conference at Oxford.
Dr Sue Fenley
Sue Fenley is the research facilitator in the Research technologies service in OUCS. Her role involves both running specific research services and in co-ordinating research activity within OUCS and across the university. Her previous work at King's College London involved liaising with different departments across Computer Science and Medicine and then being seconded as Project Director to a large Invest to Save project in Harrow for the NHS with a budget of £2.1 million, which was completed on time and within budget. Moving to the University of Reading in 2002 she worked as Director of Research in a Health Research Centre and then moved to the Informatics Research Centre where she was Director of Teaching and Learning and taught on master's courses. She has extensive experience of project direction and management over many research projects.
Barry Cornelius
Barry joined Oxford University Computing Services in 2005 after working in Durham University's IT Service, and, prior to that, he spent 18 years as a University lecturer in Computer Science. As part of that job, he produced books for teaching Java and Modula-2. Whilst at Durham, he was responsible for the LDAP server providing "white page" information to clients at the University of Durham. Since being at the University of Oxford, he has developed OXITEMS, an institutional newsfeed system that is used by numerous departments and colleges at the University. This is a Webauthed application and so he is familiar with Webauth, Oxford's single sign system, and with OUCS's LDAP server. OXITEMS supports podcasting and generates output in various newsfeed formats including RSS 2.0 and Atom 1.0.
Wylie Horn
Wylie has over 15 years experience working in ICT and supporting services across Oxford University. At OUCS he is deputy manager of the Network Services Management Support team. He has great experience in integration of applications with directory services and is an expert on understanding client requirements in a complex devolved ICT environment.
Dr James Partridge
James has over 10 years experience working in ICT at Oxford. At OUCS he works exclusively with Mac OS X and has responsibility for a number of Apple-focused projects around the University. He is also on the steering committees of MacLearning Europe and MacLearning US. He is experienced in server administration, directory services and related authorisation issues. He also has a strong interest in using IT for teaching language and literature and has a DPhil in Czech poetry.

Cambridge University Team

John Norman
John is the Director of CARET, The Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies at the University of Cambridge, which acts as a focal point for the University's use of technology to support education and research. He leads a team of around 25 software experts, designers, and pedagogy researchers. The centre has a growing global reputation in platform technologies and is developing its offerings in outcome evaluation. CARET provides a range of services from hosting of VLE platforms to consulting advice, contract development and engagement with the open standards and open source communities relevant to the University's activities. Previously John worked at CBCL (Clinical and Biomedical Computing Ltd) and was a founder and Managing Director. The company is self funding and has grown profitably to a current turnover of around £350,000. John also provides consulting advice to other start-up companies, these include Vital Insite Inc, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Granta Laboratories Ltd, Photo Bioreactors Ltd S.A. and Summit technology inc. and PA Technology. John has an MBA from INSEAD in France and a degree in Metallurgy and Materials Science from Birmingham University in England.
Dr Björn Haßler
Björn holds degrees from the University of Sussex, Hamburg University, and the University of Cambridge. He has been working on educational issues for the last 8 years, including research on diagnostic testing for undergraduate mathematics education, widening participation through webcasting, as well as volunteer engagement in media production. Since 2004 Björn holds a senior research associate position at CARET, working on video in education. He has extensive experience in teaching multimedia, both within Cambridge and internationally. He has contributed to a number of best practice guidelines, including UNESCO National Commission reports. He developed the CamTV system, which supports user centric media channel management. The system was specifically developed to allow the University of Cambridge to leverage new media opportunities, and was designed to facilitate and reduce cost in multi-site syndication scenarios.
Sara Brandao
Sara Brandao works as business manager for CARET, University of Cambridge and is responsible for all business and commercial aspects of projects. On this project in addition to her normal commercial management duties she will assess some of the commercial aspects of the university running an OpenCast service.

Open University Team

Dr Peter Scott
Peter Scott is the Director of KMi, Open University. He also heads up the OU Centre for New Media research, where he works on numerous prototype applications of networked learning media. He is currently serving as the President of the European Association of Technology Enhanced Learning. Peter works on three areas within KMi related to this bid. Firstly the iTunesU development (detailed below), secondly the Networks of Excellence in Professional eLearning aims to expand professional learners engagement with the best of European Interactive Media research. Corporate training still needs effective competence mapping and performance evaluation tools to support business learners. Thirdly KMi Stadium is the generic label for a suite of webcasting activities and software tools whose goal is to stage large-scale live events and on-demand-replays, while giving remote participants anywhere on the Internet a sense of 'being there'. It can be used for anything from a management seminar to a public lecture and has been successfully used for the Open University's On the Record Web-Casts. Its use in education is shown by its deployment for IET's Open and Distance Learning courses and Open University Business School seminars.
Ben Hawkridge
Ben works under the direction of Peter Scott and Peter Whalley in the Centre for New Media Unit, within KMi, in the Open University. His primary areas of work involve developing webcasting systems and multimedia prototypes for various internal and external research projects. KMi executed the launch of iTunesU, working closely with the Open University Learning and Teaching Solutions division. The team in LTS will take ahead the service and make it work effectively throughout the University work flows. KMi will take this work forward with an innovative range of new features and some exciting new support services for podcasting; and using the special features of this channel in new ways. The KMi Stadium project has supported a vast range of educational webcasting experiments, both within the Open University and for external clients. The logistics of managing such events, from a web based access point of view, has led to the development of the Stadium Backlot System.

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