Methodology & Implementation
Over the course of the project we worked together to document and record as much of our expertise as possible related to setting up and managing of institutional multimedia (podcasting) services. Through this collaborative approach and through contact with the various national networks of which we are part, the project attracted and grew an active community of peers within other UK HEI who are keen to learn and share their own experiences with the widest audience possible. Indeed, this community has become the leading UK participant in both the European media community (the Terana organised TaskForce-Media group) and the international educational media community, OpenCast. For example, the work started as part of the Steeple project, and continuing to this day via our community Wiki, on Metadata standards for sharing and aggregation of content, has become the focus and lead for international cooperation and standardisation.
The key areas of project work were:
- Communication and outreach by all partners
- Policy and Institutional Change led by the Open University
- Content processing and video encoding services led by Oxford
- Audio video portals and standardising metadata led by Cambridge
- Alignment with larger international projects such as OpenCast Matterhorn
The planned work was broken down into discrete areas, and then distributed amongst the contributing partners based upon their own specific interests and resourcing. Open University led on the policies and process work, building on their long standing background as a high production value, high quality, method driven institution, though they also worked to compare and contrast our different approaches to the same problems. Cambridge took the lead on portal developments, having an institutional desire for a solution to an existing problem. Oxford led on the infrastructure development having an interest in supporting a fledgling podcasting service. Whilst all areas were of mutual interest and all partners had direct experience, this division of labour worked well as a way of spreading control and resourcing.
The proposed work packages were reviewed in the light of early feedback from community. Universities who are in the process of signing up to Apple's iTunes U portal have been keen to learn from our successes, and this increased the amount of individual dissemination time needed and also prioritised and expanded the management oriented policies and processes work.
- We scaled up the work done on metadata, aggregation of content and promoting the use of open standards, because this has allowed each institution to work towards an exciting common goal - one that supports philanthropic aims of global dissemination, co-operation and inclusive learning
- Doubling of work on portals, with both solutions reinforcing our position for the separation of data from presentation, and providing viable options for the different technical resourcing setups in UK HEIs
- We had to scale down the work on podcast management systems, as we would be unable to make a notable improvement to the overall situation given available time and resources, and because this area is receiving a lot of attention from the various commercial (Echo360, VBrick, Mediasite, Apple Podcast Producer, etc) and open-source solutions (OpenCast Matterhorn, Mediamosa, Pumukit, Kaltura, and more) that are beginning to emerge.
- Server infrastructure, design and deployment, was reshaped and delayed to accommodate the significant investment of institutional money into the Oxford Podcasting Service. Through this funding we benefited from having truly enterprise level hardware and a real-world deployment, opposed to the planned small scale demonstration setup. There was also extra training and external consulting needed to enable key technologies such as the storage network and the authentication systems integration. The delays unfortunately reduced the amount of development time available for back-end services.
The collaborative approach taken led to these observations:
- Project management across three institutions can be challenging but equally rewarding when it can be made to work. The project benefited from weekly Skype project meetings and a shared set of interests amongst colleagues. Good face-to-face communication and listening to other institutions helped guide the outputs.
- A collaborative Wiki was very successful acting as a shared space (with CC license), which served as a community focal point for early drafts of all work.
- Complicated technical work was found to be best communicated through blog posts and mailing list.
- Use of audio/video/screencapture to capture and communicate processes and ideas was well received.
- Frequent expert-led workshops with other institutions solved many technical issues.
- An assembly at the mid-point of the project launched a new push for standards in cataloguing.
- Iterative example-led development, for instance the cross-institutional aggregation portal, helped to focus interest and discussion over collaboration and sharing.
- Needs-based setting of direction: The partners were already in the iTunes U process, and needed to come up with new solutions to the scaling problems they were facing.