Outcomes and Outputs

In this section we give a sample of the key outcomes with related outputs listed below each area. All of our outcomes and outputs can be found via our project website (http://steeple.oucs.ox.ac.uk/) and via the associated wiki and blog, in a range of formats including videos, podcasts, presentations, handbooks and more.

Institutional Change and Project Management

Podcasting processes cut across many departmental and administrative boundaries within an institution, and our work has shown that success can only be found through internal collaboration. An iTunes U launch is a good example of a large cross-institutional ITC project that may act as a catalyst to promote innovation and benefit teaching and learning and has the best chance of succeeding when championed by senior executives and linked to a communication strategy.

Key Steeple outputs that support institutional change include:

Institutional Podcasting Processes

The Steeple project has created clear guidance on policy and processes for media service work based on the experience of the three partner institutions. The outputs are presented as reports, videos and interviews and explain through example the need for legal processes, quality assurance policies, copyright clearing and content creation workflows. These guides can be used in training and can also be used to estimate costs for scaling up activities for new media services. The guides also provide input into strategies for institutions wishing to structure their communication and publication processes.

Diagram of an Institutional Podcasting Ecosystem
Figure 1: Institutional Podcasting Ecosystem

Key Steeple institutional policy and processes outputs include:

Infrastructure and Scaling

There is no one existing solution that allows you to economically support all forms of content creation to all possible outlets - Carl Marshall, Steeple PM (Oxford)

Podcasting processes cut across boundaries and rely on a broad spectrum of technical systems and resources - video content production is computationally demanding, generates large amounts of data for storage, has value that needs to be addressed by archiving and backup solutions not typically accustomed to large binary formats. Designing content generation and distribution processes that are easy to use by academics with minimal training is nontrivial and can often only be achieved by supporting specific paths that will provide the most benefit to your university.

Diagram showing service elements interacting
Figure 2: Oxford Service Elements Interaction Diagram

Figure 2 outlines Oxford's planned technical solution to providing a podcasting service that supports institutional use, however, whilst this is derived from demonstration work and lessons learnt from Steeple activities, this is still being implemented.

Technical challenges for interoperability at an enterprise level are difficult and require highly specialised skills usually quite different from audio/visual content creation and are exceptionally rare to find in one individual and so teamwork is needed from a range of people including programmers, system administrators and audio/video experts. The hardest challenge is often interoperability between systems such as encoding servers, existing directory services and authentications systems, VLEs and DAMS. These integration activities are difficult because of the deep specialist skills needed and therefore specialist training opportunities are needed in the sector.

Managing high volume activities is still difficult but there are now more enterprise level technical solutions available that help in the automation of encoding material. Costs for such infrastructure are still high, but there are workaround options to suit budgets (e.g. outsourcing) with trade offs against performance (e.g. distributed storage) and manual intervention, that can be considered.

Archiving and Backup policies are important but often difficult to cost and plan for within a busy service environment. However the value of recreating content is often underestimated and in the haste to deliver content on time it is easy to forget to document fully the ownership and copyright trail of assets, and to not explicitly document collaborative agreements. A clear policy for the safe storage of all the assets used in your podcast production process is vital.

Key Steeple institutional infrastructure outputs include:

Cataloging and Distribution Portals

It is common for a University to deliver content into multiple web portals and third-party systems and economies of scale can be found by keeping content and related metadata in open standards compliant formats. Work on defining and expanding some of these standards has been done through Steeple, but it is also of interest to a much wider community than Podcasting or UK HE, and our work has learnt from the international arena and is being incorporated back into those efforts.

Steeple strongly recommends keeping metadata and content independent of a portal or display system, thus ensuring wider integration options and ability to change systems more readily.

Interoperability and lightweight aggregation of audio and video in a demonstration portal was possible. Content across four Steeple institutions could be searched and viewed in this way through adherence to a standards based approach to metadata and agreement between the Universities to expose their content through a web service. It has shown that the ability to harmonise on standards for sharing audio/visual metadata and for encoding lead to an outcome greater than the sum of the parts. To be able to search across all institutions and then present a link to play the material directly is a great step forwards to a shared information architecture. It also clearly shows the potential for shared services in areas that might be impossible for one institution to tackle alone, such as speech to text transcriptions, translations, auto-categorisation, linking of material and themes, etc. The demonstrator also shows the potential for community middleware services such as tagging, ratings, multi-codec encoding services, OCR across video slides, etc.

This visualisation work and the attention it has received has clearly demonstrated the benefits of partnerships based on shared interests and standards. Our work in this area has led to our Ensemble package of code demonstrators and working processes.

Diagram showing Ensemble Concept
Figure 3: The Ensemble Concept

The next stage of work would be to advance from the production of lightweight, simple showcase, web demonstrators, to a consolidated national service. This service would allow multiple institutions to join their open content and publicly available podcast feeds into a larger aggregated dataset, surfacing often hidden high value institutional assets for the subject communities and the wider public good. This step seems to be more attainable now, but needs a shared vision from all stakeholders based on mutual trust.

Key Steeple institutional cataloguing and distribution outputs include:

Community Support

The key to Steeple's success was from the outset building an effective community of practice of technically minded individuals with input from strategic communications partners. Institutional change is daunting and a Steeple talk on this challenge was entitled "Going Up The Down Escalator". Project consultancies have shown that all HEIs find scaling up for third-party portals challenging and are helped by support from the Steeple community, a friendly group of people who have been or are going through the same experiences.

Key community support activities include: