In 2009, because of accidental over-recruitment, we had to put in place a system to allow streaming of material from the main biology lecture theatre to an overflow room. There were two phases to the project: first, developing and setting up the solution and then delivering the solution over the course of the academic year.
The stakeholders were the students who attended the lectures and the staff who delivered the lectures. We had to ensure that the lecture experience was acceptable for all students, both those in the lecture theatre and those in the overflow room. For staff we had to make sure that they were able to focus on delivering their lectures, minimising the disruption caused by the need for streaming.
The technical solution used LiveMeeting (a previous version of Microsoft Lync software) to stream voice and data from the lecture theatre to the overflow room. All video content which appeared on the PC was streamed; this included Powerpoint, web pages, etc. eBeam software was used to display material written on the whiteboard and ELMO software routed the visualiser image via the PC. Dedicated admin sign-ins were needed for the transmitting and receiving PCs. The local ICT support team was very helpful in helping to set up the systems and test the functionality and I delivered training and prepared all the documentation.
The most troublesome part of resourcing the project was the requirement for ongoing support on a daily basis. My time was already fully committed, and I had to make it clear that I was unable to provide support myself. This is hard to do, especially in the ‘matrix management’ situation which often applies for learning technologists – i.e. everyone thinks they are your boss and most important customer!
In the end we recruited a part-time Streaming Assistant, who set up the equipment before each lecture and monitored the streaming in the overflow room, and an Undergraduate IT Assistant (a volunteer student from the class), who acted as a back-up and provided assistance to the lecturer if required. I felt it was vital to have this level of support in situ because of the serious consequences if there were problems with the streaming; we would have had to cancel and rearrange the lecture, causing serious disruption to all the students and the lecturer, and a logistical and timetabling headache.
The project plan was clear and achievable, but it was very important to secure adequate resources to deliver a reliable service.
The evaluation of the project was straightforward: was the lecture available and acceptable for the students in the overflow room? It was a reliable solution and the students were happy with the quality of the presentation in the overflow. In fact, some students preferred to watch the lecture there because there was more space (especially if students were using a laptop for notetaking), better sound and video quality than at the back of the main lecture theatre and less chance of being asked a question by the lecturer.
The results of the project were disseminated at a college Education Day. In my view, the technical details of the project were less significant that the importance of:
- thinking about the consequences of failure and putting appropriate backup plans in place
- making sure that staffing resources were adequate
I didn’t use any particular tools for this project, but I can see the value of tools such as a risk register or timesheets. Following a proper project planning process, with appropriate tools and techniques, would make sure that nothing was missed, and would provide documentation of the thinking behind the project plan.