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Marrying streaming media and asynchronous communication

Ross Dewstow and Patrick Kunz
Ectus Ltd, New Zealand
Technology incorporates streaming media into online teaching and learning as an isolated object but offers limited possibilities of interaction and collaboration. Missing is the seamless integration of streaming media with other functionalities of an online learning environment, e.g. linking discussion contributions to specific positions in a video- or audio-clip and customising clips on an individual basis by adding personal marks and comments to key areas. After summarising the educational value of video and audio and analysing the benefits and limitations of streaming media, this paper describes a prototype that integrates streaming media in a innovative way into a fully functional online collaboration system and outlines examples of potential pedagogical applications.

What is the educational value of video and audio?

Video is a powerful medium in education as it attaches a visual dimension and a sense of reality. As a moving image, video enables the visualisation of processes and procedures that might be difficult to represent through any combination of text, images or audio. A video can illustrate an example of how something moves, and it can preserve many aspects of human interaction. Furthermore, video allows the repeated observation of the same event. And last but not least, video is also considered to be highly motivational (Thornbill, Asensio, & Young, 2002) and emotionally appealing (Hempe, 1999).

Fields of application

Due to these differentiating characteristics, the application of video makes most sense where authenticity and realism is required, where human interaction and body language are crucial and in situations that demand analysis of processes in motion. The potential of video in an educational context is therefore ample: Audio without video plays a crucial role in teaching a number of subjects: Sound adds to the listening and oral components of language learning. Teaching music and performing arts without audio would be reduced to mere theory. Apart from being an integral component of these and other subjects, audio augments accessibility in any subject for people with eyesight or reading disabilities.

Pedagogical scenarios to integrate video and audio

The scope of this paper is limited to educational scenarios suitable for average IT-literate teachers excluding admittedly promising options of manual post-processing. This leaves broadly two different categories of how to include video and audio into teaching: 1) video as a demonstration device to be shown to and discussed with students and 2) recording a video which then can be shown, analysed and discussed.

The most common scenario of video integration consists in simply showing a video to a class. This might be motivational, however its learning effectiveness is limited (Fraser, Walberg, Welch, & Hattie, 1987, p.197). The 'Television is "easy" and print is "tough"' phenomenon (Salomon, 1984) puts the effects of video into perspective: Watching a video is much more popular than reading a journal article. People invest less mental effort in processing the information of a video resulting in reduced learning effectiveness.

Learning through educational video does not occur incidentally but needs to be planned. Meaningful interaction and engagement - principles of good practice of education in general - apply to the integration of video in particular. If organised in an engaging and interactive way, video becomes a powerful medium (Fraser et al., 1987, p.196). Examples for meaningful pedagogical scenarios of video integration are:

Affordable and easy to use video cameras open an other field of pedagogical options: Situations can be recorded for students to analyse. As a learner I have access to objective information to judge e.g. my own performance and I am not forced to rely on subjective feedback. This type of application of video is very valuable in situations where practical skills, human communication, interaction and motion are important.

Benefits and limitations of streaming media in educational settings

What new opportunities other than those offered by offline technologies like VCR, CD-ROM and DVD can streaming technologies open up? Again, this paper is constricted to a "zero-effort for the teacher" approach, i.e. scenarios that do not require post-processing of existing video-clips, therefore exclude possibilities like hyperlinked video. Taking into account this self-limitation, there are 1) access and flexibility, 2) interactivity and 3) integration as the three areas of potential advantages of streaming media.
  1. Increased access and flexibility
    Streaming media as a resource that can be accessed online 24 hours and therefore fosters accessibility for physically disabled learners. Its independence of time and location increases learners' flexibility. Bandwidth is the only shadow in this respect, as good Internet connections are required to fully exploit the opportunities of streaming media.

  2. Interactivity in terms of augmented user-control
    In comparison to face-to-face settings, streaming technologies offer users much more control. Learners have the ability to play and pause at their preferred pace (Young & Asensio, 2002). They can replay an entire clip or parts of it as many times as they want. However, offline technologies like CD-ROM or DVD not only allow this as well, but also offer independence of bandwidth. Although learner control of the video navigation is a step in the right direction, streaming media does not offer possibilities to truly interact with the content itself. E.g. users cannot mark an interesting part of a clip so they can easily access it later; or ways to attach personal notes to a specific position of the clip.

  3. Integration with other web-resources
    Streaming media can be easily integrated into other online learning resources (Young & Asensio, 2002). Video and audio clips can be linked to instructional texts or grouped together with discussion and chat facilities on one web-site or integrated into a Learning Management System. But there is no option for teachers to link questions or comments directly to specific clip positions as in a traditional classroom where they can pause a video at any time to insert a learner activity. There is no way for students to interrupt at a scene with questions or link their comments to a particular part of the video.
Apart from incorporating streaming media into asynchronous web environments, it can also be a part of web conferencing applications. As all video and audio streams can be archived, this opens access to people who were not able to attend a session at a given time. Although software exists to set up a recorded live teaching situation including slides for streaming on demand download, this needs to become more automated and easier (Strom, 2001). Apart from this technological shortcoming, there are pedagogical issues as well: Archiving a "talking head" doesn't make the teacher-centred approach of mere information distribution a more beneficial one. At least, there needs to be options in an asynchronous streamed videoconference to interrupt, ask questions, or comment. Of course it is feasible to start an asynchronous discussion about an archived on demand presentation, but it is hard to refer to a specific part in the presentation as there is no way to link a discussion contribution directly into the video stream so that other user can see this comment at the same clip position while playing the video.

Incorporating streaming media into asynchronous collaboration

On the one hand streaming media definitively offers new possibilities i.e. increased accessibility, flexibility and learner control together with the potential integration with other web-based resources. On the other hand streaming technology struggles to enable pedagogical scenarios as outlined in the first section of this paper, scenarios where users are able to interrupt a video at any time to engage in any sort of interactivity linked to a particular part of the video. The prototype described in the following section brings the advantages of the traditional and streaming worlds together and opens up new opportunities.

The prototype consists roughly of two main components, one of which is a collaborative learning environment and the other one is a smart tool to stream videoconferences. The collaborative part offers the functionalities of an average LMS: discussion forum, chat, content upload features and the possibility to set up individual workbooks, peer reviews, brainstorms etc. Apart from this it allows for integration of any type of digital media linked to an asynchronous discussion. 'Linking' in this context implies more than having a hyperlink from the discussion to the streamed video which then opens up in a separate window or having a web page with text and an integrated streaming frame. 'Linking' means that users can post a message linked to a specific position in the video clip; when other users play the video, they will see this message at that particular part of the video. Additionally, when composing a message, users can also add a link to one or more different clip positions into their message. If another user clicks on such a link incorporated into a message, the video and slides synchronise with the requested clip position without leaving the discussion thread (see Figure 1). Furthermore it is possible to add personal 'Marks' to particular positions of a clip; when accessing a mark later, the video jumps straight to this position. Together with another function of the collaborative system that allows setting up individual areas, this enables individual users to customise a clip with their personal annotations and marks.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Screenshot of the incorporation of streaming media with asynchronous discussion

The streaming component of the prototype can take part as an additional endpoint in a videoconference and allows setting up a transmitted conference for on demand access within minutes after the session has finished. Together with the linking and marking functionalities, this gives a "talking head" a more meaningful life as it is now possible to direct comments, questions and answers to parts of particular interest.

Potential applications

Is this now just another toy or a meaningful new technological feature that could potentially open new opportunities for teaching and learning? The following list shows a selection of ideas of what potentially could be done with a system like the one outlined in this paper. These selected examples clearly demonstrate the potential of a system that enables tight linkage between asynchronous communication and streaming media exceeding a loose connection via hyperlinks as known from existing online learning technologies. The future will tell with what innovative pedagogical approaches creative online educators will come up.


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Authors: Ross Dewstow
Patrick Kunz
Ectus Ltd, Waikato Innovation Park, Ruakura Road. PO Box 7105, Hamilton, New Zealand

Ectus Ltd is a spin-off company originated from of the Waikato Centre for eEducation (WICeD), a research, development and support unit of The University of Waikato, Hamilton NZ.

Please cite as: Dewstow, R. & Kunz, P. (2004). Marrying streaming media and asynchronous communication. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 254). Perth, 5-8 December.

© 2004 Ross Dewstow and Patrick Kunz
The authors assign to ASCILITE and educational non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document on the ASCILITE web site (including any mirror or archival sites that may be developed) and in printed form within the ASCILITE 2004 Conference Proceedings. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the authors.

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