School video use has come a long way from the days when expensive video conferencing systems were required to connect students and experts in different locations.

Thanks to new advancements in video technology, students and teachers can hold live, face-to-face conversations with scientists in remote areas of the globe from whatever device they might own. Teachers can choose from a variety of free or low-cost tools to prepare video-based lessons that let them “flip” their classroom. And schools can use any number of products that make video editing and production more accessible for students.

School video use has come a long way from the days when expensive (and clunky) video conferencing systems were required to connect students and subject-matter experts in different locations.

Today, for instance, nearly 37,000 teachers from around the world are using Skype in the Classroom to link up with other classrooms through Skype, the free, Microsoft-owned service for making voice or video calls over the internet.

By registering with Skype in the Classroom, teachers have free access to more than 2,000 collaborative projects, and they can search by subject area for other educators who are looking to connect online. Students can “Skype” with a park ranger in Yellowstone National Park to learn more about topics such as geysers, hot springs, volcanoes, or ecology, for example—or they can find native speakers of Spanish or other languages to practice their language skills.

While Skyping is free, the quality of the video isn’t very high, and the service doesn’t integrate with all devices. For a more reliable video conferencing experience, schools such as Arizona State University and the University of Oregon have turned to a software-based solution from the New Jersey firm Vidyo Inc. to meet their needs.

Vidyo’s software marks an advancement in “telepresence” technology, which is designed to make users feel like they’re in the same room together.

Until now, most telepresence systems have been expensive, fixed-location systems that require dedicated lines. Vidyo claims its software offers the first “personal telepresence” solution, because it can connect users through a laptop or other mobile device from anywhere they might be.

Vidyo’s software makes telepresence much more affordable for schools, the company says—eliminating the need to invest in expensive video conferencing equipment to achieve a high-quality result.

The software reportedly can work with any type of network (3G, 4G, DSL, cable, or fiber-optic) and does not need any proprietary hardware to function—making it a cost-effective option for schools. It also works with whatever existing infrastructure a school might have.

Arizona State is using Vidyo’s technology in its School of Life Sciences to connect students with important advancements in biotechnical and biomedical research. The school launched a virtual classroom program that connects students with experts, scientists, and researchers in locations around the world.

ASU students frequently connect with experts at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., as well as the Smithsonian’s Institute for Tropical Research in the jungles of Panama. Users can join these conferences from a PC, Mac, or an Android or iOS device running VidyoMobile software.

A program called VidyoReplay lets instructors record these sessions and archive them for later use, and students and researchers are able to share their desktops during a meeting as well.

“We needed to link … to scientists in remote areas—environments that required something very flexible, very portable … something that actually works,” said Charles Kazilek, director of technology integration and outreach for ASU’s School of Life Sciences. “We wanted to see how far we could penetrate literally into the jungle and bring back that experience to our students. We wanted to see how far we could push Vidyo. Could we run it on 3G? Can we get it in the jungle? Can we get it … in the middle of the Panama Canal? What we found is, yes—we can.”

Kazilek added: “In all of those environments, the quality is exceptional, because Vidyo’s technology automatically adjusts to allow the highest level of audio and video fidelity based on endpoint equipment and internet connection speed. … Another plus is that Vidyo integrates with our existing legacy H.323 room systems.”

With Vidyo, “every personal computer can be, itself, a conferencing center,” said Robert E. Page, dean of the School of Life Sciences. “The other technologies that we’ve invested in have been static, and every place you hold a conference requires an equal investment of time and money; it was very expensive to link multiple video points into a conferencing classroom. Vidyo is universally available on off-the-shelf devices and everyday IP networks. It greatly reduces the costs of video conferencing and collaboration.”

Cisco develops classroom-based solutions

One of the leading suppliers of fixed-room telepresence systems, Cisco Systems, is best known for selling these and other advanced, enterprise-level products. But during the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in June, Cisco said it was focusing on developing more classroom-based video solutions as well, and it highlighted some of these new products.

One of them, TelePresence Synch, turns an interactive whiteboard (IWB) into a telepresence endpoint for virtual field trips. Using the IWB software, teachers can record these sessions and then send them to students for watching or reviewing outside of class, Cisco said.

Another new Cisco product, LectureVision, is a software program for capturing and sharing lectures with little effort. All a teacher has to do is record a lecture, and the software automatically encodes this recording so it can play on any device.

The sharing feature, called Show and Share, is like a “private YouTube” for schools, and teachers can publish lectures and presentations to their school’s Show and Share page. Viewers can comment on the videos, and their comments can be time-coded to a particular point in the lesson, Cisco said—making it easy for teachers to see exactly where students had a question or didn’t understand a concept.

What’s more, Cisco’s video analytics software, called Pulse, automatically tags video content by speaker and by keyword using speech recognition technology, the company said. This helps users find relevant content faster: They can jump to specific parts of a video by choosing a speaker, a keyword, or even a keyword mentioned by a particular speaker.

Cisco’s LectureVision is one of many new developments in lecture-capture technology, which is proving to be quite popular in higher education.

Results from a recent survey conducted by Tegrity, a McGraw-Hill company that makes the lecture-capture system Tegrity Campus, indicated that lecture-capture technology has improved students’ grades, efficiency, and course satisfaction, largely because they can go back and review parts of lessons when studying for tests.

Nine in 10 students said recorded lectures posted to course websites have increased the amount of material they learn during the semester, according to the survey results, released earlier this year. Eighty-five percent of students said the technology made them more efficient studiers, and seven in 10 said it helped improve their final grades.

Tegrity Campus lets students search for and save important content, take notes, and collaborate easily. They can view recordings from PCs, Macs, or mobile devices.

A timeline function with thumbnails helps users find specific points in a video. And a “Search Anything” feature lets them search for any word or phrase within a recording, without requiring an instructor to do any formatting on the back end. The technology automatically captures any text presented on screen, and search results present matches from the entire course and not just a single class recording.

The PowerNotes feature lets students click a button to bookmark a particular point during the recording, and clicking on that button again will take the student back to that point in the recording.

Instructors can broadcast their classes live as they are being recorded, and students can create their own recordings and upload them to a “Student Recordings” section when finished. A Remote Proctoring feature uses a webcam and microphone to record students taking a test, and it also records their screen activity, to ensure that students are not cheating while taking exams remotely.

In July, technology giant Dell Inc. jumped into the lecture-capture market, announcing a partnership with Echo360. Through the partnership, Dell said it would bundle Echo360’s lecture-capture technology into its own server infrastructure sold to colleges and schools.

This past spring, Sonic Foundry introduced version 6.1 of its Mediasite platform for recording, managing, and distributing presentations and other content. New features in Mediasite include a web-based Desktop Recorder for easy capturing of content; the ability to customize the Mediasite player, such as by changing its size; and a collaborative workflow process for reviewing, editing, and approving content before it’s published.

“With Mediasite 6.1, we can automate and streamline how we publish … presentations through the approval pipeline. [We’re] excited about the possibilities for how this might lend itself to our admissions department in the marketing of our university,” said Thomas Kemp, director of instructional technology and learning for Ashland University.

Flipping over the ‘flipped class’ model

These lecture-capture systems also are playing a role in the growing “flipped classroom” movement, in which instructors have students watch a lecture recording for homework and then discuss or apply the lesson in class.

Advocates of this approach say it’s a better use of class time to have students practice a lesson’s concepts when the teacher is there to help or answer questions—and as flipped learning has caught on in more schools, companies have responded in turn.

During the Flipped Class Conference in June, TechSmith—a conference sponsor—introduced version 8 of its Camtasia Studio software for recording and editing screen captures and presentations. Camtasia Studio 8 has been “completely rebuilt from the ground up, with ease of use in mind,” the company says.

The new version contains interactive features designed to support flipped learning—including the ability to embed quizzes anywhere in a video. Quizzes can be taken on desktops, laptops, iPads, Android tablets, and most Android smart phones—and educators can receive daily eMail summary reports with attached spreadsheets showing who watched each video, for how long, and how each student did on the quizzes.

Another new feature, called Smart Player, eliminates the need for users to create different versions of videos for each screen type, TechSmith says. Now, videos will be encoded so they’ll look their best on whatever device they are played, automatically. The program also detects if a device or browser supports Flash, and if not, it plays videos using HTML5. What’s more, formatting with the Smart Player ensures that viewers can see and use features such as quizzes, links, and video search on any device they use.

Videos can be published straight to YouTube or TechSmith’s free hosting site, Screencast.com, for sharing with others.

While Camtasia has many advanced features, there are also several free or low-cost tools for creating and sharing video presentations, said Kim Darche, a teacher at Chicago’s Tarkington School of Evidence. In a conference session called “Taking the Plunge,” Darche shared some of her favorites with attendees:

Educreations, a free app for computers or iPads that lets you create and share video lessons with your browser.

ShowMe, another free iPad app, but not as robust.

Screenr, a free tool for creating and sharing computer screencasts. Darche showed how she used Screenr to capture a virtual online tour of Anne Frank’s house and share it with her class.

Removing barriers to school video production

As educators aim to boost student engagement through project-based lessons, many have found that video production can give students real-world skills, while also offering a valuable service to their schools.

For instance, many schools are building high-quality video production studios to give their students valuable experience in recording, mixing, and producing video broadcasts—from live coverage of concerts and athletic events to student-run news programs.

Using professional-grade video equipment in these efforts can be costly, but several companies have come out with products designed to make video production easier for education.

WeVideo is an online video editing platform that uses a drag-and-drop system that teachers can use to incorporate video in their classrooms. Educators are using WeVideo in various ways, including…

• Students create video trailers to share book summaries with their literature classmates, “commercials” highlighting interesting geography facts about their state, and interactive interviews with historical characters.

• A group of students collaborate on a video orientation to the school’s library; another group shares highlights and lessons learned during a science field trip.

• Teachers record and edit short, compelling video clips to “flip” their classrooms.

“For a long time, we’ve understood that producing video is a highly engaging activity that helps students to develop critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration skills. In recent years, the availability of inexpensive video cameras and video-enabled cell phones has helped make it easier for students to capture video at the front end of the process,” said Michael J. Curtin, director of curriculum and instructional technology at Edgemont Union Free School District in New York.

“Unfortunately, the cost and complexity of desktop video editing software have prevented many schools … from rolling it out to teachers and students on a wide scale. An inexpensive, web-based solution that can be accessed from school or home, supports collaborative editing, and relegates file storage to the cloud is exactly what we have been looking for.”

WeVideo has introduced a free offering that will help teachers and students create and export up to 15 minutes of videos per month. It also comes with 5 GB of storage.

JDL Horizons’ EduVision platform gives schools their own IP television broadcast service and lets them stream live or prerecorded events. GrandStadium.TV, also from JDL, gives students hands-on production experience. The solution is internet-based, and students operate the cameras and switches, conduct interviews, and also broadcast the games.

GrandStadium.TV puts students and teachers in touch with local broadcasters to help support teachers and give students professional connections. It also includes a curriculum for middle and high school students, encouraging students to work in groups to plan and implement programming, manage all parts of live event production, and create commercials and public service announcements.

Panasonic’s HDTV Producer is a full turnkey video production studio for under $20,000. Panasonic sells the HDTV Producer as an out-of-the-box system that any English or journalism teacher can set up, with no professional video production experience necessary.

The system includes two cameras with tripods, a mixer, a recorder, a 42-inch LCD monitor, a microphone and boom stand, and all necessary cabling and accessories. The idea is to enable students to learn video production whatever their school’s budget might be, Panasonic said.

“Purchasing and setting up professional video equipment to produce high-quality, [high-definition] content can be challenging and time-consuming,” said product manager John Rhodes in a press release. “With HDTV Producer, we are … making it painless for organizations to deploy a full-featured video production system with a solid-state workflow.”

For schools that already have cameras and are looking for an affordable yet professional-grade live production switcher, Blackmagic Design of Milpitas, Calif., has a solution. Blackmagic’s ATEM line of switchers starts with a basic model that runs on a software interface and includes six video inputs for about $1,000. (An eight-input model sells for $2,500, and a 16-input model sells for about $5,000.)

If a software-based control panel doesn’t meet your needs, the company also sells full broadcast panels that start at $5,000.

Boston University’s College of Communication is using Blackmagic’s ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher and ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panel in its Production and Journalism studios. “The ATEM products allow us greater dexterity in our production capability,” said Assistant Professor Christophor Cavalieri, faculty advisor for the school’s student-produced news channel, in a press release. “They are great tools to train the next generation of multi-camera production professionals.”

For $5,000, schools also can purchase the VR-5 portable AV mixer and recorder from Roland Systems Group—an “all-in-one” system that simplifies the production, recording, and streaming of any live event, Roland says.

The VR-5 incorporates a video switcher, audio mixer, video playback, recorder, preview monitors, and output for web streaming—all in a single unit. It includes three audio or video inputs, an SD card slot for saving or playing back video or images, and a USB port for connecting to a computer.