Ed Tech News: Lecture Capture Goes Open Source

Sep 13, 2010

OpenCast, an education technology collective, has released a new open source lecture capture system called Matterhorn 1.0. Although there are non-negligible costs associated with implementation and maintenance, this nominally free software stands poised to compete with commercial giants such as Tegrity and Panopto in the burgeoning lecture capture market.

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Recording Lectures Takes Hold Across U.S. Campuses

The term 'lecture capture' refers to the practice of recording lectures and storing them in a library to be played back by students at will. Captured lectures are typically also accompanied by slides or other media related to the lecture or course. They're a great way to improve long-distance and online programs, and studies have found that they also help on-campus students understand and remember course content.

As 'e-learning' has boomed, so has the practice of lecture capture. A recent poll by Frost & Sullivan found that students will select courses that offer lecture capture over those that only offer a traditional classroom. And this preference has led to a lot of software sales - a concurrent market analysis by Frost & Sullivan found that the industry earned over $50 million in 2009, and expects to more than triple that figure by 2016 based on projected rates of growth.

But soon the big businesses may have some competition. OpenCast has launched a pilot of their new open source lecture capture product, Matterhorn 1.0. The project is designed as an alternative to 'out of the box,' or proprietary, lecture capture systems such as Panopto and Tegrity. These products provide implementation and support services in addition to the software and hardware needed for lecture capture, but often charge tens of thousands of dollars annually in licensing fees.

Matterhorn by OpenCast

Matterhorn is, nominally, free. The source code is publically available, allowing developers to build and share new features and colleges to customize the application according to their needs. But as with any open source platform, there are costs associated with implementation and maintenance. Necessary hardware such as video cameras and microphones is not provided, and there will typically be labor costs. Since it's a new system, most colleges need to hire an outside expert to put Matterhorn in place, as well as a team to keep the system running smoothly.

Commercial providers argue that these costs, as well as the 'hidden costs' of any down time in the system, ultimately make open source platforms more expensive then their own products. Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, Michael Berger, director of marketing at education tech company Tegrity, asserted that 'about 80 percent of total cost of ownership is from ongoing management and maintenance.' These are the services that make proprietary platforms ultimately more cost effective, at least according to their sales managers.

But some college administrators disagree. A number of American and international institutions are currently piloting the Matterhorn platform, including the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Northwestern University, the University of Cambridge and the University of Toronto. Bruce Sandhorst, an instructional technology coordinator at Nebraska, told Inside Higher Ed that his university chose to pilot the technology because they feel it will be cheaper to deploy than any out of the box system, even when it's rolled out to the whole institution. 'We're pretty confident at this point that we can scale this out in a reasonable way without major expense,' said Sandhorst. He acknowledged that there would be some costs associated with implementation, but that they would be minimal compared to the 'cost-prohibitive' price quotes they were getting from proprietary companies.

Adam Hochman, project manager for Matterhorn, also defended the support systems for the product. Although fast support is one of the top features of the proprietary systems, Hochman noted that the OpenCast community has proven to be swift and reliable in providing troubleshooting assistance. And he expects that enterprising companies will soon make a business out of providing stable support to institutions using Matterhorn, much like Moodlerooms has for users of the open source learning-management system Moodle.

Only time will tell if Matterhorn will become a true competitor to the big companies. But Eric Burns, COO of Panopto, told Inside Higher Ed that it will certainly benefit consumers, pointing out that 'Whatever the commercial vendors will deliver will have to be significantly better than the open-source alternative in order to justify the cost.'

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