Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Streaming Media in Higher Education

**This one's from Alice...

The continuous and fast-paced development of broadband network infrastructures and the use of multimedia in higher education during the last several years paved the way for the development of streaming media for the use of web-based learning in many higher educational institutions all over the globe. This particularly appeals to the fact that this new technology leverage existing educational practices, particularly the traditional lecture format. Nowadays, streaming technology becomes an increasingly constant feature in the delivery of higher education, driven both by the increasing availability of technologies and persistent budgetary pressures over the last decade to find scalable alternatives to the mass theatre lectures in undergraduate studies (Parfenovics and Fletcher, 2003).

Internet streaming media changed the Web from static text- and graphics-based medium into a multimedia experience populated by sound and moving pictures (Beggs and Thede, 2001). Today, streaming media is the de facto standard for Internet media broadcasting and distribution, incorporating all components of multimedia, even radio, television and film.

According to Beggs and Thede, streaming works by first compressing a digital file (audio, video, or presentation/animation) and then breaking it into small packets, which are sent, one after another, over the Internet. When the packets reach their destination on the requesting user side, they are decompressed and reassembled into a form that can be played by the user's system. To maintain the illusion of seamless play, the packets are "buffered" so a number of them are downloaded to the user's machine before playback. As those buffered or preloaded packets play, more packets are being downloaded and queued up for playback.

There is now a wide-spread push towards more interactive and more on-demand multimedia technologies in higher education. This resulted in the flourishing of the use of streaming media in education during the last several years. Many studies have been done regarding the true value of this technology in the higher education context, and some even evaluated various streaming media applications in higher education.

Some of the most easily-identified values for students added through the use of streaming media in higher education include greater access to instructional materials at a time and place, and on a schedule that meets their needs, and studying at a pace that is comfortable to them, pausing from time to time for research and reflection, and then having a replay of the lecture/discussion as needed. On the other hand, instructors are saying that streaming media gives them options on how and when to make the class materials available. This means that lecturers can use streaming media: (1) before the lecture to prepare the students for the discussion or laboratory work, (2) after the lecture as a review of class presentation, as make-up materials for missed classes, as a reviewer for exams, and to enhance retention by giving students an opportunity to review materials that are visually or audio driven (e.g. demos of machine operation, lab techniques, role-playing scenarios, music or art appreciation).

Lowe, (1999) suggested that there are two reasons for utilising Internet and Web technologies in learning: to improve learning outcomes and to positively affect the educational logistics (e.g. access or equity). The use of streaming media reinforces positively the two reasons cited, that is, more interactivity and comprehension is expected to happen using animation and simulation, thereby improving the teaching-learning process, and as mentioned above, better flexibility in accessing the course materials through the “anytime, anywhere” approach. As such, it cannot be denied that the continuous use of streaming multimedia in education, as well as its continuous development, speaks for the positive impact it currently provides to the academic community.