Miami University is located in Oxford, Ohio, 35 miles north of Cincinnati, with regional locations in Hamilton, Middletown, and West Chester, Ohio, as well as a European Center in Luxembourg. With 14,488 undergraduates and 1,812 graduate students on the Oxford campus, the university effectively combines a wide range of academic programs with the personal attention ordinarily found only at much smaller institutions. The university’s residential programs involve students in life-enhancing activities that build leadership, character, and lifelong friendships.
While many universities rely on a cable system for delivery of video to the classroom or dormitory, Miami University sought a different model—one that would give faculty members more flexibility in making media available to students and that would also free students to take greater advantage of both the university’s academic and student life opportunities. “Our goal in implementing a flexible streaming system is to offer resources that improve the student experience and facilitate, rather than hinder, the learning process,” says Chris Bernard, director of network engineering and telecommunications at Miami University. “It was very quickly evident that HaiVision’s video distribution system would enhance student life across our campuses.”
The conventional cable-based model required faculty to be in the classroom and students to be working on their computers to view media according to a preset schedule. As a result, professors had little flexibility in presenting the day’s material and students were forced to organize their schedules around specific broadcast times. The nature of cable delivery further prevented staff and students from pausing video for discussion or to simply attend to other priorities. Seeking a smarter, forward-looking solution to its video-delivery needs, Miami University evaluated and tested various solutions available on the market. After an intense evaluation and testing process, the university selected HaiVision to deploy a new IP video streaming system throughout its campuses.
Miami University today uses HaiVision’s Video Furnace System to deliver live television channels and video on demand to students and instructors across its main and satellite campuses. A fully integrated video distribution solution, HaiVision’s system allows Miami University to use its existing IP network to deliver high-quality video to desktops, laptops, and LCD displays with a high degree of flexibility and very minimal maintenance.
“By simplifying the previously frustrating and difficult task of obtaining video for student viewing, the HaiVision system has made a dramatic improvement in the lives of our instructors,” adds Bernard. “Our students benefit from the remarkable speed and efficiency of the system, as well as from the look and feel of the interface, which clearly was designed by individuals who knew how users would work with the system. The response across faculty, students, and IT staff has been very enthusiastic.”
The university commissioned the HaiVision system with both the Portal Server and Media Server. The Furnace Portal Server controls the direct and secure distribution of video to the InStream player. This player can be enabled with all Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux users to watch video with the simple click of a mouse while enjoying the exact same user interface across all platforms.
The platform independence of the InStream player was important in this implementation because Miami University offers both Mac- and Windows-based laptops through its “Miami Notebook” program. Approximately 60% of students take advantage of this program, which offers students a business-class laptop equipped to meet both academic and lifestyle needs for 4 years, and more than 50% of participating students have purchased Mac systems.
Before InStream, smooth operation within the Mac environment was a significant issue with the video systems tested by the university. The InStream player eliminated this problem and, in turn, minimized the work required of IT staff to ensure students enjoyed ongoing access to media. In addition, because InStream simply appears with the video stream and disappears when viewing ends without any software installation or plug-in required, there is no need for IT staff to install or manage end-user software on student or classroom computers at all.
The Furnace Media Server enables the university’s video-on-demand services, making media readily accessible to classrooms across the campus network. A powerful suite of administrative components offers administrators an array of tools for digitizing, managing, and distributing live, archived, or on-demand video over the IP network.
HaiVision’s engineering team worked with Bernard and his staff to get the system implemented according to the university’s needs. In addition to providing ongoing support to technical staff, the company held on-campus training sessions for the nontechnical users, such as staff members in the university library and those members located at the university’s regional centers.
Within the teaching environment at Miami University, HaiVision’s IP video solution allows instructors in the classroom to access video on demand when it best fits into the day’s lesson plan and to use common control functions to stop or pause video for discussion. Links to on-demand media are offered to students through the university’s Blackboard system. Students can access assigned video via their computers, whether a Mac or a PC, watching according to their individual schedules and using the InStream player’s intuitive interface to control video playback. In terms of both teaching and learning, the experience no longer is constrained by the need to tune in at a particular time and watch continuously, from start to finish.
Integrated into the HaiVision system, the “zero footprint” InStream player makes access available on any computer, with any platform, anywhere, at any time. Students don’t need to install any software, download any plug-ins, and are always sure to be using the latest version of InStream whenever it is launched. As a result, students no longer need to attend special sessions, compete with other students for viewing time at the reserve desk, or even purchase media themselves.
“I’ve spoken with faculty about their experience with the system so far, and some have called our shift to the HaiVision system a revolutionary change, and certainly one that has made their jobs much easier,” says Bernard. “For many, teaching video and film has been among the most frustrating aspects of their work, involving the tedious and time-consuming tasks of taking videotapes out of the library, taking them to IT for copying, ordering the appropriate display and playout devices for the room, or scheduling viewing times. All of this changed when we took HaiVision online and gave faculty a far more efficient streaming solution. Both staff and students have raved about how much they enjoy using the system.”
While access to media has been simplified dramatically by the HaiVision system, the quality of video encoding and control over playout have also improved the viewing experience. Faculty and students can make the picture as big as the screen size on which it is viewed, and VTR-like controls such as fast forward, reverse, and pause make it easier to use video as a learning tool.
The early implementation of the HaiVision IP video distribution system was limited to a small number of classes. Within the first month of regular student use as a part of coursework, there were 443 distinct views of the system. Over the last semester, distinct views of the on-demand videos increased to more than 2,800. As Miami University continues adding content and promoting the service, it expects this number will continue to grow exponentially. System administrators have found that, according to network bandwidth use and activity, the highest use of the system ranges from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., indicating that students are indeed taking advantage of flexible viewing options.
Miami University is building a repository of video-on-demand content, beginning with library-type assets and later including recorded presentations and other school-owned assets. Future plans for the system also include using the HaiVision system as a tool through which students can upload their own projects for faculty review or peer critique. As a state institution, the university will be investigating using its HaiVision system to share media assets with peer institutions such as K–12 schools and other postsecondary institutions across the statewide network.
The university’s growing asset library so far features more than 570 media assets, ranging from specific educational material to programs recorded for analysis. Miami University also uses its HaiVision system to make live foreign-language television channels available to students over its IP network in a multicast stream. The university continues to look for new uses of the HaiVision system and ways to better utilize the service to deliver video content to students.
“We pride ourselves in having an engaged and active student body with many student organizations and opportunities for leadership and community service,” says Cathy McVey, senior director, IT strategic communications and planning at Miami University. “Our use of HaiVision’s IP video system allows students to match their viewing experience to their schedules and to view class-related video content when they are able while still taking advantage of all the activities our university has to offer.”