Press Release

Communal Webcasting platform to beef up campus's popular educational content

| 28 July 2009

As a growing number of worldwide learners log on, free of charge, to video and podcast lectures and events at the University of California, Berkeley, the campus is leading an international effort to build a communal Webcasting platform to more easily record and distribute its popular educational content.

Dubbed "Opencast Matterhorn" and funded with grants from the Andrew W. Mellon and William and Flora Hewlett foundations totaling $1.5 million, the project will bring together programmers and educational technology experts from an international consortium of higher education institutions, including ETH Zürich in Switzerland, University of Osnabrück in Germany, Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and Canada's University of Saskatchewan.

Through the Web, Matterhorn members from around the world will develop "open source" software designed to automate their recording and posting of academic content, making the process less costly and labor intensive. The $1.5 million in funding for the project includes $220,000 for planning and design activities that have taken place over the past year.

"Right now, colleges and universities want to provide their academic resources to students and global learners but are stymied by high technical barriers and costs. Opencast Matterhorn holds the promise of significantly lowering these barriers by developing open source software that meets the specific needs of academic institutions," said Mara Hancock, UC Berkeley's director of educational technologies and director of the Opencast Matterhorn project.

The software will support the scheduling, capture, encoding and delivery of educational content to video-and-audio sharing sites such as YouTube and iTunes, so that learners can access lectures when and where they need it. With additional funding, expertise and labor from other members of the consortium, the Opencast Matterhorn platform is scheduled to be up and running by summer 2010.

"Opencast Matterhorn entails more than just video capture and processing. It's also about tools and features that allow all of us to shape the media into something that's more meaningful for the learner to engage with," said Adam Hochman, UC Berkeley project manager for Opencast Matterhorn. For example, students and lifelong learners will have access to a suite of "engage" tools, including bookmarking and annotations.

Coursecasting is a growing trend in educational technology, enabling students and the general public to download audio and video recordings of class lectures to their computers and portable media devices. This latest innovation will solidify UC Berkeley's position as a leader in knowledge-sharing through open access Internet channels, campus officials said.

UC Berkeley has been making its academic content available to the public since 2001 and maintains a growing inventory of video content supplied by taped events and lecture rooms that are wired for automated webcasting. In 2007, UC Berkeley became the first university to make videos of full courses available through YouTube. Course topics include bioengineering, peace and conflict studies, "Physics for Future Presidents," "Environmental Law & Policy," and "General Psychology."

"Students and lifelong learners are becoming increasingly aware of the value of audio and video content that supports their learning, and universities are becoming more committed to providing that service to students," said Christina Maslach, UC Berkeley vice provost for teaching and learning and principal investigator for the Hewlett and Mellon grants.

The project is very much in step with the campus's open source tradition. In the 1970s, UC Berkeley's Computer Systems Research Group laid the foundation for today's open source community. The group developed Berkeley Software Distribution, also known as Berkeley Unix, whose popularity among academics led to the widespread adoption of the Unix operating system. Since then, UC Berkeley has played a leadership role in other worldwide open source projects such as Sakai, Fluid, CollectionSpace and Kuali.

As opposed to proprietary software, open source software makes its program source code available to the public, giving users access to core design functionalities and allowing them to tweak and add features. The software is licensed so that individuals are free to adopt and change it for their own needs.

Other institutions partnering in Opencast Matterhorn are the University of Vigo in Spain, University of Toronto, University of Copenhagen, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Northwestern University in Ilinois, Open University of Catalonia in Spain, Indiana University and the Jožef Stefan Institute in Slovenia.

"Our partners have created their own version of an academic webcasting system, and so bring a wealth of expertise and lessons learned to the project," said Hancock. "Through this collaboration, Matterhorn will gain the benefit of that collective knowledge."