The Medical Sciences Division at Oxford has used lecture capture and videoconferencing technologies successfully for several years, both to stream lectures live and to record them for students to review later, for reinforcement or revision. As well as using established technologies such as PowerPoint and QuickTime, the Division is increasingly using the WebEx service for lectures, tutorials, and seminars when students are away from Oxford.
During the clinical part of their medical course, students work on rotations. These include periods in district general hospitals, which can be many miles away from Oxford. Because students are absent at different times, it is not possible to timetable lectures when they are all in the University.
To address this challenge, Medical Sciences uses WebEx videoconferencing software for live webcasting lectures in years 4 to 6. WebEx provides both web and audio conference facilities, and allows participants to share presentations, applications, and even the entire desktop. They can view video, chat to each other, and contribute to a whiteboard. All participants need is a computer, mobile phone, or tablet with an internet connection, headphones, and, optionally, a webcam (for smaller meetings). It is also possible to receive audio over the telephone, in which case WebEx will call the participant’s mobile phone or landline. In this way, students do not incur any charges on their own accounts.
In lectures which are given through WebEx in Medical Sciences, the screen of the lecturer’s computer is broadcast along with the audio. With extensive use of graphical slides with images, graphs, diagrams and so forth, the typical style of lecturing in medical subjects is well adapted to this ‘screencast’ format. Moreover, visibility in a dark lecture theatre tends to be poor, so capturing the slides of these lectures is more effective than filming the lecture with a camera placed in the room.
An advantage of live streaming with WebEx is the possibility for students to interact with the lecturer by sending questions over and comments a chat-like system. These can be captured and stored, along with the lecture itself, in server space provided by WebEx. A URL with the link to the lectures can then be placed in WebLearn so that students can revisit the lecture at a later date.
Live lectures via WebEx are now a feature of the Medicine & Surgery courses in years 4 and 6, and are being developed in some speciality rotations in Year 5. Lecturers have become familiar with the system and like its features, particularly the live chat. Students respond positively to it too.
WebEx can be used for a range of purposes, from meetings and interviews to lectures and training, and even to troubleshoot technical problems. It is split into different sectors or ‘centers’, depending on the nature of the meeting. The Medical Sciences Division recommends using the Events Center for streaming lectures, in order to avoid the additional costs that can be incurred when the Meeting Center is used for meetings of more than 11 people.
WebEx is provided by IT Services to University departments as a cost-recovered service. For more information, see the WebEx pages on the IT Services website.
The IT Learning Programme offers an online course in the basics using WebEx, on an on-demand basis.