QuickTime Live and Education

QuickTime clearly has marvelous potential for instruction–and lots of us are using it. Apple, with its long time interest in education, targeted educators with some specific sessions. The first one I went to was typical of such things—it was presented by an Apple employee with a background in education and instructional technology, with a hot demo. It wasn’t his fault that the technology wasn’t behaving, but it was his fault that the use of technology in his examples, and his own reasons for presenting the sites were not pedagogically effective or clear. Essentially, the technology was driving the instruction (though I think sites like RaceRocks.com have a lot of potential, the presenter left us to figure out the benefits of streaming).

It’s About the Content, OK?

Too often I see educators, administrators, and developers presenting the technology as the reason for instruction. The proposition usually goes something like this:
“We have this really great [camera, server, application&mdash:fill in the technology to suit]—what can we do with it?”

Putting the technology first, before the instruction and the student, makes me crazy. It’s not about the technology, it’s about the content, it’s about finding ways to encourage learning by using technology as one of many tools.

There were several amazing presentations at QuickTime Live that, while not specifically targeting education, were right on the money about how and why to teach with technology—because it’s often more effective, it adds qualities that couldn’t be achieved with other methods, and it makes learning fun. David Gratton, of Totally Hip Software, makers of the altogether wonderful Live Stage Pro, was a perfect example of the right way to teach with technology.

Live Stage Pro–QuickTime Interactivity for The Rest of Us

David showed specific examples of useful techniques–like combining an interactive QuickTime movie with XML to swap data with a server–and immediately tied his examples to specific educational goals–like evaluating student responses. A lot of the session’s effectiveness had to do with David—he knows his stuff, and is personally enthusiastic—but it also had a lot to do with Live Stage Pro and Totally Hip’s ethos. Totally Hip saw an unfilled need–developers and ordinary end users (educators) needed a way to access the enormous power and potential of QuickTime without having to drop everything to learn C. So they created Live Stage Pro, which really is freakin’ awesome, and then created one of the best educational discount programs I’ve ever seen.

I’ll try to locate some of the sites David showed, and get permission to link them, and I will be posting my notes next week One of them, TODD, a movie database that swapped XML, is here. One of the enormously high potential areas David talked about, and QuickTime offers, is getting away from the browser, since a QuickTime file is sort of like a bento box for data–lots of tracks, lots of different kinds of data in those tracks (including XML, also supported by AppleScript), and all of it, including server communication, in a single file, even a tiny ref movie, small enough to attach in an email, as David pointed out.

Apple Keynote Announcements from QuickTime Live

You can see the keynote in streaming QuickTime for yourself, but I’ll cover the basics. First of all, Apple previewed QuickTime 6 with MPEG 4. That’s the good news. The bad news is that because of some truly idiotic licensing proposals from the MPEG-LA corporation, Apple won’t be releasing QuickTime 6 yet. I’ll get back to the licensing issue in a bit, but I want to mention two other really neat pieces of news.

There’s a new, and still free, version of the Apple QuickTime Streaming Server 4.0. This is a solid open-source, standards-based streaming server, that now has MPEG-4 and MP3 streaming capabilities. Since the server only serves, and doesn’t encode, the new QuickTime Streaming Server 4 does not require a MPEG-4 license and is therefore immediately available. Even I’ve been able to set up a QuickTime Streaming Server, and I’m a medievalist, not a sys admin. The browser-based admin interface is definitely better now, and you can set things up so your users can create “play lists.” What’s that you say, you don’t own a Mac? Then check out the Darwin Streaming Server, the open source version, with builds for Linux, Solaris and Windows NT/2000.

Last, but far from least, Apple announced the free QuickTime Broadcast Server for live video streaming. This has enormous potential–but, since it’s dependant on the MPEG 4 encoding standard, licensing issues are delaying it as well. What’s cool about this, is that not only is it free, it’s Apple elegant, Mac simple. You need QuickTime 6, Mac OS X (v10.1 and later), and streaming server technology–Mac OS X Server, QuickTime Streaming Server or compatible servers.

Here’s, roughly, how it works. You get a Firewire capable digital video camera, and film your class, or event–live. You connect your camera, via Firewire, to a Mac running OS X 10.1 or later, and the free Broadcast server software, and the free QuickTime Streaming software–users need the free QuickTime 6 software, once it’s released, to log on to your server. That’s the lowend version; you can scale it to suit–camera, to a Mac running the Broadcast server, to include a separate QuickTime Streaming server instead of running it and Broadcast on the same server, or several streaming servers. At the demo, Apple used an Airport wireless base station to connect the Broadcast Mac to the Streaming server.There’s a lot of untapped potential here for foreign language instruction–potential for doing more than ripping the CDs that came with the textbook.

The licensing issues have to be solved first. Apple is fine with paying royalties to MPEGLA for the codec, the part that lets content providers–like educators–compress video into MPGEG 4. MPEGLA wants .25 cents per decoder, and another .25 cents per encoder, per year, with a one million cap. That’s fine, by Apple, and they’re quite willing to pay that so users can use QuickTime Pro to encode and play MPEG 4 files.

The problem is that MPEGLA wants content providers, “publishers” or hosts–to pay content royalties of .02 cents an hour for a content host (that means anyone with MPEG 4 content on a web site, streaming server or other “hosting” system), and another .02 cents per hour for a content replicator. That’s absurd, really absurd. It’s a Microsoft licensing approach–a penny here and there, 24 hours a day, to generate millions without actually providing goods or services. And of course, for education, that cost would almost certainly end up having to be passed to students–so MPEG 4 would, quite possibly, not be used, despite its enormous potential for high quality content delivery. If you think this is as daft as I do, you can email a polite protest to licensing@mpegla.com.

More Popular Press and Web Logs in Education

There’s a John Dvorak article on blogs here; he misses the potential, I think, but read it anyway. And thanks to David-Carter Tod, here’s Weblog Ed a blog on web logs in education, from Will Richardson. And yesterday I found another free blog hosting site, one that’s primarily emphasizing community; Grok Soup.

I’m on vacation, sort of, attending Apple’s QuickTime Live conference. Lots of interesting stuff, with several sessions targeting QuickTime in higher ed.

Blogs, Definitions and Commonplace Books

Even Time magazine has realized that there’s something about blogs. People keep comparing them to online journals, but, as a bonafide medievalist, I can tell you they are more like common place books, as can McGee. Lance Koebel points to this Labyrinth entry defining the commonplace book. Swift, in his “A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet” suggests that

A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation. There you enter not only your own original thoughts, (which, a hundred to one, are few and insignificant) but such of other men as you think fit to make your own, by entering them there. For, take this for a rule, when an author is in your books, you have the same demand upon him for his wit, as a merchant has for your money, when you are in his.

Typically these books were compilations of brief passages, often with commentary, ordered topically or thematically—in short they were collections of commonplaces—or, for those with the Greek tongue, koinoi topoi, or loci communes, in the Latin .

The commonplace, as Richard Lanham tells us :

was a general argument, observation, or description a speaker could memorize for use on any number of possible occasions. So an American statesman who knows he will be asked to speak extempore on the Fourth of July might commit to memory reflections on the bravery of the Founding Fathers, tags from the Declaration of Independence, praise of famous American victories, etc. A few scattered traditional loci: death is common to all; time flies; the contemplative vs. the active life; the soldier’s career vs. the scholar’s; praise of a place as paradisiacal; the uses of the past; a short, celebrated life vs. a long, obscure one. (Lanham, Richard. Handlist of Rhetorical Terms (University of California Press: Berkeley, 1994).

Radio Userland

Radio Userland, or Radio, as it’s being called, is . . . huge. It’s more than a blog tool—because of the syndication, or “broadcast” features it offers, and the “news” database, which allows you to quickly, easily see headlines from other sites, and link to them.

There’s a reviewof Radio here on WinPlanet which offers a good description of blogs in general, but also suggests they are a Mac phenomenon. I’m not sure why the author sees blogs as a Mac thing–given the dominance of WIntel, I rather doubt it.

On the other hand, Mac users do tend to go for smart technology, and good design. Radio, while showing signs of being “smart technology,” is pretty low on the “smart design” scale. It violates a number of basic, standard Mac interface conventions, and the documentation is appallingly awful, in terms not only of the English but in terms of the lack of a useful instructions and a coherent structure. It’s far too frustrating for the average user— it looks and behaves like an early Beta version, not professionally released software. I wrote tech support a few short, specific queries and am looking forward to a response. Radio has enormous potential, not just for consumers, but in education.