UVM’s Streaming Media Server and Online Video Platform (OVP)

An Online Video Platform (OVP) is a service for storage, management,and delivery of audio and video. OVPs are trendy, and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative  tells us why in their December 2016 article, 7 things you should know about OVPs.

Big names in the OVP  marketplace include Ensemble, ShareStream, Kaltura, Panopto, Techsmith’s Relay, Instructure’s Arc, Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite, and Echo360’s Active Learning Platform. OVP features vary, but the core functions that allow the upload, conversion, storage, sharing, and playing of video are essentially the same for all platforms. OVP pricing varies, too, with some systems clocking in at $50,000 to $100,ooo per year. That’s one reason why we built our own. Read on …

A bit about streaming video

Streaming video is not all that new. Here at UVM, we had a RealMedia Server and a Quicktime/Darwin Server both dating back to 1999. However, these products were obscure and difficult to use. Both servers were retired around May 2015.

Not all media on the web is delivered by streaming.  A large chuck of content — in particular audio or video podcasts — is delivered by simple file download from a standard web server. This content is saved to the users device, and can be played either later at the user’s pleasure or even while the media is downloading. This latter viewing option is known as progressive download.

Streaming video is played as it is received, not stored or cached. It is always used for live events. Pre-recorded Video On Demand (VOD) features fast-start, instant seek ahead or behind. Ideally, the server can adjust sound or video quality on the fly to match available bandwidth. Media is difficult if not impossible to save or copy, and streaming requires a dedicated Streaming server, which historically has been clumsy and arcane to prepare, configure, and integrate into web sites.

Exhibit A: Progressive Download vs. streaming. Same video, different delivery. Which is which?


streaming.uvm.edu is born

The UVM streaming server was born serendipitously in response to the STEM construction project. The Physics Department bought an IP (Internet Protocol) Network camera, hung it out a window in Cook, and pointed it at the construction site. IP cameras stream video use the Real Time Streaming Protocol, rtsp, rather than http, yielding ugly URLs like rtsp://physicscam.uvm.edu/stream that most browsers can’t understand. Soon after, other offices wanted construction cams, too. It became quickly apparent that we needed some way to convert these rtsp addresses to http addresses in order to view the cameras on the web. In particular, we needed a new streaming server.

What we got was a product with a cool name: the Wowza Streaming Engine. Basic, simple, and surprisingly inexpensive. It did just what we needed: feed it IP camera rtsp streams, it spits back, well, something else. So we needed a player widget, too, which understood the something else and provided the play/stop/skip etc. controls necessary to render that something else as a video. We chose the JWplayer widget. Like Wowza, basic, simple, and inexpensive.

PhysicsCam Live


This was all well and good for the handful of IP cameras on campus. But what about the hundreds of pre-recorded video files scattered across www.uvm.edu and Blackboard or blog.uvm.edu? Turns out, Wowza can stream those, too, if those files were consistently constructed and uploaded to the Wowza servers content folder. We were lucky enough to stumble across an Open Source project named Cumulusclips  which again did just what we needed. It provides the business logic of file management, tagging, searching, and transcoding needed to feed Wowza content. And it was free.

Transcoding and Dynamic Adaptive Streaming

Transcoding is the process of converting a media file from one format to another, possible twiddling attributes along the way. For example, take in a .AVI or .MOV file recorded at 1024 x 768 pixels, 60 frames per second, bitrate 5100 kilobits per second; spit out .MP4 file 768 x 434 pixels, 30 frames per second, bitrate 3100 kilobits per second.

Dynamic Adaptive Streaming detects the bandwidth and CPU of a user’s device and calibrates the video stream accordingly in real time to deliver the best playback quality regardless of connection speed or device. To achieve this, any file uploaded by a user must be transcoded into two or more alternatives with varying quality metrics. The server can switch from one alternative to another on the fly.

The UVM Streaming Server transcodes every uploaded video into 3 variants:

  • High: 3000 kbps, 1280 x 720 pixels
  • Medium: 1000 kbps, 640 x 360 pixels
  • Mobile: 600 kbps, 480 x 300 pixels

This is a resource intensive process, and may take more often several minutes to less often several hours to complete. Please plan accordingly. Also note it is better to transcode a high resolution video into a lower resolution than it is to go from low to high. So when creating your videos, aim high for best results.

Back to streaming.uvm.edu

So now that all the pieces – Wowza Streaming Engine, JWPlayer viewer, and CumulusClips – are assembled, what exactly do we have? An OVP which mimics the YouTube experience with the following list of features:

  • UVM WebAuth authentication
  • Upload videos: Accepts mp3, mp4, flv, wmv, rm (RealMedia), mov, avi
  • Tag and categorize uploads, create play lists
  • Upload and attach SRT/WebVTT caption files
  • automatically transcodes to multiple format mp4 files for consistent viewing experience (600kbps mobile; 1000kbps desktop; 3000kbps HD theatre)
  • Dynamic Adaptive bitrate streaming via MPEG  DASH and Apple HLS
  • Automatically creates thumbnail poster images, or upload you own
  • Streamlined integration with BlackBoard and WordPress
  • optionally require UVM login to view
  • optionally hide videos from search engines
  • watch videos, search for videos, share and embed
  • Growth has been steady, with well over 2000 videos uploaded


7 things you should know about UVM Streaming Server

Back to the EDUCAUSE “7 things you should know about…” article: What are the 7 things you should know about the UVM Streaming Server?

  1. What is it? A UVM specific solution for the storage, management, and delivery of digital video.
  2. How does it work? Our server provides the core functions that allow the upload, conversion, storage, sharing, and playing of video or audio files. After NetID authentication, user can upload files up to 10Gb each. Files are automatically transcoded into 3 variants to support dynamic adaptive streaming. The server acts as a central repository for the content and provides content owners with the ability to control access to the work.
  3. Who’s doing it? The Center for Teaching and Learning in partnership with Enterprise Technology Services.
  4. Why is it significant? A centralized enterprise level campus-wide OVP – along with the LMS (Blackboard, Canvas), the synchronous learning platform (Adobe Connect, Cisco WebEx), a lecture capture suite (Mediasite, Tegrity), and learning analytics program (KlassData, SSPS) – is becoming a necessity for higher education.  We feel it is a real game changer, as do Panopto and Kaltura.
  5. What are the downsides? The downside of any in house open source software is the need to support and maintain the beast in house. Thankfully, two out of three components are commercial products, and thus far their technical support has been outstanding.
  6. Where is it going? In the words of EDUCAUSE, “OVPs are a relatively new type of system in higher education, and the contours of the market are emerging. Platform providers are working to create an experience that closely matches that of YouTube.” Are we there yet?
  7. What are the implications for teaching and learning? Distance learning, hybrid classes, flipped classrooms, universal design, international students, to name a few. Tell us what you think!


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Putting the Student Hat Back On

When the Teacher Becomes the Student” is an interesting, short read from Maryellen Weimer, PhD of Faculty Focus. Her 2 take-aways are:

I would almost guarantee that if you struggle to learn something in a course other than your own, it will change how you teach; and 20 years at the front of the room (maybe less) erases virtually all memories of what it’s like to be seated in a small, uncomfortable desk somewhere in the middle of the room.

Re-experiencing the student perspective:
Starling, Roy. “Professor as Student: The View from the Other Side.” College Teaching, vol. 35, no. 1, 1987, pp. 3–7., www.jstor.org/stable/27550845.

Gregory, M. W. “From Shakespeare on the Page to Shakespeare on the Stage: What I Learned about Teaching in Acting Class.” Pedagogy, vol. 6 no. 2, 2006, pp. 309-325. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/197074.

Why clear rationale for assignments helps students learn:
Gregory, Marshall. “Turning Water into Wine: Giving Remote Texts Full Flavor for the Audience of ‘Friends.’” College Teaching, vol. 53, no. 3, 2005, pp. 95–98., www.jstor.org/stable/27559232.

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The Sound and Fury (When Classroom Discussions are Difficult)

Tree swallows arguing.

Greg, Flickr: http://bit.ly/2k3QJKc

Sometimes class discussions are difficult because students are hesitant to participate or because one student tends to dominate. And sometimes—as we’ve heard from faculty in these turbulent times—they’re difficult because emotions are running high and some students may be angry or anxious.

Here are a few resources to help faculty navigate these challenges.

Teaching Trump – Amanda Rosen

The Tricky Task of Teaching About Trump – Chronicle of Higher Education

Georgetown University Teaching Commons

Difficult Dialogues

Stanford Teaching Commons – Classroom Challenges

Getting Students to Talk to Each Other, Rather Than the Teacher

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But it had the Blackboard logo in it…

The recent political debacle involving hacking of a certain official’s computer reminds us once again of the ease and dangers of phishing. You may have been even more tempted recently to click on one of those links in an email because the phishers are getting more sophisticated, not to mention better at spelling and grammar.

E-mails that have actual logos, appear to be written in a form that mimics legitimate messages, or even that appear to come from a UVM or well-known address are all increasing in number.

Is it really so bad to click? This one came from a friend of mine so surely it’s OK? And, really, who would be interested in what’s on my computer anyway?

What kinds of things do phishers want to do? Gain access to your contacts so they can send phishing email to everyone on that list that will look that it is sent from a real account. If your friends start asking you why you are sending them fake ads or disturbing images or angry notes you may wish you hadn’t clicked on that phishing link.

Phishers and hackers may also be interested in harvesting your passwords. Many people use the same password for multiple services. A hacker who gets access to one now has a way to gain access to all. Once again, you may not mind if FaceBook posts appear to be from you start popping up but then again when your Amazon account and all the credit card information you stored there gets stolen – not so nice.

And hackers and malware? Well viruses are no fun and can be difficult to get rid of. Even worse is malware that turns your computer into a botnet whereby the hacker can use it to send malware to others.

How can you tell if an e-mail, even one that looks like it comes from a friend, is a phishing scam?

Is it telling you to click the link and provide your login information? Don’t click the link. If it’s your bank or a company that you do business just go to their website yourself and login as usual.

Does it look like it comes from a friend? Don’t click the link. If it is a full address you can copy and paste the link into your browser. Or, if it is a phrase that is a link you can right-click or control-click on it, copy and paste the link and, before hitting enter, look to see if it appears legitimate. For example, if your friend is sending you a link to a YouTube video make sure the address is http://www.youtube.com not http;//www.yuutube.com.

Does it look like official UVM business or like a note from Blackboard? Don’t click the link. UVM will never send email asking for your NetID and password. Any Blackboard alert messages will be posted on the Blackboard login page or sent from our own Blackboard admin with no request to click.

If you are ever uncertain about the legitimacy of an email message concerning your uvm.edu account, please contact the Computing Help Line at 656-2604, or submit a help request online by emailing techteam@uvm.edu.

And if you would like to report phishing, please forward the phishing email with full headers to is-spam@labs.sophos.com and to abuse@uvm.edu. (To forward a message with headers, please see http://www.uvm.edu/techteam/forwarding-full-mail-headers/)

By the way, the latest news reports that the case mentioned at the beginning of this blog post started out even more innocuous. Apparently the official in question checked with his tech supporter about the email and was told it was legitimate. A short time later they both realized that “legitimate” was a typo and the tech advisor meant to type “illegitimate.” (Please don’t tell me Auto-Correct struck again!) So, even if someone tells you it’s OK to click, resist the temptation.

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“Returning to the Classroom after the Election”

Whether or not we choose to engage students in dialogue about the election results, we should recognize that some students’ emotional responses may interfere with their ability to focus.

This blog post by the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching offers some sage advice and a few simple strategies to process the event before moving on to regular course content.

Read the post here: “Returning to the Classroom after the Election

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Knowing Thyself Gets a Hand from Exam Wrappers

Most of us can identify with the chagrin students feel when they earn a grade that they’re not happy about. But, as with most of life’s stings, the disappointment comes with a learning opportunity. An exam wrapper (or assignment or project wrapper) can help students understand what happened and what they can do to improve their learning.

A wrapper is a tool, a series of questions on a form that students fill out after they get their exam grade. In short, they’re asked to identify and reflect upon their own actions and behaviors when studying. This process helps to develop metacognition or meta learning; students increase their understanding of themselves as learners and see the correlation between their successes or their less-than-ideal grades to their personal actions and behaviors.

Some faculty follow up with a class discussion or they request that students visit them individually during office hours to talk about what they wrote. Sometimes the wrappers are returned to students prior to the next exam, in time for them to reflect again and take steps to adjust their actions.

The following steps are from Duke University’s Center for Instructional Technology:

Guidelines for using exam wrappers

  • Explain to the students why you are using exam wrappers.
  • Give the students time to fill out the exam wrapper in class. Spending class time encourages the students to take exam wrappers seriously.
  • Collect the exam wrappers.
  • Review the exam wrappers for ideas for how you can help students succeed.
  • Return the exam wrappers to your students before the next exam. You may give students a few minutes in class to read their exam wrappers and prepare a study plan.

A few of short readings about exam wrappers:

From Dede Delaughter, University of North Georgia, Using Exam Wrappers as a Learning Tool

From Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center, Exam Wrappers  (Marsha Lovett and her colleagues at CMU are credited for developing the exam wrapper)

From Carleton College, Teaching Metacognition


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iClicker “gotchas”

The scales have been tipped a little here at the CTL Doctor Is In program. Typically, at the beginning of a semester, the majority of our visits from faculty are about some aspect of using Blackboard, but for the first time, Blackboard was beaten out by iClickers in frequency.

One reason for this uptick is the increasing awareness of iClickers as a means to engage students in class, to support classroom discussions, to give short quizzes, and to keep track of attendance. Another is that faculty like that they can now choose to allow students to use their mobile phones. (Optional!)

As with just about all software, alas, there are a few “gotchas”—that is, pesky problems whose solutions are usually simple but frustratingly elusive.

CTL staff member, Henrie Paz-Amor, has kindly put together this list of things to keep in mind while doing the following iClicker tasks:

Syncing the Course Roster in iClicker from Blackboard

  1. Before you can choose a Blackboard course from iClicker, it must be available to students or it won’t show on your list in iClicker. Here are instructions for making your course available.
  2. Anatomy of a course number

  3. Choose the CORRECT course from the list. This image shows the anatomy of those critical numbers before your course name. Read more on this page.

Connecting to the Base Station

There are usually two choices for connecting to the iClicker base station in the classroom. If you are using the classroom computer at the podium, make sure that cable is plugged into the base station. However, if you’re using your laptop, double check that you’ve got the right cable plugged into it. It can be easy to miss. » See image

Powerpoint Slides are not Advancing

If you’ve clicked on the iClicker program to begin a poll, you have to click back on Powerpoint in order to make the next slide advance.

Another Powerpoint/iClicker Consideration

When you’re using both Powerpoint and iClicker you have to set your display to “Mirroring” [on a Mac] or “Duplicate Display” [on Windows].

Saving the Polling Data

Stop the poll with the correct button

When you’re done running a poll, you must make sure to close it properly or the data will not be collected. Click the red button to stop your poll BEFORE clicking the small “x” to close the polling window.

Using the iClicker Remote

Faculty iClickers (the blue ones) can act as a remote for advancing your slides, however the iClicker’s ID must be first be entered into the iClicker app. 

  • Click on iClicker settings and choose General. Enter the 8-digit code on the back of the iClicker into the Instructor Remote ID box.
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Election Tensions can Spill into the Classroom

The following blog post from the University of Michigan invites us to thoughtfully consider the teaching challenges and opportunities afforded by this often hostile election season. It asks that faculty from all disciplines encourage students to think critically and hold civil discourse about the many fraught topics in the campaigns both before and after the election this November.

From the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching & Learning:
» Teaching and Learning in a Tense Election Season

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First Day of Class

class2Even if you have extensive teaching experience, the first day of class can create some nervous jitters. So, we’ve collected a few suggestions, tips, and resources here that will help your class get off to a good start.

  1. One of the most frequent recommendations we hear from faculty is to arrive at the room both early and well-prepared. If you’re using classroom technology, have it connected before the students arrive. (If possible, visit the classroom the day before, to make sure you know how to do that.)
  2. Susanmarie Harrington (UVM, English) says that conveying your own excitement about the topic of the course can make all the difference. “You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and the best way to help your students feel excited about your class is by being enthusiastic about it yourself.” While it’s common to spend time on preliminaries like going over the syllabus, try to leave time to dive into teaching. This lets your students know that you intend to make every class worthwhile and they leave feeling that they’ve already begun learning.
  3. As mentioned above, if you like to review the syllabus here are a couple of ideas to make this more meaningful.
    • Before the first class meeting, revisit and contemplate your learning objectives and your schedule and identify the overarching themes. When you review the syllabus on the first day, share this 10,000-foot view with your students and talk about how the key themes are woven throughout the schedule. This overview provides not only a conceptual map of the course, but a rationale for the work you will be asking them to do.
    • Make the syllabus review more engaging by including interesting visual elements, e.g., drawings, concept maps, or funny cartoons. Consider playing music. Helpful links: The CTL syllabus resources developed by the UVM Faculty Senate. Tulane University’s resources for designing an accessible syllabus.
  4. Icebreakers: If you don’t have much time, simply ask students to turn to their neighbors and introduce themselves, but if more involved icebreakers appeal to you, here are 37 Icebreaker Activities from the Center for Teaching & Learning, Lansing Community College.

  5. The following activity can help students understand how their own behaviors contribute to a meaningful class experience. From The Teaching Professor Blog by Maryellen Weimer, PhD:

    Best and Worst Classes – I love this quick and easy activity. On one section of the blackboard I write: “The best class I’ve ever had” and underneath it “What the teacher did” and below that “What the students did.” On another section I write “The worst class I’ve ever had” (well, actually I write, “The class from hell”) and then the same two items beneath. I ask students to share their experiences, without naming the course, department or teacher, and I begin filling in the grid based on what they call out. If there’s a lull or not many comments about what the students did in these classes, I add some descriptors based on my experience with some of my best and worst classes. In 10 minutes or less, two very different class portraits emerge. I move to the best class section of the board and tell students that this is the class I want to teach, but I can’t do it alone. Together we have the power to make this one of those “best class” experiences.

  6. If group work is emphasized in your course, an icebreaker similar to the one above may be valuable for preventing some of the common problems that students have when working in groups. Ask students to form casual groups of 4–6 with one person designated as the recorder. Give each group a sheet with 2 columns titled:

    “Group behaviors that are helpful”
    “Group behaviors that are not helpful”

    Have them spend 10 minutes discussing this and listing their ideas in each column. Spend another 15 minutes or so sharing these lists with the whole class.

    From: Barkley, E. F. (2010). Tips and Strategies for Promoting Active Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Here are some links to other Universities’ pages on the topic of the first day of class:

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Hone Your Skills with Lynda.com

Lynda.com logo and video link
Brief intro by Lynda, herself

If you’ve heard of Lynda.com, you’ll probably be very happy to know that UVM now has a full subscription to the service!

Lynda.com began in 1995 and has since grown to be one of the world’s leading providers of online trainings for creative, business, software, and technology skills.

On the topic of Blackboard, for instance, there are courses with video tutorials on topics such as how to use the course control panel, (note: these links will work after you’ve logged in. See the log in link, below) setting course availability, viewing grade historyweighting grades in the grade center, and test availability and deployment.

Other topics that may be helpful are:

» LOG IN: will take you first through the UVM authentication page.

Tips for Using the Site:

This course, titled “How to Use Lynda.com,” is great for learning how to search and navigate the site. (Helpful Tip: Clicking on text in a video’s transcript allows you to skip to that part of the video.)


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