Video type, size and storage need-to-knows for #FlippedClass and learning media delivery to students

As teachers venture into the flipped learning movement, their passion for enhancing the pedagogical or content experiences in their classrooms is sometimes limited by their technological knowledge.  There are three big considerations when distributing video to students and their mobile devices: file type, file size and storage arena.  Fortunately, an open-source program called Handbrake makes it easy for teachers to convert video files into more desirable and distributable formats.

Video file type need-to-knows

Camera clipartFor years, the video world has been dominated by file compatibility issues.  Windows had its own video format (.wmv); Apple had its own format (.mov); and then as video came to the web, links to streaming content made video even more complicated.  Open-source solutions like VLC became the best way to ensure that schools could watch videos of any source.  You can’t install VLC on all devices, and for a while the digital media industry did not have a standard… until MP4.  As websites became more multimedia rich, new web coding standards incorporated support for the most universal video format of all.  And so MP4 became a better-supported format for video consumption, thanks to the new HTML5 web coding standards.  Many programs did not immediately export to MP4, however.

Video file size need-to-knows

Videos get large fast.  To get higher quality video, you need more storage.  To get a longer video, you need more storage.  To get slow-motion support, you need more storage.  As the demand rose for better quality (thanks in part to digital high definition television standards), compression had to get better.  Flash stepped in, but this format requires plugins that are not available on all devices because of Flash’s many security concerns.  MP4 has risen as a file type that balances the quality concerns with size requirements.  MP4 files can carry high definition (HD) quality while leaving only a small footprint on your storage device.

Storage arena need-to-knows

Before teachers convert all of their videos, it’s worth also taking a look at their final destination — their storage arena.  I use the word “arena” to refer to the many learning management systems (Edmodo, Canvas, Moodle) or cloud storage spaces (GoogleDrive, Dropbox and Office 365) that schools turn to distribute files to students.  In my school, we currently use Edmodo as our learning management system (LMS) and Office 365 as our collaborative tools suite.  Each of these has its advantages and disadvantages.

The first comparison teachers should understand is each service’s file upload limit.  Edmodo will only accept a 100MB file, whereas Office 365’s OneDrive for Business upload size is currently 2GB.  So, there is a clear advantage with Office 365, but would you use all of that space?  Teachers should remember that bigger is not necessarily better, because students still need to wait a significant amount of time to download a 2GB file.  A format like MP4 will save you class time spent on downloading files.  Nevertheless, having some extra headroom will allow for longer, more detailed videos.

Edmodo provides a great space for communicating, distributing and collecting student work.  When you have over a hundred students on your load each year, Edmodo’s setup is a breeze because most of the setup is done by students: teachers simply distribute a group code.  When it comes to uploading video, teachers should know that any video file is downloaded by default; Edmodo does not offer a built-in streaming control like you find on YouTube, Office 365 etc.  So, you will have a wait in-class for students downloading videos.  Using the MP4 format and a modern browser may help this, since MP4 can be streamed without a full download.

Thanks to Azure Media Services technology, just about any video uploaded to OneDrive or a Sharepoint site will both stream and offer students a downloadable format (generally, MP4).  Microsoft’s powerful servers convert your format into that MP4 format (for the most part), so that you can rely on students always being able to stream or download the file.  A drawback with Office 365, however, is the exchange of files.  Edmodo has Microsoft beat on the ease of collecting and grading student work.  I recommend a hybrid use of our two systems; I encourage teacher to sett up a shared class folder so that they can take advantage of the larger upload size and prevent sharing each individual file to their students.

Talk with your techs before you commit

Of course, my bias of writing about Edmodo and Office 365 is a reflection of my current district’s learning platforms.  The need-to-knows are worth taking with you when you go to talk to your school technologist when you’re ready to send flipped content.  Be sure to ask about what is open and unblocked for teachers and then ask if there are differences for students.  When in doubt about a school’s support of a technology: Ask first!  The lost time of uploading; the frustration of your students who can’t access course content; and the stress of not having answers is avoidable if you fill in your need-to-knows with some research.

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