Monday, March 30, 2009

Drexel's media conversion system

In a March 2008 post, I wrote about using video in online writing (OW) courses. In that post, I briefly mentioned that Drexel has a sophisticated media conversion system that makes it easy for Drexel teachers to use video and other media. Now I want to provide you with more information about Drexel's system. The system, once known as the Rich Media Conversion Project, is now called DragonDrop (Drexel's mascot is a dragon, Mario the Dragon to be exact). This has been a multi-year, continually evolving project involving several iterations of the software and its interface. The system helps teachers create media files and make them available to--or "publish" them for--their students in a variety of formats. (You can learn more about this at, but I'll talk about the basics of it here from my usual perspective, that of the OW teacher.)

With DragonDrop, you can use built-in recording software to create screencapture videos: videos of your computer screen with accompanying audio. You can then upload the video file that you've created via a simple, clean Web interface that allows you to choose file output formats so your students can access the material. Drexel's system creates an accompanying Website automatically that contains the various media files. Students simply navigate there and click. Here is an example: If you click on the video links on that Webpage, you will see two short (<1 href=""> There are other types of software you can use to create screencaptures, and Drexel's system now has a built-in recorder, but I like using Camtasia to record the audio and visual from my laptop.

I "produced" the completed video using the Camtasia software to put it into an .avi audio/video format. Don't get hung up on the concept of "producing": This production process is simple and only takes a few clicks with Camtasia; basically, producing turns the "raw" recorded video into a sharable .avi file.

Next I logged onto Drexel's DragonDrop system using my Drexel userid and password.

Via the Web DragonDrop interface pictured below, I then uploaded the file. The system asked me to name the "playlist," or the name of the Website that would contain the media materials. It then asked me to name the file and to indicate the output, that is, what type of file I wanted my audience to be able to access. Drexel's system gives you multiple output formats for audio and video: 3GPP, Flash Video, MP3, MP4, Real Media, and/or Windows Media Video. I say "and/or" because you can produce your video in multiple formats, as I have done with the example above. You can also briefly describe and tag the file to help with later searches.

I received an automated email from DragonDrop when the files were encoded; the email gave me the Website address above. As I said, Drexel's system automatically creates this Website as a home for the media files. Then, all my students (or you) need to do is go to the URL and click on the files to watch/listen to the media (don't forget, viewers must have the appropriate media software to view the files; sometimes this is a snag with students). I can use the same URL all term for my class, if I choose, adding additional media materials as the term progresses to the same URL "playlist." The media files are "streaming," which basically means that when you click on the files they are continuously downloading as you watch them rather than needing to be downloaded as a large file all at once.

The Drexel DragonDrop system is a beautiful thing, and it significantly simplifies the process of creating and, perhaps even more importantly, distributing media materials to students. This system is also a great example of a partnership between teachers and technology experts. The Drexel IT folks have worked with faculty to make the system as user-friendly as possible, and faculty have found creative ways to use this tool to enhance their courses. I think part of our job as OW teachers is to explore the technologies available and then work with the technical experts on ways of using technology in pedagogically sound ways. We can do some amazing things together that will ultimately benefit the teaching and learning that takes place in our classes.