Microsoft Stream – Fit for our purpose?
We, along with many other educational jurisdictions have been using video solutions in our schools to foster education while at the same time ensuring that we are protecting the privacy of those same students we try to educate.
Apart from privacy issues there are of course issues around ease-of-use, cost of the solution and performance especially over limited bandwidth connections to some schools and the challenges of latency in our satellite Internet schools.
While some content can be placed on external video services like YouTube, much of it needs to be stored and streamed from department managed solutions. When we first started down this path our solutions had to be physically stored on servers within the Northern Territory and controlled by the Department of education. Over the last few years the popularity, acceptance and increased security surrounding cloud-based content delivery networks has seen a shift in that necessity to store the content locally. Our partners in the journey along the way have been Microsoft and Cisco.
Recently (April 2020 to April 2021) the successful MS Teams implementation for videoconferencing during the COVID-19 pandemic prompted us to look at our on-premise ageing Cisco vBrick solution. Microsoft stream which is part of our offering from Microsoft includes those features I mentioned above including an additional one which is the cost. As it is already part of our environment there is no additional cost for hosting the solution.
A short-term showstopper is the fact that although as of May 2021 we can share links to videos stored within our OneDrive locations to anonymous (public) viewers, we can’t embed the videos with a player into a website, making the experience not as good as vBrick, Vimeo or YouTube. It isn’t on the Microsoft roadmap as of this date so we are looking at other options for that particular use case where we want our videos embedded with a player into an external site… like WordPress.
Features like automatic closed captions which although are still considered a work in progress are getting better all the time. The closed caption files can actually be downloaded, however the download file which can be opened in a text editor contains a lot of extraneous detail such as the accuracy rating and specific timespan of the text included in the caption. Luckily recently there has been a fix to that…
The transcript feature has now come to Microsoft Teams and for meetings that is fantastic. Having a digital minute taker which despite any small mistakes provides a transcript way better than I could ever do is a game changer and boon for anyone in a secretariat role.
I do need to flag a small “gotcha” though. In MS Teams if you attach a MS Team channel to a meeting invite you would like to record the transcript for, you lose the ability (at the moment) to activate the transcript function. To me though, that’s a “Digital First World” problem and the feature in itself is amazing. Combining that with tools like the soon to be released Reading Progress is blending stream video, MS Teams and pedagogy into a powerful hybrid learning solution.
One great example of our video production is the highly successful VAMPtv which after 11 years has been in production longer than The Blacklist, another favourite of mine. VAMPtv has seen its episodes outlast two video media server solutions implemented by our department, demonstrating their quality and resilience rather than a suggestion of a poor choice in media server solutions.
Check out a couple of (or all 137) episodes which use embedded video players to keep students on the same page which is important.
10 and even 5 years ago there wasn’t an appetite in our education department for storing anything in the cloud whereas in 2021 the vast majority of our data is stored on servers somewhere outside of our jurisdiction. I am not talking about student data or records but content related to the teaching and learning in the classroom. Our video solutions were all “on-premise” solutions whereas today YouTube is even considered despite its terms and conditions not lending itself to placing your students’ video works up in a video gallery with an expectation of a digital walled garden.
vBrick has served us well, MS Stream has great features and is used widely in our schools and an external use case requirement which may be filled by probably Vimeo, but possibly YouTube… however there are factors that go beyond simple preference which we have to consider before making a choice.
Because of the importance of video for communication in all environments, but in particular when we try to make and maintain meaningful connections with our remote communities – having a solution which is reliable, easy to use, controllable access-wise, doesn’t sell or use our content and is cost-effective are our indicators of a successful solution.