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Digital education

My experience at the Panopto Conference 2021

12 January 2022

Written by Michael Hackman, Learning Designer

On 9 November I attended this year’s Panopto conference in person. Taking advantage of the networking opportunities and each Q&A session throughout the day. This blog provides my key takeaways and observations, sharing my views from a teaching and learning perspective.


Food for thought

If you haven’t got time to read the whole post, consider these points through the day:

  • Claire Lomas MBE had the best advice as we move on from the pandemic: “Take every little opportunity. Be willing to try new things.”
  • Ideas from Leicester University: Course design should be done in partnership. The lecturers know what they want to achieve and The Learning and Teaching Academy can provide the tools and training to turn an idea into reality. | Staff benefit from a tiered system of workshops to aid progression from beginner to expert.
  • Recorded lectures can offer additional peer review options. The process can be streamlined as recorded lectures allow for asynchronous observations, with lecturers indicating specific events they would like support with.
  • Hybrid teaching suffers from creating cognitive overload. Panopto CEO linked hybrid teaching with research conducted on ‘using a phone whilst driving’.

Introduction from Claire Lomas MBE

Claire Lomas MBE was a successful event rider until an accident during a race left her paralysed from the chest down. During her opening speech for the conference, Claire provided an intimate look at her life since the accident, detailing how she has managed to raise over £600k for charity. Claire has walked marathons… whilst paralyzed. Wow!

Throughout her speech, Clair offered advice and suggestions for how education can get the most out of the pandemic. Here are the headlines:

  • Take every little opportunity.
  • Be willing to try new things.
  • Don’t run back to your comfort zone.

This advice is fundamental as restrictions are easing and we see campus return to life. Let’s not all run head down toward our old methods and comforts. Take all of the opportunities we have gained from the pandemic to embrace the new Blended Learning Framework and offer a more flexible and rewarding learning experience to our students.

During the Q&A, Claire explained how we can help students with disabilities:

  • Provide role models.
  • Be honest with them about the struggles they can expect.
  • Raise awareness to others, particularly of the harm that small acts can have i.e. the fear of not finding a suitable parking space can make a wheel chair user too anxious to leave their house.

Reflecting on these ideas, they are easily linked to good teaching practice. We should already be highlighting relevant role models to students and be honest with them about the challenges they will experience on the course. Our classrooms should be a safe place where we set behavior standards. So these ideas aren’t ground breaking, they just require us to differentiate to account for the students in front of us.


Expert Panel Q&A

What follows are my reflections on some key points:

Hybrid Teaching

Whilst outlining the key usage of Panopto over the last year, hybrid teaching took third place. ‘Hybrid teaching’ referring to simultaneously delivering an active learning session to a physical group of students and a remote group of students. This is indicative of the shift in utilizing video conferencing to engage learners that are not physically present.

However, we may need to be more cautious with our approach to hybrid teaching. Research at the University of Leicester has found that their students feel safer attending a webinar rather than a hybrid lesson if they are unable to attend physically. The difference being that students are not expected to interact with other students during a webinar.

During a later networking session, Nichola Gretton (Head of Digital Education at University of Leicester) and I agreed that we should not pander to the student comfort zones but help them build resilience and widen their comfort zones. Therefore, if we want to build a hybrid teaching experience, a good place to start is by offering synchronous webinars and then gradually introducing students to more active participation such as contributing to class discussions and entering breakout rooms with other online students.

Student Experience

Dale Crosby is a PHD student at Birkbeck University of London and provided insights into how students are using Panopto to their benefit. Dale is a high achieving and technologically able student so it may be that we cannot expect such methods from all students. However, we can coach our students to utilize Panopto as a tool that does more than video playback.

The most interesting point for me was his use of the search function. As Dale is trying to remember content from a recorded lecture he uses the search function to search the video for a key term. Panopto then returns a list of points in the video when that term is used. In a well-structured, scaffolded lecture/lesson, the key term will first be defined and later in the session discussions will turn to analysis and evaluation. Therefore, a student re-visiting the content can use the search to quickly review the definition and then other key points to view examples of higher level cognitive engagement with the topic. Without barriers to the learning such as the time constraint of watching the whole lecture again. Brilliant!

Priorities for the future

Whilst all panel members made worthwhile points here, there is one that stood out from Dr Katie Piatte, Head of TEL at University of Sussex when talking about prioritising what we have learned from the pandemic:

“How do you make sure that nobody is disadvantaged, that there are no barriers to learning? That we have a truly equitable and accessible student experience.”

Two points that I really like with this question:

  1. The focus that, stakeholders have had to embrace technology over the pandemic and we must grasp this opportunity to the benefit of everyone.
  2. These are questions to answer. The last two years have been a rollercoaster and we now find ourselves back at the start of the rollercoaster able to think, consider and ponder. We can take the ride again at our own pace. No one is expecting us to be perfect today, but we should be better than we were two years ago and we should be asking this question with every lesson we design to ensure we’re even better in two years’ time!

Eric Burns Co-Founder and CEO, Panopto

Eric Burns provided a presentation that offered insight into how the company dealt with the demands of the pandemic and also showed off their visions for the future of Panopto.

Empathy

Being open and honest with our students can feel daunting. Especially when we are referring to the anxiety we feel around trying something new, or explaining the challenges we face whilst adapting to the new Blended Learning Framework. Eric’s opening comments however provided a demonstration of the empathy we can generate by recognising stakeholder frustrations and being open and honest about them.

Eric started his speech by explaining that between Jan 2020 and Sept 2021 the number of unique viewers using Panopto increased by over 6 million. An increase of over 300%! This meant that the company’s objectives had to turn toward infrastructure and technical support, rather than with upgrading the software. As with our service, they did the best they could, whilst under massive demand and pressure that they could never have expected.

Talking to other attendees at the end of the day, there was a resounding feeling of empathy toward Panopto as a company. People were no longer questioning why Panopto was seemingly slow to act on upgrade promises they had made prior to the pandemic. Instead, conversations opened up around the similar complications and obstacles that our institutions had overcome and how we’re now trying to get back on track with old ambitions whilst evolving our service for a post pandemic world.

As we were open and honest during the pandemic, we should continue to be open and honest with our students and wider stakeholders. It will help our students to empathise with us, generating feelings of togetherness and community that will contribute towards a positive student experience.

Hybrid Teaching

Eric openly exited his comfort zone to offer insight into the problems with hybrid teaching, and he was surprisingly insightful! Having experienced difficulties delivering hybrid meetings, Eric connected the difficulties with those experienced when drivers use their phone whilst operating a vehicle.

This does ring true to the concerns of hybrid teaching. Whenever the lecturer engages with one audience, they become mentally distracted from the needs of the other audience and transferring from one to the other will not (and cannot) be seamless.

During a group discussion during the networking session, we agreed that the answer to this dilemma is team teaching. However, that does not mean that two subject experts are necessarily required. The lecturer can stake their claim as subject expert, however they should utilize a facilitator for the online classroom. Dealing with task specific or technical questions and funneling subject specific questions to the lecturer at the appropriate time. Of course, this is easier said than done as lecturers and support staff struggle to balance an already hefty workload.


The Future of Panopto

Throughout the conference we were assured that all of our worries and frustrations will be addressed in future updates.

However, to answer the main concerns that were sent my way:

  • There is a new editing user interface on the horizon that will streamline the process, making it easier and more intuitive to use.
  • Investment in hardware (their end) should see a reduction in processing time with a goal of making it negligible.
  • They continue to develop the assessment tools. However, they suggested we work with our Customer Success Manager to develop these tools in a bespoke manner if we have specific ideas.
  • Welsh language captions: Auto captioning services are done through a third party. We (Cardiff University) will continue to put pressure on Panopto to pressure their third party to engage with the Welsh language.

Overall

An impressive, thought-provoking event. The presentations proved useful but the networking in-between sessions brought out the best pedagogical discussions as each institution scrambled for thoughts and ideas to improve their own methods.

Moving forward we need to work together to collate our thoughts and expectations of Panopto, so that we can help our Customer Success Manager to tailor the product to our needs and those of our students.