In early October, the Office of Classroom Management (OCM) dropped a bombshell: their email to all faculty and support staff laid out a plan for the gradual retirement of VHS and DVD players in general purpose classrooms. This came as a shock to many faculty and instructors who feel like essential tools are being taken away without replacing them with other good options. Teaching can be a delicate balance that is easily interrupted when something goes wrong. Having to transition to unfamiliar delivery options can create barriers to a smooth classroom experience.
However, time and technology march on. We've seen the demise of slide projectors, overhead projectors, and TV's in the classroom. We've made the move from analog to digital materials in image and audio. Now it is video's turn. OCM spent a lot of time meeting with constituencies across the university community about this issue, and there are good reasons for the decision beyond the declining use of these technologies in the classroom. OCM seeks to maintain a consistent technology suite in every general purpose classroom; if things work in one classroom, they should work in any other. In addition, OCM uses equipment that they can monitor and control remotely from the OCM classroom support hotline. The big problem for OCM is that VHS and DVD equipment with these capabilities is no longer available. The current inventory will wear out, and there can be no replacements.
This transition is one aspect of a broader set of issues surrounding video in the classroom. These issues range from technology through university processes and systems to some fairly murky areas of copyright. The college is assembling a working group to map out these issues and suggest short and long-term approaches.
In the meantime, the news is not all bad. First, OCM is proposing a long timeline for this transition. It is likely that most classrooms won't change within the next couple of years, and there will be options even for those scheduled for removal of equipment.
Second, there are many resources out there to help us through this time of transition. The libraries subscribe to many film and video databases. You can ask them to purchase additional content for your departments. Their mission is to support your instructional needs in this area just as they do for printed materials.
Third, more materials than ever before are available via "the cloud," like YouTube and Vimeo. There are also other streaming options such as Netflix and Amazon Video for professional media, but these are a pay-per-play option, and costs can quickly add up. Though we are sometimes reluctant to rely on resources that we do not control, nevertheless, there are plenty of options and more are being added all the time. However, most of the content used in the classroom is not available in streaming formats from anywhere, at any price.
Fourth, there are several possibilities for converting the content you own that is not already available online. Transfer of VHS tapes to digital format is a fairly simple process with the right equipment. Though the quality will not be improved, preserving it as a digital file will stop the tape from deteriorating (which happens every time it is played). You can more easily create clips from the tapes and apply other editing that may not have been possible before.
DVDs will likely have a long life in the classroom (as long as we can bring computers with optical drives into the classroom), but they too can be converted to a more flexible format. Recent rulemaking is more supportive of allowing us to rip clips from DVDs for the purposes of critique and commentary. However, copyright remains a concern in the distribution of this content. These are uncertain times as copyright owners remain reluctant to embrace the distribution of their content online, while the move to e-learning is pushing faculty to find resources that are accessible both in and out of the classroom.
The Digital Content Library (DCL) is a resource that can help faculty navigate these rough waters. We offer advice on what to do with existing content, steer you to other resources that exist both on campus and off, and consult on how best to share your content in the classroom. No one has all the answers, and rarely are the answers free of risk when dealing with published content, but the DCL and CLA-OIT are here to help. Call us at 612-624-2064, visit us in 460 Heller, or email us at email@example.com.
Rebecca Moss and Gary Oehlert