Online Education Player Design Considerations
Dallas Seminary has been doing video-based online education for about 5 years now. One of the initial goals was to replicate the classroom teaching experience as much as possible by including the video and the professor's illustrations (Powerpoint, Keynote, etc.). Beyond that, we also wanted to enhance the experience by adding things like a transcript and editing down the video to the most important segments.
Our initial player was created by Yahoo!'s Broadcast.com division and it used HTML frames and Windows media. This limited us to Internet Explorer, but there was no other option at the time. Then Flash 7 came out with video support and I custom built the player below. Since then, video on the web has come a long way, and the introduction of H.264 support means that we only need one format for playing on the web and on the desktop.
Here is the original design using 320×240 video and 480×360 slides:
Here are some changes we wanted to make:
- Move from Flash 8 to 9 – use AS3 and enable fullscreen support
- Use H.264 video – to simplify our workflow
- Increase the video size, quality, and availability
- Some users found the auto-scrolling transcript distracting and we need another option for them
- Many classes don't have slides, so we need to de-emphasize those, yet also provide a good slide navigation system.
- More narrow player – the current design is about 850px which makes it hard to have many more windows open at the same time.
Here are wireframe mockups of various design proposals
- First player (2003) using Yahoo!'s Broadcast.com using HTML/Frames/WMV
Obviously, WMV is limited to really working in IE, and we were stuck with Yahoo!'s platform.
- Flash player with 320×240 video
This player is wider since the slides are bigger, but the transcript is more narrow column which makes it easier to read.
- Swapped video and slides sizes, controls at the bottom
This swaps the video and slide sizes. It's nice, but the transcript is far away and the slides are hard to read. The player is also still very wide.
- Larger video size, small slides on the side
To make the video even bigger, the transcript is now a single line like closed captioning on TV. Rather than give the slides their own dedicated space, the slides have a tray on the right and the full size slide appears over the video for a few seconds. The width is slightly smaller, but not much.
- Coverflow Style Player
To make the player more narrow (for multi-tasking), we move the slides to the bottom and use the Apple CoverFlow to show a lot of them at once. This makes the player more narrow which is good, but also taller. To shorten it, we've moved all the controls on top of the video that appears/diasppears on mouse hover.
Here is a screenshot of a fairly common desktop size (1680×1050) with MS Word and a preview version of this player open. (note: I've made sure the controls are visible for the screenshot, but they are hidden normally)
This seems effective, but there is a possible drawback in that the Coverflow might be somewhat distracting to some students (it can be turned off). Also, some may prefer the older style transcript with more than one line visible at once.
Links to preview the players:
Another future goal is to build the player as an AIR application so that videos can be downloaded for offline use.