Connecting with Students One MPEG-4 at a Time

To the harshest critics, today’s students would rather text than talk; prefer social networking sites to socializing with the person sitting next to them; and figure if it can’t be downloaded to their iPod, it’s not worth their time.

And yet, despite all these criticisms, students today are not all that different than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago in at least one very important way: They want to feel connected to their instructors and fellow students. Providing that sense of connection and building student engagement, whether in face-to-face, hybrid or fully online courses, increasingly requires the right combination of digital media tools and personal touch. And therein lies the challenge.

“If you do it right, digital media can really enhance a course and provide meaningful student-teacher connections,” said Kevin Reeve, head of marketing and communications for Information Technology at Utah State University. “When not implemented properly, it becomes a frustrating experience for everyone – students, instructors, IT and administration.”


In the recent online seminar Digital Media: The Latest Trends, Technology & Standards, Reeve explained a variety of digital media industry trends, the catalysts behind them, and the impact on higher education. These trends include the emergence of MPEG-4 as the new industry standard for video (overtaking Flash) and the proliferation of both desktop and enterprise-level screen capture solutions available for recording lectures.

To be sure, despite their many benefits, digital media tools and technologies place enormous strains on the bandwidth and resources of higher education institutions who often struggle to keep pace with the necessary infrastructure and tech support requirements.

Reeve recommends the following steps for a successful digital media deployment:

  • Provide technical instructions to students.
  • Provide a sample video so they can test things early on.
  • Experiment with different data rates, and set some institutional standards.
  • Use the lowest data rate possible but ensure video is of high quality.
  • Provide adequate technical support for faculty.