Researchers from the Department of Electrical Engineering recently released open-source code to their ClassX program, which allows online streaming of lectures and public access to recordings that would otherwise require expensive classroom equipment to produce.
ClassX, used in nine Stanford classrooms this past spring, allows streaming in high resolution and lets students zoom in, tilt and pan to any specific area of the room. It also provides video synchronization with lecture slides and allows students to review the videos as long as the professor chooses to keep them online — without the large storage requirements typically associated with high-resolution video.
The project is the result of a year and a half of development by electrical engineering professor Bernd Girod, second-year electrical engineering graduate students Sherif Halawa and Derek Pang, and Ngai-Man Cheung, who was an electrical engineering post-doctoral scholar during the project.
“Our goal is to work on developing an open contribution from other researchers, developers and educators in building an open, cost-effective and state-of-the-art education-viewing system for the general public,” Pang said.
The groundwork for the program, developed by Girod and researchers in their Image, Video and Multimedia Systems group (IVMS) began in fall 2009, when ClassX was tested in two Stanford courses. It was offered in nine classes total during the 2009-10 academic year and grew to cover 22 courses in 2010-11. The program has been used in 25 Stanford courses to date.
Computer science professor Stephen Cooper, who used ClassX in his CS106B class, says his students enjoyed the program. Cooper’s winter CS106A class requested the program too late in the quarter to use it, but his spring quarter CS106B course did run with ClassX.
Other professors who used the program expressed some reservations.
“It’ s a very good first step, but it needs considerable improvement,” said chemical engineering professor Chaitan Khosla, who utilized the program in his E20 course. “If the University is motivated about making this a success, they should be putting much more resources into this.”
IVMS’s decision to release the ClassX code to the public could address both of Khosla’s concerns.
“We thought if we provided it to the open-source community, it would make the software easier to use by other institutions and also attract the attention of other developers,” Halawa said. “These groups would then join the efforts of our team and actually contribute to something advantageous to the students.”
Neither Cooper nor Khosla identified significant in-class attendance changes once ClassX became available.
“Students have legitimate reasons for not being at lecture, and they have not so good reasons,” Cooper said. “My hope is that the ratio of good to bad is higher. Let’s try anything that’s good for students.”
ClassX also gained interest from outside institutions before the code was released. ASSIA Inc., a Redwood City-based management systems designer for DSL providers, uses ClassX to make training videos and presentations similar to TEDTalks available to employees in the U.S. and at international sites. The program is also receiving educational and international attention.
“Georgia Tech sent us an email asking about the system and how we could make the system open source,” Cheung said.
“We decided to let them import our system to their site so that they could continue developing and working on it,” Halawa explained.
The potential scope of the project was understood beyond the United States, with international groups contacting the group, including Indian companies and German universities. This interest coincides with Cheung’s ultimate vision for the project.
“We hope that by this project we can improve all education quality and make it more affordable and accessible for many developing countries,” he said.
Corrections: The print edition and a previous online version of this story mistakenly attributed a quote to Sherif Halawa; those were actually the words of the author. The article also incorrectly stated the ClassX streaming was “real-time” and “live;” in fact, lectures are recorded before they are made available.