Recent ORIE M. Eng. Graduate Forms New Video Lecture Venture
|VideoNote employee Danila Apasov adjusts the camera as Morris enters notes about the Computing Using Java lecture into his laptop.|
Ryan Morris, ORIE '08 M.Eng. '08 and Paul George, ECE '04 Ph.D '09 have teamed up to offer Cornell students the opportunity to review portions of selected lecture classes at will, on a restricted internet site.
The idea for the site, VideoNote.net, came to Morris in Entrepreneurship for Engineers, an ORIE course taught by John Callister, the the Harvey Kinzleberg Director of Entrepreneurship in Engineering at Cornell. As an undergraduate, Morris, a category 1 bicycle racer from Canada, was sometimes away from Ithaca for a race, and needed to catch up on missed lectures. He turned this problem into an opportunity in the entrepreneurship class by developing the business plan for what became VideoNote.
With George, who had taken an entrepreneurship course from J. Thomas Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship@Cornell Michael Timmons, Morris evolved the business plan through several iterations into the current VideoNote operation. "We had spent a bunch of time searching for jobs, and realized that in the same amount of time we could start our own business," Morris said. However it was not easy to the VideoNote idea accepted." As an engineer I thought that if you made something that is demonstrably good, people will adopt it - but [we learned that] logic [like that] does not suffice," said George.
While VideoNote provides the entire lecture for the courses that it records, an essential attribute of the system is the access it provides to specific topics in the lecture. "Most [students] don't watch the whole lecture, just the hard parts," Morris told the Cornell Chronicle. "The vast majority of use is for 20 minutes or less, indicating that students are watching selectively," he said. The web site incorporates a topic index with detailed notes so that students can locate and select specific topics. VideoNote keeps track of the number of times that each topic is watched by students, providing the instructor with feedback on which parts of the lecture might need to be made clearer in the future
The availability of VideoNote began with a pilot project in fall 2008, and the pilot has been expanded to 10 courses this spring. A part time staff of 15 does the taping and editing. An unrelated precedent for VideoNote is TakeNote, a business established in 1985 that is providing lecture notes for more than two dozen Cornell courses this spring. Both services require permission of the course instructor. However "VideoNote has an entirely different economic model," according to Ryan, adding that "we will never charge students," as TakeNote now does.
Peer schools such as MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and Yale, as well as Cornell's Weill Medical College, already provide recorded lectures online, according to Morris, and some make their courses available to anyone, whether or not they are students at the school. However Morris believes that the indexing that makes it possible to review specific topics, as well as the feedback to instructors, is unique to VideoNote.
"The big market for VideoNote is outside of Cornell," said Morris. In April he will spend two weeks in Azerbaijan on behalf of the World Bank, as part of a project to teach people how to build infrastructure such as roads. "In the current business climate, companies can reduce expenses on travel for corporate training by using VideoNote," he said.
Morris attributes an essential aspect of the operation of VideoNote to his ORIE background. "I spend time systematizing everything, making it a process," Morris said. Sometimes this entails software development, but often it is just a matter of establishing how people do things. The proceses he has systematized so they can be executed by his staff include recording the lectures, editing the notes, and uploading the videos to the web site.
VideoNote, which is currently funded by the Provost and hence free to students, is not without controversy, according to the Cornell Daily Sun. Some faculty members are worried that the online availability of lectures will result in decreased attendance in the lecture room. "There is anecdotal evidence that attendance is not significantly affected, though it is hard to tell because attendance is not taken," according to Morris.
Professors are also concerned that availability of the videos will make mistakes will be "up for the entire world to see" and remember. Some are concerned about intellectual property, should the videos ever be open outside of Cornell.. In the initial pilot phase, when students were charged for access, there was also concern that a fee is not fair to students who cannot afford it. David Gries, associate dean for engineering undergraduate programs, told the Chronicle that if Cornell funding is not feasible in a time of cutbacks, the service might be made available in the library for non-paying students, just as textbooks are put on reserve.
George commented that the fledgling company satisfies three of his primary interests: edcuation and teaching, entrepreneurship, and technology. "It is continuing to be a great experience," he said.