New multimedia suite comes to Dwinelle Hall

UC Berkeley faculty members looking to channel their inner Walter Cronkite can now use the new Multimedia Production Suite, located in Dwinelle Hall, to record lectures and attend virtual conferences as part of the university’s foray into online education.

The BLAMO system that faculty members have been using over the past month — made of scavenged parts and everyday software cobbled together in 30 days by senior producer Jon Schainker — reduces the financial barrier for producing high quality video on campus.

“If someone wanted to do a professional quality recording in the past, it would take 3-4 hours to set up and costs significantly more than BLAMO,” Shainker said. “We had to get creative with a way to do this without putting a big dollar sign next to it.”

The system allows professors to hold virtual office hours, attend virtual conferences around the world and incorporate video into their classes, according to Schainker.

So far the most frequent users of the system are professors teaching in the UC Online Instruction Pilot Project.

In a Nov. 18 forum on online education, Christopher Edley, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law and special adviser to UC President Mark Yudof, said that increasing availability of online courses could generate revenue for the university despite controversy over the use of online education.

The program is in the process of identifying 25 high-enrollment courses at UC Berkeley to become available for online viewing, including campus professor of public policy Robert Reich’s Wealth and Poverty class, Edley said at the forum.

The system is UC-wide and so far professors from UC Berkeley, UC Merced, UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz have all taken advantage of its capabilities, according to Shainker. 

Schainker credits the speedy creation and approval of the system to the very low financial cost.

“Most the equipment is scavenged from old (audio/visual) projects on campus and the software it runs on, called Camtasia, is only $100,” Schainker said. “We improve the quality of recordings by using professional quality cameras and lenses, as well as a broadcast quality microphone.”

Users pay around $100 an hour to use the system, and because it is still new and a foreign concept to many professors, a technician makes sure it is set up and running correctly for each recording, Schainker said. 

In the future, Shainker said he hopes to increase the awareness of the system on campus and encourage students to utilize the technology.