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All Hands on Deck: Bringing Panopto to NC State

Directional signs have been added to classroom buildings to help students find socially distant seating. Photo by Becky Kirkland.
Photo by Becky Kirkland.

With great technology comes great responsibility. That’s why every three to five years, DELTA takes a look at NC State’s enterprise learning technologies to evaluate their effectiveness and make sure they are still the best option for our faculty, staff and students. 

In 2019, the WolfWare Steering Committee identified a need to evaluate our enterprise classroom capture technology –– at the time, Mediasite. They wanted this process to serve as a model for future evaluations and implementations. 

The evaluation began in October 2019. ATI Executive Team Assistant Janna Martin compiled a list of peer institutions and comparable tools. After narrowing the list, four contenders were invited to NC State’s campus for onsite demonstrations. 

Following a rigorous evaluation of 11 video management software platforms, including Mediasite, with special consideration for university and end-user needs related to security, scalability and functionality, several factors pointed DELTA toward Panopto. The leading video platform for higher education, Panopto boasts a strong client list of colleges and universities as well as high-quality customer support and demonstrated care for the needs of faculty and students. DELTA was searching for a tool that would meet university accessibility standards and provide essential features such as two-way communication, recording integration and adaptive streaming, all of which Panopto offered. 

Even with more robust features, Panopto is more cost effective year over year. Rather than make their own recorders, Panopto collaborates with various manufacturers to certify their hardware works with Panopto, allowing the customer to choose which recorders work best for them.

DELTA staff consulted other institutions who made a similar transition from Mediasite to Panopto to determine what hurdles may be in our path and remove them before we got started, including Middle Tennessee State University, Louisiana State University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Duke University. Duke was an early adopter of Panopto for undergraduate education, and DELTA anticipates ongoing check-ins to share knowledge and best practices. 

With a solid foundation in place, DELTA prepared to bring Panopto to NC State. 

Making Connections

The review committee’s main goals were to ​​successfully transition away from Mediasite to Panopto with as little negative impact to faculty and students as possible and to collaborate with the campus partners who would help to support it. To achieve this, Director, Media Production Services Leisa Bolles and Project Manager Christine Belledin developed a strategic approach that fosters collaboration within a core implementation team, bringing together people from each relevant unit within DELTA as well as ClassTech, which manages the majority of NC State’s classroom recording technology. 

“Since they have the largest deployment on campus, we began meeting with them regularly to make sure that we were communicating well and trying to come up with a strategic plan for the implementation and deployment. This is something that we’ve tried to do throughout the years but have never been able to successfully maintain, but thanks to this project, I think that you know we’ve really strengthened the partnership that we have,” Bolles says. 

Bolles describes the overall effort as three projects under one umbrella –– the classroom environment, the user experience, and teaching and learning with Panopto –– with everyone involved thinking about the end-user experience throughout. 

Challenges and Successes

Change is hard, so the team knew it was important to manage community expectations about Panopto. The implementation team set out to provide faculty and staff with adequate information and notice about a new product arriving to campus, while tempering expectations and reminding them that the team was also learning along the way.

The biggest challenge the core team faced during this project was distance. With DELTA telecommuting during the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of meetings were still taking place online while staff were taking care of their families, self-isolating, and weathering the general stress of the pandemic, all on top of the regular demand of their jobs. 

But overcoming distance also became the team’s greatest success. As they confronted the new normal of the pandemic, they also embraced Panopto as the new normal for video management. Not a single meeting was cancelled, and everyone stayed focused on the project’s positive impact for the university to drive them forward. 

Belledin deployed a number of project management strategies and Agile methodologies to ensure the team’s success. The large core team met once every week with a focused agenda, while smaller working groups got together to handle their direct responsibilities. Team members also met periodically via Zoom with campus partners like ClassTech and communicated outside of meetings via active Slack channels. 

Throughout the project, the team worked together to develop the implementation’s “definition of done,” or what it means for Panopto to go live at NC State. In the end, the team defined it as deploying Panopto in a way that reflects existing NC State technology standards and provides a content capture experience that replicates, where possible, existing functionality. 

Panopto also offered DELTA a direct line of support. Senior Customer Success Advocate Alexandra Nuebert attended each weekly team meeting to answer questions, provide updates and resolve issues the team encountered. The team also purchased Panopto training hours to prepare technical support staff in each of the colleges. 

Faculty Input

Getting NC State faculty onboard with Panopto was an important part of the implementation process. While students would interact with the platform often, faculty members would be the creators using it behind the scenes. 

To ensure that faculty voices were heard, the team created the Panopto Early Access Group, an opportunity for faculty to access the platform during the implementation stage and provide feedback to DELTA. The Early Access Group and DELTA team members communicated via Google Groups. 

“We were encouraged and motivated by the faculty’s enthusiastic participation in the Early Access group. Their questions provided invaluable insight into actual product usage that helped guide the implementation team’s efforts and shape the development of support resources,” Belledin says. These questions helped the team prepare LearnTech, DELTA’s help desk for faculty, for the kind of questions faculty would ask when Panopto went live. Sometimes the implementation team didn’t know what the answer was because they hadn’t been asked the question before, which gave them a chance to learn and determine what they needed to communicate to instructors. 

The Early Access Group also assisted DELTA Communications in presenting Panopto to the broader NC State community. In addition to articles detailing Panopto’s features and important implementation dates, Early Access faculty contributed to multiple articles about their first impressions of Panopto and their experiences learning about the new tool.

Faculty appreciated the opportunity to get to know Panopto in a low-stakes environment and receive direct support from DELTA staff. 

Looking Forward

During late 2020 and early 2021, the implementation team prepared Panopto to go live to all faculty, staff and students, transferred thousands of hours of Mediasite content, created training materials and workshops, and with the help of ClassTech, installed more than 250 Pearl Mini recorders across NC State’s campus. Now that this huge process is winding down and Panopto was delivered to the NC State community in May, Bolles, Belledin and the entire team have high expectations for the future.

“I hope that the faculty end up with a tool that they want to use and will use more frequently. I think that it empowers them inside and out of the classroom to be able to create content and quickly get information to their students. I hope that staff members find it to be an easy-to-use, low-learning-curve tool, so that it’s not a burden to them, but rather something that’s a benefit that helps them get their information to their users and other staff efficiently. So just in general, I hope that everyone affiliated with NC State can use it to make what they do a little bit easier. The main advantage is that it’s another tool in the tool belt that helps students succeed,” Bolles says.

In the future, the implementation team hopefully anticipates many hours of video viewing and creating in Panopto. With engaging discussion, note-taking, captioning and reviewing features, students will have access to their learning materials in more of the ways they want to consume them. Faculty can experiment with this easy way to show students places they may not normally be able to go or get information to students quickly. 

“If faculty see that everyone missed the same question on an exam, they can take five minutes and explain it in a short Panopto recording and send it off to the class the day after the exam to say ‘Hey look, this is something everybody struggled on. I want to circle back to this and go over this again.’ There are so many different ways for them to do it,” Bolles says. 

Over time, the team anticipates new features to be added and a large increase in NC State’s use of video and the amount of content we create as a university. DELTA looks forward to seeing the NC State community Think and Do with Panopto.