They’re making Echo360 less shit

Guerrilla efforts tried to make Echo360 better. Finally, the University has listened as well

In what can only be described as the ultimate feat of procrastination, Sidney Alcantara made a browser extension to fix Echo360 because he “didn’t [want to] study”. The Honours student, doing Software Engineering at Sydney Uni, created the plug-in because he had “grown so annoyed of […] the completely unreliable player” when trying to catch up on his lectures.

The video capture and streaming service is used primarily to record lectures and other live events for later access. Echo360 has been used on campus since 2012, replacing its predecessor ‘Lectopia’.

Alcantara’s frustration is shared by students of all walks; common complaints, especially under the heavy traffic of exam revision, revolve around poor quality, echoing playback, unresponsive track bars and buttons, missing audio-visuals, an inability to speed up playback, and connection issues that ‘crash’ the page and force students to sign back into the learning management system.

The ‘USYD Echo360 Loader’, as he puts it, is designed to “make watching Echo360 videos more reliable and less annoying so we don’t have to deal with […] the player not working” when we need it most.

Alcantara’s pet project mimics the mobile version on computers and bypasses Adobe Flash—an “outdated technology […] phased out for security and speed reasons.”

The loader allows users to reload the video alone when Echo360 stalls (instead of the entire page), as well as skip the 10-second copyright warning, when the network disconnects.

It also has patches to make the video bigger and adds functions—such as playback speed and skipping—which the mobile version on which ‘USYD Echo360 Loader’ is based, would traditionally lack. At this point, despite Alcantara’s best attempts, the extension cannot download lectures.

However, his efforts are a band-aid solution for an affliction only the University can resolve.

Larger university enrolment numbers, and the increasing digitisation of content, means that we’re seeing more lecture material online than ever before. But at the university, the technology is not well equipped enough to handle demand.

In the opinion of Dr Danny Liu, a Senior Lecturer who specialises in university teaching and learning, undergraduate students are best served with a ‘blended’ education: a mixture of “rich and authentic face-to-face learning experiences supplemented [with] relevant online resources and activities”.

Regardless of whether online materials are being used as a replacement of, or in addition to physical attendance, the standard of lecture capture services are important for learning equity and accessibility. This is especially pertinent for students with timetable clashes, work commitments and lengthy commutes. It currently takes three hours for a lecture to be uploaded on Echo360.

“Because teaching and learning is fundamentally a relational activity between students and teachers, coming to class is important. But for those who can’t make it occasionally, or need a bit of extra support to follow up with content, having lectures available online can really help them learn in ways that otherwise may not be possible,” says Liu.

The University is in fact migrating to a new system from January next year: Echo’s ‘Active Learning Platform’. A University representative confirmed that the platform will have new features like note taking, class polls and discussion polls, as well as higher video quality for  small print.

‘Active Learning Platform’ has, in fact, existed since 2014. It is already well established at ANU, UNSW, Macquarie University, Griffith University, the University of Wollongong, the University of New England and the University of Adelaide.

Unfortunately, Alcantara’s godsend will be short lived; the new Echo will be optimised for integration with Canvas, as well as modern browsers and mobile devices. Despite this, Alcantara can rest easy in the validation that ‘USYD Echo360 Loader’ is rated five stars on the Chrome web store and has been downloaded nearly 250 times since it was first released a month ago.

“The upgraded Echo will allow lecturers to […] better engage students,” says Liu. “This means that the lecture capture or streaming service will become much more of an enabler of learning not just after class, but also within class.”