Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Microsoft Stream - a new approach to video for the school managed PLE

Adding data to an uploaded video

The pace of development of Office 365 is truly impressive. I work with both Google Apps for Education and Office 365 (see other posts for the how and the why of that) and in very broad terms I'd say we see ongoing incremental improvement in Google Apps (much related to adding a level of fit and finish you'd expect) compared to a pretty relentless programme of new releases from Microsoft.

Stream is new. You could summarise it as "an in-house YouTube" which neatly summarises what it does and the greatest problems it faces in one phrase. The space the Microsoft are exploring though is video sharing within a defined community, and that is an interesting one.

It seems to answer the same questions as Office 365 Video which we have already settled on as our primary video service for schools, but although still in beta Stream seems to offer that little bit extra - this is an attempt to set out what I think it needs to do (well), what it does and how it compares to Office 365 Video.

Our philosophy is that of the mPLE - an managed space where who people are and what they can do is managed, but where the tools and services made available to them is as flexible as possible. Video sharing is obviously one of those services teachers and students want.

Without a service the default behaviour from users is to either put a video file in Google Drive/ One Drive and share it that way (which works and gives control over access but doesn't give any overarching structure with things like channels etc) or to put it on Vimeo (not linked to our single sign on) or YouTube (which is the gold standard for these things but has so many issues to control and manage that it's not my first choice for this role).

A class channel in 365 Video - with who can upload and who can view managed centrally.

First the original. Less than a year old, Microsoft Office 365 Video. 365V handles all the videos we upload without issue, has a good mobile app which makes it suitable for classroom use (to record and upload clips from within the app), and lets an administrator create channels and set who can add to each channel and who can view it. As a bonus a channel can link to Yammer (which we use as our professional social network), so that new videos automatically feature in Yammer as they are released - so for professional development or for letting staff know about the availability of a new resource within their interest group it's ideal.

It isn't so good at sharing/ embedding video outside the organisation and it is build on Sharepoint, although it does try to hide it - this means occasionally it can lapse into some confusing user interface conventions that work if you're an IT admin but not for others.

For me though, the fundamental weakness of 365V is its strength. It is superb where IT admins build a structure and users then create and publish within it. It is not organic. It does not welcome the teacher who wants to create a channel for a class at short notice, or for the group of students who need to share material just within their group.

Stream is still rough at the edges (it is a preview) but fully functional and already has a level of 'finish' in how users interact with it that is more on the level of the best Microsoft web services (like Sway or Outlook online).

Unlike 365V it starts with the user as a publisher/ manager of their own content rather than as a contributor within a fixed structure.

In Stream the starting point is the user as publisher, managing *their* content
I can see myself wanting to ask "how do I stop xxx from doing yyy?" before making it universally available (and for all readers rolling their eyes at that... well if they walked a few miles in our shoes they might think the same), but right from the start this is something that a teacher can pick up and 'just use' - make their own channel, bring in their students (using the 365 groups we're syncing with our MIS using Salamander as described in the last post) and make stuff, without waiting for someone to build it for you.

In Stream, once uploaded you can add comments etc and publish to channels that you create (rather than have made for you)

Users can upload and publish video (it seems faster to transcode and prepare video than its 365 brother), decide who will be allowed to see it and generally get to work. There isn't a mobile app for Stream yet, but I expect it's on the way.

As well as being more 'swooshy' Stream has the kind of user-led approach that is likely to lead to far faster adoption and adaption in classrooms.

It may be that features from 365V move to Stream until they end up with something that does everything 365V did but with a way better look and feel and a dynamic approach for the user to do more 'grassroots' sharing. Combining Stream channels and 365V channels would be great (but if they don't it is going to get awfully confusing when a teacher ends up with two completely different video channels with the same names shared with the same users....). This is likely to be more powerful, more messy (in the overlaps) and result in a simpler story - 365 ends up with one video sharing service that is a "private YouTube for our schools."

Or it could just leave 365V to wither away (we will be using it but already I'm wondering about how we'd move content if required) and keep developing Stream over the next 12 months.

Either way, it is probably the most interesting new 365 venture of the year so far.


After a few more hours of reflection and a couple of conversations I'd add that I think I was being over-harsh on Stream above and I should perhaps be clear - I think this is potentially a very very big release for schools. Since Google Apps retired Google Video and went all in on YouTube there hasn't really been an 'in house' video story there unless you built it yourself in Sites, or used private G+ groups.

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