Delivering the highest quality versions of learning content to students regardless of their device or location.
Students are increasingly using smart devices on the move in addition to an ever growing number of smart technologies within the household. This increase in the variety of devices has meant that the University is being asked to support a wide number of formats, resolutions, and quality levels. It also needs to provide content to these across across a wide variation in the speed of students' data connections, whether that is broadband (e.g. copper, fibre, superfast) or mobile connections (e.g. 3G, 4G, and the newly introduced 5G.)
There is a big challenge here to provide for all of the above and to always provide the content in the most high quality version available for the given situation. This will vary not just with connection speed and content type, but also across operating systems, device type, and purpose, as it is not always the highest technical quality that is required, if that means a lot of buffering and downloading.
This is, however, a situation that has been faced by the media industries for decades and one in which, over the last decade in particular, companies like Netflix and Spotify have excelled. The key lies in being able to support a wide variety of formats and resolutions across all major recognised device types at any one time. This means that there are particular challenges in how we set up our technical infrastructure to deliver such content. While the University is currently looking at new methods to deliver such services, there are still critical questions to be answered in what types of devices and formats we should cover in the future and we do not yet have enough evidence and data to suggest the best solutions.
The purpose of this strand is to come up with a set of recommendations for the various device types, covering mobiles, tablets, smart TVs, smart screens, smart speakers, and games consoles, in order to assist with the work being done in this area.
By utilising various devices and a consumer-level network setup (installed specifically for this project to help simulate the type of connectivity students will experience at home or at work) we will test a wide variety of devices, operating systems, and network conditions to provide an insight into the types of content delivery that students will expect. By using a variety of services for testing (including Netflix, Spotify, Prime Video and Music, Google Play, iPlayer, etc., all of which are industry leading services that have tackled this issue), and by testing at different network speeds, we will be looking to come up with reliable recommendations for the most common types of requirements to support students in the future.
We will use share this research and work with colleagues across the University to establish the next steps and to identify and prioritise where more resource or investment may be required. This information will also be shared more widely across the sector to aid general research into this area and to support other Universities and colleagues in the HE sector.
Work on this strand is scheduled to begin in March. Stay tuned here for regular updates.
The Smart Tech project was born out of the need to understand more fully the potential benefits of smart device usage on student success and to assess whether there are changes that we can make to the production and delivery of learning materials to assist in this aim.Discover more about the project