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THE CHRONICLE of Higher Education
October 6, 2009
The Wired Campus
PBS and NPR are now posting taped interviews and videos of lectures by academics, adding to the growing number of free lectures online.
Their site, called Forum Network, says it makes thousands of lectures available, including the Harvard professor Michael Sandel's take on calculating happiness in a lecture called "How to Measure Pleasure," and a discussion by a Northeastern University professor, Nicholas Daniloff, about the difficulties of reporting in Russia in a lecture called "Of Spies and Spokesmen: The Challenge of Journalism in Russia."
The Web site also includes material featuring political figures and business executives. The offerings from PBS and NPR add to video and audio already available on sites such as YouTube EDU and from individual universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University.
February 24, 2009
Partnership between WGBH Boston, NPR and PBS will greatly expand the content and national reach of WGBH's "Forum Network," an online lecture archive by some of the world's leading thinkers.
WGBH Boston, NPR and PBS today announced that with support from all three and a two-year grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a new partnership will extend WGBH's Forum Network and its online collection of free audio and video lectures to other public stations. The support and partnership will enable WGBH, NPR and PBS to work with Washington, D.C.'s WETA, Public Broadcasting Atlanta and other stations to expand the Forum Network (www.forum-network.org), both in lecture gathering and distribution. The service today offers free online access to more than 2,500 audio and video lectures by some of the world's leading authors, artists, scientists, policymakers and historians.
WGBH President and CEO Jon Abbott said: "The Forum Network offers yet another platform through which public media can share meaningful content with citizens all over the world." He noted that people in more than 200 countries have streamed or downloaded more than four million Forum Network lectures by such diverse speakers as Lisa Randall, Noam Chomsky, Desmond Tutu, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and I.M. Pei. "We're excited to expand the Forum Network beyond WGBH and develop it into a service used by local PBS and NPR stations across the nation."
"I love the Forum Network and the ability to have access to leading thinkers on so many subjects and issues. It is how I stay current after-hours," said CPB President and CEO Patricia Harrison. "This is just another important example of how public service media connects people and communities through content that matters to our lives nationally and globally."
"NPR's constellation of Member stations across the country comprises a unique national network capable of reaching deep into local communities," NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller said. "The Forum Network will give stations a way to be even more relevant to their communities."
"For 40 years, PBS has educated its audience while at the same time entertaining and deeply engaging them," said Paula A. Kerger, PBS President and CEO. "The Forum Network will help us take this mission beyond the broadcast media. Now, Americans with Internet access will have a front-row seat in a virtual, world-class lecture hall, where the podium is commanded by some of the brightest minds of our time. This partnership is just one more way in which PBS opens new worlds to the American people."
"The new funding from CPB will enable our Forum Network partnership to expand the success of our existing service," added Milton Clipper, President and CEO of Public Broadcasting Atlanta, "and create a new model for national service to all Americans."
"At WETA, we are excited by this additional opportunity to serve the public with content of intellectual integrity and cultural merit," said Sharon Percy Rockefeller, President and CEO of WETA. "We are very pleased to be a part of the Forum Network -- we look forward to contributing currents of contemporary thought from Greater Washington and bring Forum Network's impressive resources to our public."
Working with these local stations, the new partnership will use the CPB grant to upgrade the Forum Network's technical infrastructure and capabilities. In addition to creating a common archive of thousands of audio and video lectures, the upgrades will enable public stations to customize the site's interface to complement their local station web sites, and offer community tools with which to engage audiences.
February 3, 2009
Low-profile lecture network gets national backing
Seven years after WGBH began its on-demand video archive of the often-stellar lectures and cultural events of the Boston area, it’s getting substantial national-level support for expansion to other cities.
CPB contributed a two-year grant to assist expansion, as the station announced Feb. 17. NPR and PBS also will help support the initiative, WGBH announced a week later.
Washington’s WETA will become a major participant, joining WGBH and Atlanta’s WPBA, which has contributed recorded events for more than three years. New York’s WNET and the Forum Network also exchange taped lectures, though the New Yorkers aren’t part of the CPB project, according to Eli Ingraham, Forum Network director at WGBH.
Other stations can choose their levels of involvement — investing in developing local archives that they contribute to the national collection, operating independently or simply providing access through their websites.
As a media species, the Forum Network looks something like C-SPAN, which also documents events with low-end video for an audience of distant and often enthusiastic viewers.
It gives them what PBS President Paula Kerger calls “a front-row seat in a virtual, world-class lecture hall.”
“We have so many pieces that blow my mind,” Ingraham says, “We have soldiers back from Iraq, the photographer who was at the White House when Elvis came to meet Nixon, and we have emerging Latina poets doing their stuff.”
The public can browse or search among some 2,500 titles online at www.forum-network.org or through customized pages on the websites of participating stations.
If five or 10 stations become active, Ingraham expects to quickly double the archive.
Users call up 150,000 video streams or podcast downloads per month, on average, and poke around enough to generate twice that many page views. Of the total 50,000 are podcast downloads through Apple’s iTunesU.
Forty percent of the viewers are in other countries, Ingraham says, and to her surprise some overseas schools use the videos as parts of formal education.
“You never know the impact you’re going to have,” she says.
What they choose most often are talks about politics, history, education and literature, “which resonate with public broadcasting verticals,” such as big PBS series that cover subject areas.
About 70 percent of the Boston-area events are videotaped by the lecture presenters, including 60 partners such as the Boston Museum of Science and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In Atlanta, WPBA brings in videos from the Carter Center, the Atlanta Press Club and the visiting authors at the Margaret Mitchell House, among others. Both WGBH and WPBA record speakers from lecture series that they present locally.
The Atlanta station joined the network in 2005 during an earlier expansion attempt, but other participating stations largely fell away.
An ongoing rebuild of the website, dropping the Real video format to adopt Adobe’s dominant Flash streaming format, has already reduced the “bounce rate” of dissatisfied web visitors who leave almost as soon as they’ve arrived, Ingraham told Current. “Time on the site is way up,” she says.
The site is now operating with an interim system while WGBH redesigns it, she says. The revamped site will debut May 31 and roll out to partner stations.
Interactivity is on the menu. Viewers will be permitted to post comments that appear on-screen during the videos. Ingraham wants to offer transcripts and may invite viewers to contribute translations to other languages.
New funding will help expand the staff from two to five or six.
The project, always ambitious but low-profile, will also get more publicity.
Last fall the Boston Globe observed that “today’s marketplace of ideas is rapidly moving online,” citing the startup of web-video lecture halls such as Fora.tv, BigThink.com and TED.com, a virtual brother of the punchy annual TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conferences in Long Beach, Calif. The Globe article compared Fora.tv with public broadcasting without happening to mention that WGBH had been running Forum Network for seven years.
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