ReelSurfer: What video needs to be in education

Video in ed varies across a spectrum of professionally hosted, easily-shared video (rare) to a hodgepodge of departmental content. ReelSurfer can not only help manage it but make it searchable and usable.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

What do you think of when you think of online video? YouTube...Hulu...Maybe Netflix, right? Or some reasonable facsimile thereof, like TeacherTube, Google Video, or Ustream. However, what do you do when you're the USC Film School and have countless hours of B-reel? Or if you're like most universities and produce lots of lecture videos but lack a unified platform for making them accessible and usable for students? You look at a technology like that used by ReelSurfer.

I had a chance to speak last month with Neil Joglekar, one of the co-founders of ReelSurfer, about the product, designed to take long video (e.g., a college lecture) and break it into useful, usable, searchable chunks. Which makes perfect sense, given that a recorded college lecture is potentially a great study or reference tool, but of limited utility as such if you have to watch the whole thing just to find a minute of the lecture that you want to review. According to Neil,

ReelSurfer technology can process long video to be consumed in its most usable form:  short, relevant  segments.ReelSurfer aims to increase the value of video online by allowing users to find the 30 second segment they really want to watch, and use ReelSurfer plug-ins to lets students and faculty create clips, annotate and share.

Not surprisingly, Neil and the other co-founder, Christian Yang, were both undergrads at Stanford when they founded ReelSurfer.  What I wouldn't have given for ReelSurfer when I was an undergrad, trying to figure out just what my notes said about organic chemistry (that class, and my utter inability to see blood, were my reasons for switching from pre-med to information systems).

Read on to find out what is surprising about ReelSurfer

What is surprising is that, just over 2 years since ReelSurfer was founded, the company is cash-positive without any venture funding and an impressive advisory board that counts Bill Fay and Carl Rosendahl among its members. The companies first customer was the USC Film School and they are now working with the San Bernardino Community College District, the Visual Effects Society, and the Brave New Foundation.

All of which are important for the company, but the technology and the ideas behind ReelSurfer are what really made me sit up and take notice. While most video sites rely on some sort of tagging or metadata to even find the correct video, ReelSurfer helps students and researchers find the correct content within a given video, making growing archives of video suddenly useful.  Because really, without meaningful search capabilities, all that video is no more useful than the microfiche we used to endure.

Currently, the video requires a transcript that the ReelSurfer technology syncs with the content for indexing.  However, in most university settings, the presence of a transcript is relatively common.  Technology limitations aside, ReelSurfer's technologies are a crucial next step toward fully embracing video as an educational medium.

Check out Neil's awesome guest blog on the current state of video here.

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