"More classes should be like this": Teaching with Kaltura

In 2000, only about 738 million people in the whole world used the internet. By 2015, that number jumped to almost 3 billion people.

What changed? According to a piece published by Cambridge University Press, it was all about that video.

Video content has become such a huge part of online life that one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube every second. Over 4 billion videos are viewed every day on YouTube.

It’s no wonder, then, that video is also changing how we teach and learn.

Video has been successfully used to teach children with autism to identify facial expressions, teach nurses to communicate better, and even teach teachers how to teach better. Indeed, these two researchers so strongly support using funny videos to teach students that they coined a new phrase: “videagogy”.

At the University of Illinois, many students, professors, and staff are excited about using video in their classrooms through an offering from Technology Services at Illinois called Kaltura.

Kaltura is a media tool and platform that lets Illinois students, faculty, and staff create and host videos. It’s easy to make, host, share, and even track videos, which is partly why so many classes at Illinois are incorporating video. Kaltura is also secure to use, so videos won’t be seen by unintended audiences. And because this is Kaltura and not YouTube, help setting up and using Kaltura is freely available on campus.

To use Kaltura at Illinois, all you need is an active NetID. That means that any student, faculty, or staff member can start making and sharing videos right now.

Better yet, it’s all for free.


At all hours of the day and night, students at the University of Illinois are becoming doctors and scientists and artists the same way they always have: by listening to instruction from their teachers. This time, though, they’re starting instructions, pausing them, dragging the status bar back a few seconds, and starting them over again, by the soft grey light of a screen.

Faculty and students in a variety of disciplines are using Kaltura.

During the first month of the Spring 2016 semester, for instance, Math, Business, Chemistry, and Theatre classes provided the thirty most-played videos on the Kaltura platform. Chemistry led the pack for engagement, with an impressive 4,440 plays and 49,669 minutes, or 827 hours, viewed. The students in Theater 101 uploaded over 700 individual videos.

Many videos are recordings of lectures (which tends to be called “lecture captures”) that get uploaded to Kaltura after the lecture is over. Student then play (and replay) the videos whenever and wherever they want, stopping and rewinding as much as they need until they feel they understand the material.

Students are playing videos more frequently than even a year ago. Sunday is a popular day for students to watch (and rewatch) course material. On a typical Sunday in 2015, for instance, Kaltura videos were played between 1,500-2,600 times.

The number of plays has almost doubled this semester. The plays and views on a typical Sunday are up by 1,000 this spring, and even the lowest viewing days had double the traffic of the lowest viewing days in Fall 2015. The Spring 2016 semester opened with Kaltura’s second highest viewing day. On January 24, videos were played 6,024 times, for a total of 583 hours and 42 minutes.

More and more classes are relying on lecture capture, due in large part to student demand for it. And once students get video, some instructors report that their students have better engagement with course material, equal or better grades, and a better overall experience of the class. 

This was the case with Dr. David Rivier's classes this term. Rivier is an Associate Professor in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology. This semester, he’s teaching MCB 252: Cells, Tissues, and Development and MCB 317: Genetics and Genomics. These are two relatively large courses. MCB 252 has 350 students, while MCB 317 has 175. 

As the semester came to an end, the metrics available in Kaltura show the students in Rivier’s MCB 252 dutifully studying away. By Reading Day this year (May 5, 2016), MCB 252 claimed 11 of the top 25 spots for views by minutes, including the first 9 spots. Over the whole of Spring 2016, MCB claimed 11.35% of total plays on Kaltura.

Rivier heavily uses Kaltura in his courses. But just a few years ago, he was hesitant to make and post audio recordings of his lectures because he thought students might stop coming to class.

“Early on, I thought I knew what was best for the students,” Rivier says with a laugh. Audio recordings made him uncomfortable and he thought students wouldn’t learn as well if they were relying on the recordings.

And then he co-taught a class with an instructor who speaks with a French accent.  Some students said they were struggling to keep up.

So, together, they decided to dip a toe into these surprisingly temperate multimedia waters.

There were a few hurdles in the beginning. Rivier initially tried recording video and posting on a server that was not running Kaltura. But he stopped because students had trouble accessing the material. Once Kaltura and Illinois Media Space became available, Rivier tried them out on a trial basis without letting the students know they were recording the lectures. 

Once he saw how well Kaltura and Illinois Media Space worked, Rivier went all in.

Thanks to video, the students in his class, most of whom are pre-med, are learning more than before. While their scores are about the same as every other semester, Rivier reports that he’s teaching more material.

“I rearranged the class a little bit. I now teach 10% more material than before we had the videos. That means that students are engaging with more material and so, ultimately, are doing better than before,” he says.

And Kaltura’s built-in metrics allow him to see what sections of the lecture they’re watching and rewatching, and for how long. This helps him determine what may need to be taught differently in the future.

Rivier distributes an end-of-semester survey that asks students questions about what media they use. He learned that a chunk of students--about 30%--still listen to the audio recordings. “That’s because audio is more portable. They can listen to it on the treadmill or driving home to Chicago for the weekend,” Rivier explains.

But the fact that a lot of students still just want to hear voices without faces attached to them is not the most surprising thing to come out of the survey. That honor is probably reserved for the approval rating.

“My students watched 10,500 hours of video in Kaltura, and there have been no complaints about anything with respect to the videos. Not accessibility, not volume, not clarity. One of the survey questions was about how they take notes. In the end, 95% of the students depended on video to some extent. When we asked them if they would like to see Kaltura used in other classes, 95% said yes,” he says.

And no wonder, looking at their scores.

This is the first semester where Rivier recorded MCB 317: Genetics and Genomics. Usually, he grades on a curve since less than 17% of the students have a cumulative score of 90% or better.

At the end of April, however, 41% of the students are at 90% or better. Anonymized survey feedback from the students confirms what the numbers say:

“More classes should be like this. It makes it much easier to stay caught up especially with a busy schedule.”

“The videos allowed me to review material in detail that I would not have had access to otherwise. Considering that the exams are based on the lectures, it is important to be able to view and review the lecture videos, multiple times if need be.”

“I liked how the lectures were recorded and put online. I wish this was an option for all classes!”


Kaltura is available for use either as a plugin for Illinois Compass 2g and Moodle or through Illinois Media Space. Illinois Media Space is where videos are ultimately hosted, and it’s here that uploaders can control their videos and check to see how people are engaging with them.

With Illinois Media Space, content creators can share their videos with as large--or as small--an audience as they wish. Videos can be set to public or private. The entire world can see your videos or you can limit them to only one class.

Robert Baird relies on this secure environment to teach his students about media without violating copyright law. Baird is both a staff member at the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL) and a faculty member. He teaches MACS 395: Introduction to Digital Media, the  first media production course on campus, to twenty-four students each year.

“Kaltura is the only system that lets us share things among ourselves that would violate copyright if shared openly on YouTube. This allows us to keep things private to just me and the students and to also teach about Fair Use, copyright, etc.,” Baird says.

Perhaps the best thing Baird likes about Kaltura is that it’s a safe space to explore creativity. As he is teaching students how to explore huge ideas like inspiration and copyright, he is able to do so from a manageable section of the internet.

“[Kaltura] helps teaching by providing a safer, more private place for sharing media and drafts and projects where students or I, might not want them to be public to the world in YouTube or Vimeo.  And, god forbid, I don’t want students sending me email video attachments or trying to share media over portable drives,” Baird says.

And significantly, Kaltura is tied to the Illinois experience.

“Illinois Media Space is local and select and every video has some kind of relation to our institution, even the cat videos,” Baird explains.


Unlike relying on YouTube, Kaltura comes with assistance. Rather than watching videos to figure out how to use Kaltura, faculty can call on the good people of Technology Services and CITL for in-person help.

When Rivier and his co-teacher started recording their lectures, they didn’t do it alone. They turned to staff members Drew MacGregor and Baird to help them find a platform that would work well for their needs.

MacGregor, who works at Technology Services, and Baird suggested Kaltura. But the help didn’t stop there. MacGregor and Baird made sure Rivier knew how to work the technology, talked him through some troubleshooting, and helped him read Kaltura’s metrics. The three still stay in contact, even though Rivier started recording over two years ago.

Help with Kaltura is quick, effective, and free for all faculty, students, and staff. We’re here to help faculty, students, and staff teach and learn better through technology.

For help with Kaltura, contact the Technology Services Help Desk at 217.244.7000 or email consult@illinois.edu