M. Balen, B.Sc.(Pharm), Pharm.D.1 , Elaine Chong, BSc(Pharm)2
1Associate Editor, Journal of Informed Pharmacotherapy, 2Pharm.D. Student, Division of Clinical Pharmacy, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
J Inform Pharmacother 2003;12:500.
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Have you ever spent hours preparing, reworking and fine tuning a professional presentation only to find that, due to location and scheduling barriers, your audience is comprised of only a minority of those who actually wanted to attend? Do you often get asked to repeat the same presentation time and time again because only a small number of people are able to attend at any one time? Are you often in a situation whereby your "face-to-face" time with an audience of students or new staff would be better spent on problem-specific discussions rather than didactic presentation of introductory and background material? If this is the case and if you are familiar with using PowerPointTM software for composing your presentation content, streaming media may be a feasible way in which you can remotely disseminate your didactic content to a large number of people either simultaneously or asynchronously.
This article will outline how you can make your professional practice, staff training, or teaching presentations available in a format that participants can access from a personal computer (PC) via CD, Internet, or local area network (LAN).
Streaming media is a technology that enables viewing of multimedia (i.e. graphics, video, audio) content from a remote source without having to first download the content to the viewer's computer system. Streaming media has become a ubiquitous technology for delivering multimedia content over the Internet, and online viewing of educational material has now become commonplace. What is less commonly realized, however. is the fact that streaming media content creation does not require a great deal of technical expertise and represents a practical tool for many healthcare professionals to incorporate into their teaching armamentarium.
Streaming media files are viewed via a standard Internet browser. For some streaming media formats, a browser plug-in (typically free and available on line) may be required. A plug-in is simply a software application that expands the form and functionality of an existing program. Plug-ins automatically start when called upon to do so by the parent program and do not interfere with essential function
of that program. Plug-ins for the web are used to view movies and music (e.g. Quicktime FlashTM, Windows Media PlayerTM, RealOne PlayerTM), play games (e.g. ShockwaveTM), and view slideshows (e.g. PowerPointTM Viewer). If a plug-in is needed to view the content of a certain web page but has not previously been installed, the web browser will usually alert the user that the plug-in is required. Some streaming media applications are JAVA-based and no web browser plug-in is required. Java is a programming language used to create platform-independent applications and Java capability is built into most web browsers.
If your responsibilities involve repeatedly presenting didactic material, streaming media may help maximize the benefits of time spent preparing material by reaching a wider audience than is possible on a face-to-face basis. Many presentations, such as introductory teaching or training information, may not necessitate meeting with a live audience but you may find yourself doing so simply because you don't have an alternative means of disseminating the information in a format resembling the personal interaction. If introductory topic information was to be presented by streaming media, your subsequent time with a live audience could be spent addressing more complex teaching or training issues. The educational benefits of a one time clinical case presentation can be enhanced by making the information available to participants would like to attend the live presentation, but may not be able to due to location or scheduling barriers.
There are many ways to create streaming media presentations. All methods require content and a process to convert the content to a streaming media format. Software products that facilitate the creation, editing, and production of multimedia content are known as content authoring tools. Numerous streaming media authoring products are available. (Table 1) Some of these applications are intended for multimedia professionals, are expensive and require outsourcing or technical skill requirements that are beyond what most healthcare professionals possess.
PowerPointTM presentation software appears omnipresent and may be a standard part of many healthcare organization PC configurations. Our content creation experience lies largely with using PowerPointTM for academic and practice-based presentations. Audio can be added to a PowerPointTM presentation file by attaching a microphone to the presentation computer and using the "record narration" function of the PowerPointTM software. (Figure 1) The audio component can be captured in real time during a live presentation thereby eliminating the need to record the audio in a separate session. One issue to keep in mind is that that adding audio to your presentation will greatly enlarge the slide presentation file size making it more difficult to transfer the file from one computer to another. For example a PowerPoint slide presentation file that contains 40 minutes of audio may increase a file from an original 600 KB size without audio to 35 MB in size.
Several products are now available to facilitate streaming media of your presentations. Of the products listed in Table 1, one relatively inexpensive product, Impatica for PowerPointTM, enables the direct conversion of PowerPointTM files to streaming media format using a one step process and allows for plug-in free, web browser based viewing from either an internet web page, LAN directory, or from CDROM.
Table 1. Some examples of streaming media content authoring applications
Impatica for PowerPoint™
Microsoft Windows Media Technologies™
Figure 1. PowerPointTM record narration feature
Note - Record narration option is available from the "slide show" menu on the PowerPoint toolbar
Once the presentation has been given and the narration recorded, (Figure 1) converting PowerPointTM files with Impatica for PowerPointTM is a one-step process involving the addition of the PowerPointTM file with associated real time narration, to the content authoring software production menu and activating a "translation" function within the Impatica for PowerPointTM software. (Figure 2) The translation results in 3 individual files. One file is a "player" that runs the presentation, another is an HTML file which acts as the interface for users to launch the presentation, and the final file is the presentation content in a proprietary format. These converted files can be posted to an organization's Internet site, LAN, or copied to a CD-ROM for viewing. The streaming media format files are typically compressed to 10% of the original PowerPoint™ file size.
Publishing these files to a LAN directory for viewing can be done by simply dragging and dropping these three files to their desired location. Publishing the files to CDROM can be done according to the CD writing software instructions for coping files to a writeable CD. For those familiar with web publishing, the streaming media and player files can be posted to a website according to the instructions included with the content authoring software. After initially configuring Impatica for PowerPointTM to recognize a particular web host, content can be published with the press of a button in the authoring software. Webmasters will find this to be a simple procedure. (Figure 3)
Figure 2. Converting PowerPointTM files to streaming media format with Impatica for PowerPointTM
Note - Original files are "translated" to streaming media format by clicking on the "Translate" button on the bottom right of the authoring software interface.
Figure 3. Publishing streaming media to an Internet site
Note - Translated content can be published to a website by clicking on the "connect" button of the "Web Server Upload" tab within the content authoring software interface.
Streaming media has recently been introduced as a means of facilitating continuing pharmacy education at our hospital (A multi-site large Canadian teaching hospital). The goal was to enhance access to continuing education content by developing a process for recording live presentations and making them available for viewing via streaming media through both the pharmacy department's internet site, hospital LAN or CDROM. Over 70 contact hours of live continuing education seminars are offered annually to the 100 plus members of the hospital pharmacy department, students and invited guests. However, only a small proportion of all invitees are able to attend at any one time due to scheduling and travel barriers. The intent was to eliminate scheduling and location barriers that prevent staff from accessing educational seminar style presentation content at the institution. Some examples of these presentations can be viewed at http://www.vhpharmsci.com. Staff at our institution have responded favorably to having this content available to them.
Streaming media is a technology that enables multimedia content to be viewed from a remote source without first downloading the content to the viewer's computer system. Minimal technical expertise is required to create streaming media content. Healthcare professionals may be able to take advantage of the existing Internet and network infrastructure at their university faculty or healthcare facility to maximize the dissemination of educational material. Seminar-style multimedia content can be created using PowerPointTM and subsequently converted to streaming media format with software that is affordable and requires little technical expertise. Delivery of this content via a PC, an Internet site, LAN, or CDROM is a low production cost method that permits simple playback using internet browser enabled PCs for those who are unable to attend the actual live presentation.
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