Apereo Foundation Fast Interview with Olaf Schulte, Chair of Opencast

Apereo Foundation Fast Interview with Olaf Schulte, Chair of Opencast


Olaf Schulte, Chair of Opencast
Olaf Schulte has served the Apereo Community since inception and has been in the role of Opencast Board member and Chair for the last 15 years. He works at ETH Zürich in Zürich, Switzerland, and has been part of the Multimedia Services group for 17 years. Prior to joining ETH Zürich, Olaf worked at University of Duisburg-Essen in Essen, Germany.

He holds a bachelor's degree in communication sciences and unsuccessfully worked on a Ph.D. on the topic of communication patterns in videoconferencing. His non-academic career started as an e-learning advisor for teachers, focussing on audiovisual communication, and video conferencing especially. Soon after he arrived in Zürich from Germany, he moved to the video production unit of ETH where he still works today, 15 years later.



AFF: Olaf, thank you for joining us on Apereo Foundation Fast! We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.

OS: Thanks for having me! I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the Apereo community and shed some light on what we do and the role Apereo plays for Opencast.


AFF: Please tell us a little about your work at ETH Zürich in the Multimedia Services department.

OS: My team is in charge of producing, managing, and publishing all kinds of academic videos, from lecture capture to event recordings, image films, documentaries, and videos to support online courses. So we’ve had a pretty busy two years thanks to Covid and are now picking up the pieces.


AFF: You folks have been busy! For our non-technical readers, could you give us a quick overview of what the Opencast project is and does?

OS: The Opencast project stems from the UC Berkeley initiative named “Matterhorn” to develop a free, open source software to support the management of academic video. It was a very early, yet timely initiative to support institutions that couldn’t and cannot afford commercial solutions - or would like to work with an open source product for other reasons. 

With Opencast, you can orchestrate lecture recordings across any number of lecture halls, but you can also manage other academic videos and distribute them to the typical outlets in an academic environment, local video platforms, learning management systems, YouTube etc. Today, there are additional features like a browser-based tool to produce videos (“Opencast Studio”) on your computer, an editor, or a video collaboration tool.

Over the past 15 years, the project and the community became “more European” and has a focus in German-speaking countries these days. Regardless, Opencast as a product is still being used across the globe, as can be seen from the input we get on our mailing lists


AFF: Olaf, you have been the chair of the Opencast community for a long period of time! How did you become involved in the project and what keeps you engaged?

OS: At first, it was part of my job description - and it probably still is! We were looking for a video management system for ETH at the time so it seemed like a good idea to collaborate with the likes of Berkeley and Oxford. With Opencast being used at ETH a couple of years later, it still seemed like a good idea to actively contribute to a project you have strategic interest in. That still is true today. Plus, I personally believe in open source software as a way to share knowledge, which certainly helps in phases of less motivation.


AFF: Are there particular areas where the Opencast community needs volunteers? How can new folks become involved in the project?

OS: Like many smaller open source projects, we are always in need of volunteers, especially since community members have been extremely busy during the pandemic, with development requirements coming in left and right. Fortunately, we offer a broad range of opportunities to participate - and you don’t need a deep understanding of Opencast from a technical perspective to start: Usually, volunteers begin with testing new releases or translation tasks. They often move on to become more active on list or documentation, many focusing on particular parts of the product and/or project. 


AFF: What is something you are particularly excited about coming up for Opencast over the next year or two?

OS: I have to mention the new video portal “Tobira” we’re currently building because it brings together in one place the large number of features and modules we already have or are currently working on. Also, the collaboration and the integration we see with BigBlueButton, an open source web conferencing solution is exciting not only in view of what we saw during the pandemic - adding these videos to Opencast makes it an even more complete solution for academic video management.


AFF: What were some outcomes from the 2022 Opencast Summit that you’d particularly like to share with the wider Apereo Community?

OS: Taking this from a different angle: The 2022 summit was yet another virtual meeting. Which was a good thing for many who couldn’t afford or weren’t even allowed to travel, not only during a pandemic, many don’t have the money or the permission to travel. We saw an increase in the number of participants as a result and had a good tool to make this work with BigBlueButton. At the same time, everyone’s keen to finally meet again in person. So what I’m saying is that global communities need to make both ends meet, Apereo just like Opencast.


AFF: Finally, within the theme of the Open Apereo conference in 2022 and as a leader of an Open Source community, could you share some thoughts about The Value of Open Source and The Value of Apereo?

OS: You don’t have to have more than 50,000 videos in your archive with some of them dating back to the 1930s to worry about a vendor lock-out - everyone should look into this. And everyone - especially those working in North American and European institutions - should consider contributing to an open source product that is affordable for those who cannot afford commercial offerings. It’s the least we can do. 

Apereo to me is the organization that brings together such initiatives and products, thus providing a full range of open source solutions for universities. Plus, it gives smaller projects like Opencast the feeling of not being on our own. Which is a good feeling for sure.


AFF: Olaf, thank you for joining us on Apereo Foundation Fast! We appreciate your time and dedication to Opencast and Open Source. 


Fast Reminders: 

Visit the project page for more information about the Opencast Project or support the project through Apereo Membership.  Join the Opencast Maillist and introduce yourself to the community if you’d like to volunteer.

For a bi-monthly review of what Opencast & other Apereo communities have going on, sign-up for the Apereo Newsletter by filling out our new form!

Open Apereo 2022: The Value of Open Source will take place on June 14 & 15 Online
Registration is now open and early bird pricing applies through May 27th. 

Want to nominate someone to be interviewed for Apereo Foundation Fast? Please email your suggestions to michelle.hall[at]apereo[dot]org