Creative Use of Technology and New Media: Princeton University - Silver Award

2008 Circle of Excellence Awards Program
Category 12. Creative Use of Technology and New Media
Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Studies


Donna Liu
Director for Strategic Initiatives
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Rm 217, Robertson Hall
Princeton University
Princeton NJ
USA 08544 609-258-8425



UChannel is an online collection of public affairs lectures, panels and events from academic institutions all over the world – to view, listen to, stream or download. Content is recorded and contributed by universities; distributed via UChannel to multiple audiences; and made available to the public for free. The goal is to enrich the public dialog with direct input from academics, researchers and practitioners who are focused on solving the problems of the world.

Planning and objectives


  • Public service. Universities host a wealth of learned, dispassionate research and discussion on current affairs that rarely gets to the larger public. The UChannel opens those doors and contributes to the public’s “right to know” the full story on issues and events that impact the entire community.
  • Technical literacy: Many universities are struggling with how to incorporate rapidly-shifting media technologies. The UChannel centralizes methods and opportunities for institutions and faculties to learn how to use the new media.
  • Teaching. UChannel content can be used as a pedagogical tool: another teaching resource, a way to bring the words and thoughts of other experts into the classroom.
  • Quality programming: Viewers get prestigious academic lectures as a viable alternative to the entertainment-oriented programs that now swamp TV outlets.
  • Content for new forms of distribution: The digital media revolution is shifting the media landscape in many ways: creating Internet and wireless distribution options, and new digital channels. This is a rare opportunity for those committed to the public interest to step in and claim a portion of that bandwidth for public affairs programming.


UChannel’s strategy is to leverage the Web 2.0 tools to create a Web presence for research in international affairs and public policy. By aggregating the full-length presentations of people working in these fields from many universities, UChannel creates a single go-to place for the academic discussion of current affairs. The collection can then be made more accessible, more easily searched, and thereby more of a public good.

UChannel launched in the summer of 2005 with a modest collection of lectures. Over the next few years, UChannel built up both the audience and the archive, to the point where web traffic now surpasses 1.5 million hits and 50,000 downloads per month.

UChannel transcodes, publishes, publicizes and distributes lectures on behalf of its member institutions. Singly, these lectures may be hard for the average user to find. Taken together, the same content has much greater impact on the public consciousness.

Future plans include more pro-active international outreach, to expand the online dialog to global proportions, and invite voices from outside the U.S. to contribute their perspectives on global affairs. To some extent this is already happening, with full-length presentations by Chinese, Indian, Latin American scholars who are visiting and giving talks at UChannel institutions. Broader international participation will require more technical upgrades overseas, plus a multi-lingual interface for the website.

There are also plans to develop and expand UChannel’s web presence to generate more focused and sophisticated search results; to enable closed captioning; to improve production standards; and to strengthen its positioning as a source of expertise on world affairs.

Fits in with institutional goals

Princeton University’s informal motto is “In the nation’s service and in the service of all nations”. The Woodrow Wilson School’s interpretation of that motto includes applying the research of its faculty to the public domain, and its public lectures series is part of that service. By taking the lead in forming the UChannel consortium, the Woodrow Wilson School is helping other schools “channel” their intellectual resources into their communities.

What is innovativ

On the technical front, UChannel has not only developed a successful website, podcast, and internet-based TV distribution service, but more recently was one of the first educational projects to launch a YouTube site and Facebook application. UChannel keeps adding features to expand the public’s ability to respond and interact with its content, including comment, tagging, and multiple RSS feeds.

Conceptually, UChannel is proud of persuading leading universities to set aside rivalries and to recognize that, at least in the field of public lectures, everyone benefits by pooling resources.


UChannel aims to reach as wide an audience as possible by disseminating its content over several forms of media, including television. Thus, UChannel watchers are comprised of several audiences:

  • Web:
    • We have delivered as many as 20,000 downloaded lectures in a single day, although the daily average is closer to 2,000
    • The UChannel web server gets more than 8,000 unique visitors/day (60,000 hits/day). About 15% of the website visitors come from overseas, and about 10% from .edu domains
    • Many of our links come from .edu libraries; WebCT and Blackboard sites; academic and other blogs
  • TV:
    • IPTV distribution (currently through CampusEAI, a consortium of universities that are converting their TV program distribution to delivery over the IP network) reaches a potential audience of 40 million users in academia
    • Access TV: distribution through members of the Alliance for Community Media, which represents over 1,000 Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) access organizations and community media centers throughout the country.

Plan to evaluate

As a Web presence, the evaluation of UChannel’s outreach can to some extent be measured with statistical tools. Our primary package, Awstats, gives us a measure of the traffic to the website and the web server. Ancillary web presences such as YouTube and eventually, iTunesU, generate separate and additional audience statistics.

User feedback is made possible through the comment features on the UChannel website, the comment and rating features on YouTube, and generally glowing direct e-mail feedback.

The UChannel service is supported and consistently evaluated by four Charter Member schools (besides the Woodrow Wilson School, these are: Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs; Middlebury College; and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin). In addition, the UChannel solicits feedback from its General Membership on a regular basis. These evaluations provide the basis for upgrades, publicity, and new directions.

Use of resources

UChannel has proven that new media technology can provide large-scale impact with small-scale investment. The project is led and hosted by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (WWS). UChannel operations are maintained by one person, the WWS Director of Strategic Initiatives, with technical support and advice from several key partners:

  • Princeton University’s OIT department:
    • Educational Technologies Center maintains the website
    • The UNIX group supports the server
    • The New Media Center and Media Services enable the encoding, transcoding and other technical services
  • CoBlitz, a consortium led by Princeton University’s Engineering School, provides bandwidth solutions to the delivery of UChannel content around the globe
  • Princeton Server Group provides storage and delivery for UChannel’s high-resolution television programming


Technology gives UChannel a way to evaluate the traffic to the site, which is one gauge of its success. Yet the true gauge of how people respond to the UChannel service is largely anecdotal, and always positive. Some examples:

- “UChannel has turned my car radio into a new knowledge platform. Real voices, real issues, real debate – the foundations of democracy at one’s pod” – from an iTunes subscriber

- “A+” from Education World, a web resource for educators

- An academic in Libya came up to the Dean of the WWS at a conference to say UChannel was her “lifeline” to the outside world

- A professor at LSE thanks UChannel for posting a talk by an expert on African constitutional law, which he could use as a class resource

- Excellent! So well done, and informative. It is very generous of UC to post this presentation on You Tube. Every political science major should checkÿ out this report. With gratitude, from New England – from a YouTube user

In other words, there is a tremendously diverse audience out there who appreciate the value of sound academic research into the problems of the world, and who want to listen.