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Are you keeping on top of the latest online video broadcasting? These New Web technologies make it easy to use and accessible to every school district.
Online Videoconferencing
Web tools such as uStream make video broadcasting accessible.
June 2008

A K12 planning survey I reviewed several years ago indicated that videoconferencing was a top technology application of interest. At the time, the cost of equipment and the need for broadcast studios were major obstacles, so few districts participated in videoconferencing. All this has now changed, thanks to Web technologies that make broadcasting video easy to use and accessible to every school district. Best of all, the tools are free.

The following information includes overviews of the major online video technologies used in schools, examples of district applications, and places where you can get additional information. These emerging tools have implications for administration, public relations, communications, collaboration, teaching and learning throughout your school system.

I became a fan of uStream videoconferencing last November when a colleague asked if he could "uStream" the professional conference keynote discussion I was about to have with DA columnist Will Richardson.

My colleague pointed the Webcam attached to his laptop at the stage, "Twittered" to a network of friends that he was about to broadcast the presentation (see sidebar), accessed the uStream Web site and clicked the "Broadcast Now" button. As a result, numerous people across the country stopped what they were doing to watch the broadcast and used uStream's built-in chat feature to discuss what was happening, which produced 22 pages of text. You can see K12-related uStream examples, including Richardson's recent Web 2.0 presentation to deputy state education superintendents, on the Weblogg-ed TV site listed below.

uStream differs from previous implementations of Web broadcasting in numerous ways. No special hardware, software or recording studios are required, since any Web camera and high-speed Internetlinked computer can broadcast the video. And if you only need sound, you can transmit the audio alone. It's built-in chat feature allows participants to discuss presentations as they are happening, and since broadcasts are automatically archived, countless numbers of viewers can access programs long after they have ended.

For example, Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a public high school, uses uStream to record class discussions and presentations for later review by others, and to connect absent students to classes they would otherwise miss. SLA also hosted the recent professional conference Educon 2.0, and broadcast every presentation through uStream. While 250 people attended the conference physically, more than 1,000 participated virtually. Students were also assigned to monitor each live chat, so questions could be shared with people at the live event.

SLA's principal Chris Lehmann says, "Our classes have interacted with students and teachers from all over the globe. We've broadcast original student productions, and we've been able to work with people who otherwise would have no access to the Science Leadership Academy. This technology has given students insight into the lives of others away from Philadelphia, and meant that they could share their work globally."

In New York, Brian C. Smith, instructional technology specialist of the Monroe #1 BOCES, described a science curriculum application of uStream that broadcasted and archived a student-led Pond Partners Project presentation on local water quality. The chat feature also enabled viewers to submit questions to the students during the live presentation.

Smith explains that Web-based video tools, like uStream, lower the bar to videoconferencing viability for classroom teachers. "Educators shy away from video because of the time involved in editing and producing," he said. "uStream conserves that time, and the archive provides an opportunity to extend the learning experience." Similarly, in Colorado, Karl Fisch, director of technology at Arapahoe High School in the Littleton Public Schools, says that his district uses uStream to support author discussions and for district educators to share expertise with colleagues in other schools.

Skype and iChat technology lets you make free telephone calls from any computer to any number of computers. Skype also offers a paid option where you can call regular phones via Skype or vice versa. In addition, Skype and iChat allow you to initiate videoconferences among multiple users via your computer and net connection, and iChat allows users to share video, slides and presentations. There are also ways to record and archive Skype or iChat conversations, which allow educators to post the files on district Web sites and podcast them for future listening and viewing. Skype is a cross-platform technology, while iChat is Mac only.

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