On the night of the New Hampshire primary in January, most of those with a political bent were tuning in to CNN or MSNBC or their online versions to track what turned out to be the surprising results - results that left most political pundits shaking their heads. But for a few dozen election watchers, however, the live updates and commentary were coming from a different source: an online, live television-like feed from a 14-year old pundit in Vermont named Arthus Erea (not his real name). With a decent Internet connection and some free software, Arthus orchestrated a two-hour production that featured "guests" of all ages from around the world calling in from their computers, regular updates from CNN and other online sources, and fast-paced text chat conversations among the viewers ranging from the humanity of the candidates to educational issues to evolution.
If you haven't already been introduced, welcome to the "Live Web," where more and more tools are allowing realtime publication and interaction among global audiences. Still somewhat on the bleeding edge, broadcasting of live online video and audio is about ready for prime time, and established "tools" such as Skype (online video telephone), Google Docs (real-time collaboration on documents and presentations), Twitter (a microblogging site that puts your network at your fingertips) and others (such as the old stalwart, IM) are all making the Web a much more synchronous, learning-when-you-need-it place.
Broadcasting to the World
Right now, every school with one newish computer, an inexpensive Web camera and microphone, and a decent Internet connection has a television studio in the making. UStream.tv is one of a half dozen or so other Web sites that put broadcasting to large Internet audiences a few mouse clicks away, and already some schools are taking advantage. At Maine School Administrative District 48 in Newport, Maine, tech integrator Kern Kelly's students do a half-hour live "Tech Curve" show that highlights cool Web sites or interesting tools for viewers to check out.
And that's just a start. Think parents watching class presentations or readings. Think live debates being broadcast throughout the school. Think talent shows and concerts and plays being offered live to the community. Or think what election eve in November might be like. And another great feature is that if you miss the live version, all of the sessions are archived on the UStream site. From there, you can download them to your local computers and make them part of a larger movie, or you can embed the videos on your school or class homepage. And while not all of the services allow for password-protected viewing at the moment, UStream does, opening up all sorts of other possibilities for more select audiences. Homebound students could still take part in class, and teachers could begin to easily (and cheaply) archive their lessons to their own private channels.
Why should we care about streaming technologies and this evolution to a "Live Web"? Because this shift is another signpost along the way to our children's futures, one that promises to be filled with real-time, on-demand, collaborative working and learning environments that don't require being in the same room or even the same country. And they won't even require being at a computer; within a few years, we and our kids will be carrying the Live Web on our phones in our pockets. And there is much for us to understand as educators in terms of what that means for the students sitting in our classrooms today.
While writing this piece, I asked my Twitter network what "Live Web" meant to them. I got many great responses, from "collaboration" to "power" to "voice." But my favorite by far was from Carolyn Foote, a librarian at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, who said very simply, "Real-time learning, global connectivity, excited students."
Will Richardson is a contributing editor for District Administration and The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate, www.districtadministration.com/pulse.