For the past two years the Warren Consolidated Schools district in Michigan has featured streaming online video on its Web site--where films play as they are transmitted--to enhance communications with parents and the community. The district offers informational presentations on topics of local interest such as the use of blogs in collaborative writing, new safety and security measures, and the selection of their elementary school for federal blue ribbon honors.
"We give families a first-hand look at what is going on inside their schools, and how their money is being spent," says Webmaster Chris Kenniburg. And, users can view the films 24/7/365 from any Net-linked machine.
But in spite of high-speed Internet service that connects most K-12 schools throughout the U.S., and the widespread availability of inexpensive digital cameras, districts have been painfully slow in tapping the potential of Internet video. "I have been searching for a district that uses streaming video technology as we do," says Kenniburg, "to see how we can improve our Web site."
Growing numbers of schools are now pioneering the use of online video on their Web sites for multiple applications that other districts should consider. Some sites include instructions for downloading the free online players that are necessary to view the media, including QuickTime Player, RealPlayer/ RealOne Player and Windows Media Player, and some provide separate options for broadband and dial-up users.
For example, California's Pasadena Unified School District offers a video archive of all its Board of Education meetings, so it is easy to stay informed. But since the meetings are typically at least five hours long, the site also includes convenient pull-down topic menus so viewers can go directly to specific items on the agenda. The district site also offers online training videos for a new student information system, homework-help shows on math, and updates with Superintendent Percy Clark Jr.
In Iowa, the Dubuque Community Schools district integrates online video extensively throughout its Web site, and produced more than 100 films for a wide variety of purposes. These include opportunities to visit school plays, music performances, class projects, art exhibits, ribbon-cutting ceremonies and Superintendent John Burgart's opening address.
Teaching and Learning
The rapid integration of online video into education-related Web sites is bringing user control and powerful new dimensions to the school curriculum that have never before been possible. For example, network sites such as CBSnews.com and NBCnews.com offer clips on breaking news stories worldwide. Similarly, Archaeology.com provides free films that take users to Viking settlements, the Parthenon, Machu Picchu and Pompeii. Many district sites are including links to recommended resources for students, teachers, administrators and parents.
There are also content providers that deliver subscription-based online video specifically for the school curriculum, such as Atomic Learning, BrainPOP and Unitedstreaming. Teachers can use such streaming media on a single computer connected to a projector or electronic whiteboard, and individuals can access the content at any time at school and at home.
However, the use of streaming media online is not without its disadvantages. As is true in using all online resources, students may stumble across inappropriate content, certain sites may install spyware on computers surreptitiously, and having many students access streaming media simultaneously can degrade the speed of service. For these reasons alternative delivery methods are also being developed, such as the new Montage server from Safari Video Networks that stores preloaded video on school networks. The use of streaming online media can bring substantial benefits to schools, and your district needs to participate.
Odvard Egil Dyrli, email@example.com, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.