Webcasting Assemblies

This week has been activities week at Wildern. We have Y10/11 out so collapsed the timetable to run activities around a central theme. It is finished off with a sharing assembly that everyone takes part in. This year we decided to trial something new- the assembly would be a mix of live and pre-recorded content, mixed together in one of our auditorium spaces and broadcast out to the whole school to watch in their own rooms.

I can see this model for delivering assemblies to become increasingly common, so this is how we achieved it.

– A camera set up in the auditorium to film the live parts of the event, connected directly to a Panasonic MX-50 video mixer
– An iMac set up to playback pre-recorded content (presentations, videos, etc) also connected to the mixer
– Output of the video mixer into another iMac running Quicktime Broadcaster
– The broadcast is directed to a Mac Server where QTSS pushes the feed out to the network
– Staff and students connect to the live feed by clicking a link on the VLE

A noticeable delay was present on the feed when connected wirelessly, but this doesn’t matter as the film stays in sync and as nobody is watching the broadcast in the auditorium itself a delay of a second or two makes no difference. The most important piece of advise for others looking to try this is getting all the correct cables/convertors to link everything together. We had the support of Saville Audio, a company based in Guildford who helped us decide what we needed to achieve this and loaned us the mixer for the day. Thanks guys…

Ideally we would like to be able to achieve the video mixing all within software (hardware video mixers are somewhat beyond budget), so the development we look to next is software to achieve this. The technique could work beyond assembly use as well, staff could easily broadcast other content too. It is also worth mentioning that a simpler version of what we did could be achieved for nothing as Quicktime Broadcaster and server are free of charge if you own a Mac. Connect this up to a camera and you have a broadcast setup. Good stuff.

TEDx Manchester

On Friday I commited 9 hours of my life to sitting on a train so I could attend TEDx in Manchester. Been a long time watcher of TED online so was very excited to be able to go and attend an event.

For those reading that haven’t encountered TED before, have a look at their website. It’s a great concept, the tag line covers it well- ‘ideas worth spreading’. Somebody stands up, talks about an idea they are passionate about that’s somewhere loosely in the field of technology/entertainment/design. Working in ed-tech, this is definitely  an area relevant to me and was really nice to spend an afternoon learning something new from people smarter than me. A few talks worth watching if you’re new to it:

  1. Ken Robinson – Schools kill Creativity
  2. Alain de Botton – A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success
  3. JJ Abrams – The Mystery Box

The first of these was a subject of one of our staff meetings last year, the last two were played in Manchester. Had seen both before but was nice to go back to them with a bit more time to think. If you watched any of those and got something out of it do make sure you subscribe to the RSS feed to get new content. They’re only ever short, and I always learn something from whoever is speaking, whatever the subject.

Of the live speakers in Manchester, it was two of the BBC types that stood out for me in terms of my work. Marc Goodchild from CBBC interactive spoke about how children use technology. The data he used from the Childwise report was particularly interesting, currently trying to get hold of a copy as it seems hugely relevant to what we do. The kind of thing he is researching should be getting out to teachers in our feeder schools as well, was good to listen to him.

The second, Hugh Garry, spoke about film. He talked about a project he worked on last Summer, using mobile phones to create an award winning film. His point wasn’t about what is taught in schools, more about the film industry in general but the note I took was definitely about school. How we focus on teaching technique in media, worrying about the quality of the footage, type of shot, etc, etc. His argument was simple- our kids already have this kind of thing sorted in their heads, we don’t need to focus on it so much in order to create a good film. If the story is good enough the quality of the footage shouldn’t matter at all, people won’t notice.

This also links up with something I saw in Gameswipe (iPlayer link, only available for a couple of days) earlier in the week. This was another piece of genius from Charlie Brooker (go watch Newswipe/Screenwipe if you haven’t seen them…) this time on the games industry. The stand out point for us in education there was about writing scripts for games. I think it was Graham Linehan on there who commented that script writers for games aren’t reading enough, they’re writing based on films.

The question for education on both of these is are we focusing enough on teaching students how to write for this format? We do plenty of work on how to film things, but is there enough in either the Media, ICT or English curriculum that gets us thinking about script writing technique? This is very much an unqualified opinion here as I don’t know the courses any where near well enough, but wouldn’t it be great to have a unit where we didn’t worry about what type of shot it was/what medium it was created on/etc that just focused on creating a really good story?

Is this already happening? Maybe I’m overthinking something that is already covered. The great thing about TED for me is that the idea starts something you can take forward. Would be interesting to hear others views on this, and the project is definitely going back to our media department to see what we can learn from it.

And finally, had a quick Google for TEDx events further South. Found London and Kent, hopefully I’ll get to both & I honestly recommend the day to anybody else reading this who feels they still have more to learn.