TiVo For School?


I recently found out that we have a lot of cable TV running through our campus … except that no one is using it! According to one teacher, it was installed around the time of 9/11, when the school realized it had no way to broadcast current events to the school body in the case of a momentous event. Now, I’m no big fan of live TV in the classroom, and there doesn’t seem to be much call for it. In contrast, considerable demand exists for recorded shows. A number of times this year, a teacher has asked whether anyone has the capability to record an episode of a science or history documentary for them. People can, of course … from home! Digital video recorders make it trivial to record and store a TV show at home. Why not make this capability available at school? The best part is that this would likely be an inexpensive experiment:
less than $1,000 to make this service available to the entire school.

The leading digital video recorder, TiVo, is easier to use than the old VCR recording scheme. I figured I would ask our librarians to offer TiVo-to-DVD as a service to our teachers. It’s a piece of cake to set a TiVo to record episodes for multiple teachers at different times, and I figured that a companion DVD burner would be the best way to make the video available to our teachers. Then, with a little investigation, I discovered that the new TiVo sets already offer enough features to make this system self-serve! TiVo now offers online scheduling, TiVoToGo, and TiVo Desktop. On paper at least, a teacher could scheduling a recording on a web site, then play the video on their PC or transfer it to a video iPod! Amazing. (Oh. Note that TiVo Desktop does not play video to OSX, only Windows)! I imagine that many teachers would still want the librarians to facilitate this process and put the file on a DVD, but even that would allow us to leverage an underutilized resource. I wonder how we could put this service in the hands of students?

What copyright concerns exist in this system? Seeing that educational institutions have “fair-use” allowances for the incorporation of copyrighted materials within lessons, we would likely be okay. Without having investigated this issue in depth, I imagine that we would only have to keep an eye on the permanence of the use. A recorded show could probably be only used once in class, not kept forever for annual repeat performances.

However neat, would this technology improve teaching and learning? It could help bring more current information into classes than textbooks can provide, in a format that engages the visual and auditory learner. TV shows typically incorporate a higher production quality than your average web news article, and TiVo video is more complete, easier to find, and higher quality than your average YouTube video. Students may also come up with creative uses of such video in their classes and activities. But what if teachers made fairly mundane uses of the new, fancy technology? I don’t think that reproducing existing teaching methods through new technologies is necessarily bad. It accords the teacher more respect than if one were to insist on project-based classroom work. It also provides teachers with an entry point to easy-to-use technologies, which may encourage them to be more adventurous in their selection of more project-based technologies in the future. Don’t get me wrong. I am more excited about developing constructivist, project-based technology applications in the classroom. But it’s not appropriate for me to serve some teachers better than others based solely on their teaching style.

One comment

  1. Ben says:

    I had a similar thought about this 3 years ago when the school I was at received a gift of money to install a district-wide public television and notification system (slide shows and announcements). I thought it would be possible to hook up the TiVo as well, allowing teachers to record what they wanted, and then store everything on a centralized server, much the same way United Streaming allows you to do.

    Alas, I was in no position to suggest it, or understand how best to implement it, but I love your idea. Make sure to post if you ever go through with it and let everyone know how it works out.