Whither the virtual audience?

studnet speaker

We successfully broadcast Catlin Gabel’s workshop to design the school’s next community event(s). I had the uStream working smoothly, the facilitator played his role perfectly, and we included the contributions from virtual participants in the real workshop. In the two weeks before the event, we made at least eight announcements in newsletters, email messages, and online articles that people would be able to attend the workshop online. We have some 3,000 alumni and 500 current families from which to draw a virtual audience.

Only five people showed up, and two were my IT colleagues.

What happened? What is the potential of live web broadcasting in a school?

I have seen uStream used most successfully in an educational setting to live broadcast major speeches and conferences. I recently tuned into a great presentation at Castilleja School. A Stanford professor was explaining how all websites, but social networks in particular, are vehicles of persuasion. I was the only virtual attendee.

Broadcasting educational technology conferences seems popular of late. The audience is large, widely dispersed, and technologically savvy. Still, having been a virtual participant before, the presentation quality is poor enough that it makes difficult to pick up everything that is going on. Our virtual participants on Saturday made the same comment.

I don’t feel compelled to live broadcast major events at our school. I would rather record with videocamera and then publish the next day, in higher quality than uStream and as a permanent addition to our site. Just last week, I recorded our Martin Luther King, Jr. community meeting (elementary), published it to a private page for our community, and already it has been viewed 70 times.

Perhaps people are just too busy to attend a live, five-hour online event at a specific time. They can play recorded online video at their convenience. Maybe for this event, we should have eschewed live participation in favor of making a highlight reel of the major points in a recorded video format. Or maybe the gesture of opening the meeting to virtual participants was a sufficiently important to justify the work involved.

Perhaps we were competing for audience against ourselves. If the 100 most interested people actually came to the event to participate in person, how many more did that leave to participate virtually?

Have you seen the new Cisco ads showing telepresence in classrooms? Who really thinks that schools will be able to afford high-end video conferencing of this sort? Grocery stores have far more flat-panel televisions than schools these days, and they sell food.

I would like my next attempt at live broadcast to involve a sports event. Sports have the immediacy of experience that demands a live broadcast, color commentary could be fun and interesting, and the project would involve students. However, we would still be competing against ourselves for audience, the potential audience is relatively small, and a lot of people might feel content to just find out the score the next day. It’s worth a try, though, as students studying at home could easily tune in and follow the game.

I could imagine a schoolwide event during which we partnered with one or more schools elsewhere to pursue the same agenda and discuss similar topics. However, I would choose Skype for such a broadcast, so that it would be equally bidirectional.

Have you used uStream in a school with more success? Did you draw an actual audience? Please tell us about it.


  1. Paul Monheimer says:

    I tried virtual attendance. At first, the rebuffering on a wireless laptop was too frequent and the audio kept cutting out. I plugged in which improved audio, but video kept rebuffering. It just got too frustrating. Perhaps next time? Of course, I realize not all participants are as scattered as I. I concur a sports broadcast might bring more virtual visitors….especially if you can convince the US students to broadcast away games!

  2. Darren says:

    We have a group of UStream teachers coming to ITSC 2010 in February at PDX. You should think about bringing a team from Catlin!


    We have a great line-up this year!

  3. Linda Pabst says:

    I am a part of the team of teachers from OETC mentioned in the above post. I have been doing a school news broadcast with several elementary students with the goal being a live broadcast over UStream. My tests have run into the same problem you mentioned, audio cut outs and frustrating rebuffering. Until I (we) come up with a better solution, I’ve been taping the broadcast and then posting them to YouTube. The advantage was mentioned in the original post. Teachers and students can access the news when it is convenient.

  4. Richard says:

    Thank you for the invitation, Darren. If we develop a uStream corps, then we’ll consider it! At the moment, we are focused more on identifying the right fit between streaming video technologies and the school program.

    Linda, nice work with the news videos! I agree with your change of strategy.


  5. Matt Montagne says:

    Hey Richard,
    Well, at least you didn’t invest in some type of expensive locally installed video streaming product! And think of it in terms of time…connecting a camera to a laptop and broadcasting via ustream only involves a few minutes of setup time.

    Actually, we’ve had great success streaming live. The streaming of the event that you saw at Castilleja with Dr. BJ Fogg of Stanford was thrown together at the last minute. Earlier that week we broadcast Nic Kristoff and we had over 100 live viewers. I can’t begin to tell you how many families sent us notes of appreciation and thanks…live streaming, or recording and posting for viewing later (but it has to be posted quickly to have impact), has the potential to be what I call "Dinner table conversation changers." Parents who saw the presentation are able to ask different and more meaningful questions than if they didn’t see it. The other nice thing about ustream is how quickly the web archive is posted…as soon as the show is done, the video is available-not high quality, but I’ve found people to be appreciative of the fact that we’re making anything available.

    We’ve had good success with live student Internet radio broadcasts in the evening as well…we’ve developed a live student Internet radio project where a team of students gets together 2 times per month from home and broadcasts live for 60 minutes. Segments feature an interview, music from a featured myspace band, op-ed, etc…it is good fun…we’re not shattering any records in terms of live participants (usually 10-20), but it is a positive experience for the students to learn how to make something from nothing: http://gatorradio.blogspot.com

    We did make a first effort at doing a live basketball game two weeks ago…it was good fun, although I was not able to get our student webcasters to participate: http://www.ustream.tv/recor… I’m looking forward to trying to get more students involved because the possibilities are endless…I’ve also been dabbling with ustream’s new client installed application called "broadcaster," which allows you to pre-arrange cameras, audio inputs, images, local video, and mix it all into a live broadcast. They offer a free version and a pro version for $$$.


  6. Richard says:

    Thanks for the note, Matt. We broadcast basketball tonight and gained 80 viewers. Ah, well.

    Distinguished speakers could also be good. So far, the last few speakers have turned down our request to record and post.