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Acer America Corp. is a computer manufacturer of business and consumer PCs, notebooks, ultrabooks, projectors, servers, and storage products.

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News & Articles

May 2, 2014 |

How Memphis City Schools Use Webcasting to Save Money and Continue Professional Development

The Tennessee K-12 school district uses lecture capture software to train teachers, showcase student work, and broadcast live events all on a budget.

In these times of public school budget crises and funding emergencies, any school district that can deploy new audio-visual technology — and save money doing it — is inspirational to all. Scott Holcomb and Jeff Baxter, two elementary school teachers for Memphis City Schools (MCS) in Tennessee, found a way to use webcasting to support teachers’ professional development and slash costs. Since 2008, they’ve been creating and archiving teacher training videos with Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite webcasting platform. And in the first year alone, they saved MCS “over $100,000 in training costs.”†

“We’re breaking out of the old school way of doing things. We’re making it a lot easier, more effective. It definitely saves us money instead of costing it. The return on investment (ROI) isK-12 ARTICLE huge,” says Baxter, who is now a special projects coordinator for Memphis City Schools, the nation’s 21st largest school district.†

In 2007, Baxter and Holcomb were introduced to the Mediasite technology, but thought they could accomplish the same sort of recordings with a simple video camera. “That’s how uninformed and young and dumb we were at the time. We tried to do it, and it didn’t work. But no one was doing video streaming in K-12,” says Holcomb, who’s now an instructional technology specialist and MCS Mediasite coordinator. “We revisited — [Sonic Foundry] let us play with it. We were hooked once we did our first video.”

But that didn’t mean that they were able to immediately jump into webcasting. They saw the potential. They could record a training session, often a night class, and make it available for teachers to watch online on their own time, whenever they wanted. They could pay a trainer to make a video once, instead of paying him to give the session several times a year. They even envisioned a library of training videos that would allow teachers to meet their professional training requirements on demand. Getting there meant “prodding” administrators and teachers to adopt Mediasite and “scrounging” to create a studio.

“We were working on a dime. Our first studio had a shower curtain for a background. For our three-point lighting, back then, there was a desk lamp that we found — teachers are really good at liberating stuff — and we used the overhead fluorescent lights,” says Holcomb with a laugh.†

As the self-proclaimed “nerdy teachers,” they started using Mediasite in earnest in 2008, taking the “teacher approach, playing with it. We were maybe the fourth public school in the U.S. even using the technology. We’re the poster child for changing the paradigm,” says Holcomb.

Baxter adds, “We put some video out there and got people to understand it. It caught on like wildfire in our district.” Among their first videos — and still the most popular — were training sessions on handling blood borne pathogens, avoiding sexual harassment and performing CPR.

Teachers quickly saw the benefit to making videos of their presentations, especially when they learned how to include their presentation slides and attach different files, such as forms and questionnaires, to their Mediasite videos. They’re confident their message is being heard by the viewer, who can pause, rewind and rewatch videos at will. And they drastically reduce the amount of paper they’re using as handouts at a single session. Today, MCS has tracked almost 180,000 views of their library of more than 1,000 videos.

Streaming President Obama

Their use of video was gaining steam, but one amazing event “pushed it forward” last year. The district’s Booker T. Washington School won the nationwide 2011 Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge, and President Barack Obama delivered the school’s graduation speech. Baxter and Holcomb worked with their local TV station to stream the video through the Mediasite server to thousands of people all over the world, including 225 schools.

And, to the teachers’ delight, Sonic Foundry stepped up to help them out. “The company that backs this product is really great — they sent somebody down here to hold our hand while the President was here to give his speech. [MSC’s IT staff] felt more at ease,” says Holcomb.

Since their first live streaming event — one more momentous than most K-12 school districts ever host — MCS has begun broadcasting live other important events, such as school board meetings, in conjunction with their local TV station. And Holcomb and Baxter are looking at more ways they can use webcasting to benefit their community, teachers and students.†

In the works are showcases of high-quality student work done across the MCS district, videos co-created by students and teachers about their projects, and even peer tutorials that could be used by the students of the Memphis Virtual School. They also have a partnership with the local zoo to create videos of their new educational programs. And, they have to stay on top of creating new training videos, particularly as the new school year and changing curriculum standards loom ahead.

“There’s never a moment of stagnation. Always new curriculum is added, always new technology. It’s never an issue of no more videos to do — we always have lots of videos to do,” says Holcomb. “Last year, we did 200 videos.”

Casting Advice

Despite webcasting’s growing popularity, Holcomb and Baxter still struggle with teachers resistance and fear of the program.

“Presenters, teachers, are afraid that this is going to take away their job. ‘You’re going to take away my job. I am the content. You’re going to take that away from me.’ No, what I’m doing is I’m opening you up to 2,000 people instead of the 20 people you see [in the classroom],” Holcomb says. He adds, “They become local rock stars at their school. [They feel that] ‘I’m doing a good job.’ People are recognized.”

Of course, in any K-12 school district, skittish teachers aren’t the only obstacle — the real problem is budgets. Baxter suggests school districts ask some tough questions about how much they’re currently spending on teacher downtime during mandatory professional development sessions, how much they’re spending on face-to-face trainings, and what they’re willing to cut to make way for a webcasting program.†

“They’d really be enlightened if they look at the ROI of recording this stuff and making it available [online] — the ROI is huge,” asserts Baxter.†

One last piece of advice these elementary school teachers have for their webcasting compatriots in other school districts: Get an administrator on your side. Baxter and Holcomb both credit much of their success to their boss, Cleon L. Franklin, director of instructional technology for MCS.†

“He’s pivotal in pushing it forward,” says Holcomb. “You can’t just have teachers [advocating for webcasting]. You have to have a leader who’s bold and courageous among administrators, who can throw old paradigms out the window.”

This article was originally published by our content partner Corporate TechDecisions.


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