March 11, 2020 by Steve Wind-Mozely
Lord Reith, father of the BBC, famously said that the British Broadcasting Corporation existed to, “educate, inform and entertain.”
These three words are particularly relevant in light of the current COVID-19 outbreak. As public health authorities strive to manage the situation and their guidance evolves, education providers are having to interpret this information and formulate responses that safeguard their students, staff, and community as well as meeting their obligations to teach.
If, as we are seeing around the world, campuses are being asked to temporarily close to slow the spread the virus, how can technology help educators deliver their primary mission—to educate—whilst maintaining public health protocols?
E-learning or distance/remote learning is one way that education institutions, be they primary schools or universities, can continue to reach their student bodies. At their core, remote learning solutions enable a tutor to provide learning material to students via the Internet or private networks. There are many options open to educational institutions, from free-to-use cloud-based systems like Google Classroom or Edpuzzle, to MS Office 365 tools like OneNote and Teams. Then there is a plethora of paid solutions that further enhance the learning experience for all involved.
At NewTek, we firmly believe that video is the most powerful communication tool known to humankind, and we think it should be used to help educate, inform and entertain. Why is entertainment relevant in the education space? Because, we feel, an entertained audience is an engaged audience that is more likely to be attentive and responsive.
As we all know, today’s students have a myriad of distractions available to them, from TV, online games, social media, and video-on-demand streaming services. Without the structure and focus that a classroom environment can create, some students will find these other distractions very appealing. It also means that any educational content that is provided to them will effectively be in competition with everything else that is also clamoring for the student’s attention. Much of that competing material has been created by professional broadcasters and storytellers using cutting edge technology, like live video production tools, to make their content stand out from the crowd.
So how can educators hope to cut through the noise and give their students the best chance of engaging with their curriculum? By using the same technologies that the professionals are using! This is a great way of leveling the playing field but many of these live production video solutions are complex to set up and operate. Take a look at the slick production values of the top Twitch, TikTok and YouTube stars. They understand that a polished show ( for show, read lesson - it may feel odd to think of a lesson or lecture as a show, but that is essentially what it is) is more likely to hold their audience’s attention and many of them have invested in creating home studios that can deliver high-end output. Very few of them rely on a basic single webcam set up, preferring to augment their stories with on-screen graphics, text, transitions and multiple cameras. Many bring in other elements to their show, such as the output of a computer to show in-game footage or presentations. These are all elements that can be employed to help deliver learning material more effectively.
Like today’s educator, the YouTubers and TikTokkers all want to focus on their content and have the show creation pretty much take care of itself. They are not broadcast engineers, they are storytellers and they have found tools that allow them to focus on what they do well.
Many of these tools are live video production solutions. At NewTek, our most popular products are in the TriCaster® range, but other providers have products that can be daisy-chained together to create a similar solution. What the TriCaster allows a storyteller (in our case, a tutor) to do is to create a rundown (or lesson plan) in MS Word and to use this to control the show. The system will automatically control the cameras, the lights, the transitions between one shot and another and trigger on-screen graphics on cue.
This frees up the tutor (TV stations refer to the presenter as the ‘talent’) to easily control the show and focus on their main job—engaging with, informing, educating, and entertaining their students. Modern live video production systems, like the TriCaster range, are software-based, meaning that they can be updated over ‘the air’ helping to make sure that they are reliable and always have the latest performance enhancements.
Unlike with broadcast systems, a broadcast truck and technical crew are not needed. The kit required can fit in a backpack and would typically consist of a TriCaster Mini 4K, some cables, one or more pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras, some cables, some small light panels and some input modules (to allow you to connect things like monitors and legacy cameras). It can all be set up in around 5 minutes – as you can see here.
This set up will enable you to stream across the Internet or your institutions existing network. Streaming is another way of saying, “broadcasting over Internet Protocol (IP).” Using NDI®, a video transport standard specifically designed to work over Gigabit Ethernet networks with super low latency, you can plug in a camera to your nearest Ethernet port and control it from anywhere else on your network, giving you a huge amount of flexibility when it comes to setting up your remote classes (shows). This concept of using IP-based, software-defined visual storytelling solutions is further enhanced by NDI as it allows connections to be two-way, meaning a source can also be a destination so you can easily include other video inputs to your show.
So how can TV help educators right now? It has caused live video production tools to evolve to a level that the talent (tutors) can set up and operate their own mini studios in a highly effective manner. The NewTek TriCaster Mini and its plug’n’play peripherals, like the NewTek PTZ camera powered by NDI, is designed to make professional looking video storytelling accessible and fun for everyone. Education and broadcasting, to reference Lord Reith, have a lot in common, as they both seek to educate, inform and entertain. Modern live video production systems, like the NewTek TriCaster Mini 4K, make delivering on these aims, even in the midst of this challenging situation, an achievable possibility for all.
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