Have you heard of USTREAM?. I was asked to investigate a streaming solution for a major event and after careful consideration decided to use USTREAM. In this article I offer some considerations for those who want to move beyond simple streaming from a web-cam to the streaming of a major event where picture and audio clarity are paramount.

It Takes a Team

I can see a number of educational applications for a 21st century classroom

At a minimum you are going to want one person dedicated to the camera and the other managing the broadcast on a computer.  Each person should be within eyesight or have a means of direct communication.  Using enclosed headsets will help them accurately monitor audio levels.

The Need for Speed

You are going to need a a fairly fast wired connection.

Don’t even consider doing a stream over wireless as this process places large demands on your internet connection as it is. That said, we successfully streamed a 2 hour event on a 20Mb/s shared connection and so my experience here reflects this available bandwidth.

Shoot to Thrill

Use a camera with full manual controls.

Dials and knobs in this scenario reign supreme and enable you to make quick and accurate adjustments to WHITE BALANCE, EXPOSURE. and MIC LEVELS.  This is especially important for events held in auditoriums where the lighting changes. Connection to your computer is through a standard FIREWIRE cable which can transmit both your video and audio signals.

USTREAM takes advantage of an Adobe plugin, similar to YouTube, in order to detect the video/audio devices you have connected to your machine.  To avoid crashing your browser when experimenting with video/audio configurations, use a TEMPORARY/GUEST account on your computer which will refresh the preferences when logging in and out.

Sound Advice

Make sure you’re camera can accept an external microphone.

There are various types of mics intended for various sound sources.  Basically you get what you pay for.  Remember, your audience will generally forgive the picture quality but not the sound.  If you are watching the penny’s I would go for a lower end camera with external mic input and pay more for a decent quality mic.

Setting the Scene

Have both the broadcaster and the website open in separate browsers.

This will allow you to get a real sense of what the audience is experiencing. The USTREAM web interface is thoughtfully designed giving you access to some powerful features. In the true spirit of Web 2.0, viewers are able to chat in real time about your broadcast and you are able to moderate inappropriate comments on the fly.  You can also cue in scrolling text and video content from YouTube which opens up a range of creative possibilities.

Intermittent participation in the chat room can go a long way to encouraging constructive dialog among younger viewers.  The tactical use of informative scrolling text messages will also help viewers who tuning in at different times, establishing for them the mood and desired conversational tone.

Final Thoughts…

USTREAM is an impressive tool and I can see a number of educational applications for a 21st century classroom. Although my reflections are based on the streaming of a major community event, with just a MacBook educators can share student learning quickly and easily over the web for FREE.  If you have read this far I would strongly encourage you to find a willing partner and give it a try!