from places as far away as Uzbekistan and Minnesota with 21 games (plus the big Final), 70 young men and 14 coaches from 7 schools, a lot of whistle-blowing and squeaking sneakers, and lots of applause and screaming from the crowd. American International School of Vilnius promoted the event through the assistance of the participating schools, got a boost from social media, and relied on the feedback of the viewing audience to improve the quality throughout the event. The result? Victory!
The initiative to do this was inspired by other schools that had already begun to stream CEESA events. However, AISV's small but ambitious tech-team, with the support of the school's director, Robert Hinman, assembled a plan to make it the most professional experience possible. It took a few days preparation and testing, but in the end it came together.
"We had a strong interest from a small group of students to make streaming happen," says Mr. Hinman. "So we took the chance to buy the equipment, and with the help of our IT coordinator it worked well and was a big success. Streaming added a new dynamic to the way we all share these events, and I hope it was enjoyed by the CEESA school communities who participated."
Students Can Deliver
"It was the first time in AISV history that we did livestreaming of a CEESA event and went through a valuable learning process where team-work proved to be incredibly important. We were lucky to have a professional and knowledgeable teacher-student cooperation team who did their best," observed Ms. Jolita Norkunaite, AISV's Activity Coordinator.
A lot of credit goes to Chananel Bos, a grade 10 student, who insisted on acquisition of specific software for live video processing, editing, and delivery. The first choice was to decide on which streaming service to use. In recent years it has become a lot easier for amateur and semi-pro organizations to deliver content via internet. A popular one is UStream, which we decided to use. There are free (with ads) and pay versions of varying levels of services and storage space. We went with a mid-range account which offered an extra 'picture-in-picture' capability which we could use for a scoreboard, as well as adding logos and switching out to other graphics between periods and during time-outs. However, there were some specific technical challenges we faced with that version and if you are serious about streaming a lot of events, consider spending a bit more to make the experience easier. If you are going to broadcast to LOTS of people at the same time you will need to have the better package.
Chananel says of the experience: "From what is available now, you can easily give a poor show or a very professional one relying on your budget. Getting something in between is not easy. On our road were many ups and downs but we tried hard and the result speaks for itself. One thing I have noticed more than once is that when you have less you try harder and do better. This is what I believed happened here. It took lots of research and dedication, but was very fun and exciting at the same time."
Another important consideration is to have a back-up plan in case of failure or disruption, and to also have enough equipment to cover simultaneous games. AISV was able to do so, but with less success with using a tablet as a source for video. The sports hall had an unreliable WIFI connection that proved to be less-than-satisfactory. We bought a specialized music-stand for mounting an iPad, which was great for following the game and acted like a tripod. When the WIFI signal dropped off the viewing audience numbers dropped, as well.
Using a hardwired ethernet connection with a laptop/ video-camera mounted on a table-top tripod with a two person team worked best for us. One person tracks the game, one person updates scores and switches between graphics, and both can provide occasional updates in the live-chat which is shared by everyone watching The result is a very professional looking viewing experience with a nice personal interactive component that engaged the viewers.
Have more than one channel ready to cover simultaneous events.
Most games had an average of 25 viewers at the same time, but that number dramatically increased for different games, such as the final between ISB and AISV. It is important that Activity and Technology Coordinators, coaches, parents, and school directors get involved with promoting your event. They can also continue to use the archived video footage which can be watched again later at any time. We heard about entire classrooms in several schools that were watching the games live, so we don't really know the final number of viewers as it could be quite a bit higher than our data!
Things to watch out for?
Idle chatter near the camera can result in embarrassing moments caught on video. Be sure to let everyone in the area know you are broadcasting. More advice: don't use WIFI to stream your events if you can't count on it to be a strong signal throughout the event. It simply isn't attractive to watch lower quality video atthat nly drops frames which can result in frustrating jumps in the action. We heard from audience members that were upset that they couldn't see some important plays because of jerky frame movement. Be sure to train any students that are going to be using the camera to pan smoothly, to follow the action, and to not talk over the audio unnecessarily.
During the tournament we learned to not engage in too much chattroom dialogue. By the end we learned to stop apologizing for technical issues and other non-game factors; we stuck to posting scores, and announcing game schedules.
Make sure you have a setup schedule prepared in advance. During the CEESA HS Boys Basketball Tournament, the sports hall we were renting moved some of our games to different courts unexpectedly; this forced us to break down and reset our gear more than once, adding to the challenge of being ready for other games in time. In the schedule, make sure you have enough people assigned to work the equipment- in the case of a tournament, a long three day experience will fatigue a small team. Rotate students regularly.
What Will We Do Differently Next Time?
We had minimum of interaction with coaches and players. At some points I went around with the iPad and was able to do some interviews with coaches, but it was not consistent. Viewing parents delighted when we stopped to talk with the players and they saw their sons on the court. The primary focus was on delivering the games and keeping up with the scores, but next time we will make sure to break up the type of feed.
Why do it?
This technology would be wonderful to use at any CEESA school's event from concerts to graduations and all sporting events. With a small investment you can reach the wider international audience and show off your wonderful school. Your students can run the show and gain a lot of valuable experience that benefits them and the global educational community. It's a win-win situation!
AISV Technology Coordinator