I'm here with Michael Kaelin today. Michael is an educator at Union School District and he's in charge of streaming media electives. He was tasked at starting a daily live news broadcast for his middle school. They're just getting started and have completed their third week of broadcasts. So, I wanted to talk to Michael to learn about the inspiration to start the show and to see how it's all going.
I'm curious what your background is. Did you have any previous experience with broadcasting or video production tech?
Yeah, I did actually. I've been a teacher for 25 years but about 10 years ago I took over a position at my former middle school and they had a full production studio actually plumbed through the local cable channel. It was about a $100,000 system. They had all the best equipment. It was all plug and play when you walk in. And so we did a daily broadcast. That was a big learning curve for an English teacher (that's my background). But I do have a Master's in instructional technology, so I was super curious about how could we use the medium for learning and how can it impact the culture of the school in a positive way.
So, I jumped on it. I learned a lot. And then I recently took another job closer to where I livedand they had intercom announcements - they had nothing. So, I kind of dropped the idea just saying, "hey have you ever thought about this (live streaming)". And I didn't realize how enthusiastic they would be. And the answer was a definite enthusiastic yes. So that's kind of where I come from and how I got to where I'm going now.
So that was actually going to be my next question is what was the inspiration to start the broadcast. And it sounds like it was you.
Yeah, I mean I had mentioned it. They kind of knew based upon my history and what I had done but I didn't know they had nothing. I mean literally they took me to the video in the computer lab, initially, and there was virtually no hardware except for a few pieces of video production that some teachers had done. But there really was nothing for streaming. No one had a sense of what the best way would be to do it. And so, it was it was literally a day one experience.
So, my principal was the one that said, "hey what do you need?" And I said I don't know, let me go find out. That's what I found about all the new developments in the last ten years. The industry is just 180 degrees different than when I used to do it. And now you can do it a lot cheaper and a lot better. And so, he just said tell me what you need, write up a proposal and he got it approved and so we started working on it.
I mean it's funny to think that an intercom is so old school now because I don't consider myself that old. I'm just about 30 and that's how we did it! But yeah, it's everywhere now. Everybody is starting to livestream, and I think it's great and it is because it's becoming so affordable and easy and DIY.
Yeah, I would agree. There are two middle schools in our district and the other middle school does have a daily broadcast but the whole thing is prerecorded, and I commend that teacher who created that whole program. However, I wanted to do something live and a lot of people confronted me and said just do a prerecording you don't need to do it. I said no, there's something dynamic about the live stream, it's here, it's now, it's flexible, it adapts to changing conditions and now they get it because if someone has a last-minute announcement we have a streamlined process that can just immediately adapt. You know the weather is the actual weather it's not saying a day later. So, having the live stream being in synchronous time is really really a benefit.
I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about your setup what technology you have, the software, accessories and all that fun stuff.
Sure. Well I think initially what we have right now is we have a PTZ camera that is joystick controlled. I have a student control that. The software we use is Wirecast which has been great. I'm really happy with using the Wirecast system and all the related hardware along with the PTZ camera along with - let's see it's a very minimal setup. So, we've got we've got the Intel Nuc that drives it all, I wanted some really good processing power and then we had to install a couple extra wireless routers to kind of bring the signal in a little bit closer even though we are using an ethernet connection just for a failsafe.
We also have an audio board which is a very cheap. I think it was $58 that we plug our two mics in but then I also have another mic port made by Shure - I think it's called the M2 - and we have a condenser mic plugged into that. So, we use two lavalier mics the clip-on kind and then we have one condenser mic for special announcements and guest speakers and things like that. I have a green screen which is literally a sheet and lots and lots of gaffer's tape. There's a lot we can do, but man, we are using scotch tape and string and staples for about everything. And I certainly don't take it for granted that we have top notch software and a camera. That seems to make all the difference and allow us to have a lot of creative flexibility.
I love that you have a really great technology setup and then you've got a sort of DIY some things like the green screen that's perfect.
What I realize is I don't know what I don't know. And every day and every day I do a broadcast I go, "Oh that's never going to work, or this is a terrible idea." And you know a great example is I just had a parent make a donation to the program and I wanted to get shirts for everybody as something that would really pop on the green screen. And in doing research it was saying royal blue would look really good on a green screen. But for the life of me we can't get the chroma key to make it work. It has lots of DIY lighting setup right. So, you know so I changed it. We got red shirts which look phenomenal however there are about as far from our school colors as you can get. But we don't care because it looks so good.
Day by day we're finding out stuff and it's really a great spirit of collaboration and let's take a risk and not be afraid to fail. And when we do you know it's going to be fine and the kids have really adapted that attitude. At first, I was doing everything and now I can stand there and we're actually three weeks in now and three weeks in I show up, I unlock the door, and the kids all have jobs, they're writing stories, they're producing stories, they are doing all the Wirecast, they are doing all the camera programming they're doing everything. And that was the idea, that we wanted to use this as a real authentic tool that's going to empower kids to take these skills because they're going to be the ones who are kind of taking this technology and doing new things with it that are blowing our minds.
I think it's a fabulous experience for these kids and applicable to almost any job in the future, too.
I'm really hoping that the teachers and the administrators will begin to see the potential for this. I mean to have a guest speaker, for example I'm arranging right now to have a Holocaust survivor come and speak to my classes and I'm trying to get them to go, "what if we go in the studio and we do a livestream it goes to our channel and then the entire school can watch it and then all of their parents can watch it." I mean suddenly we've expanded our market tenfold and that is really powerful.
Are you archiving your content as well, so you have something else to look back on?
Yes. We are trying to get that. As soon as you get 100 subscribers - we're using YouTube - when you get 100 subscribers you get a static link that you can keep using over and over again. We're pushing hard to get that, so we can just create our own little clever link and instead of a bunch of gobbledygook characters. But right now, it's archiving a broadcast every day, it saves it so parents can go and they can look at the old ones. The tricky thing is at what point can you be public and at what point do you need to be private to protect the identities of students. And so, we're very careful. We have some protocols. We don't use last names at all. We're very careful about what we announce. All the students that are on camera. I have made sure that they're not on a "do not publish list" kind of thing. There's so many things to protect kids that we need to be aware of. And so far, it's working out really well.
Well to get back to some of my questions I did want to ask about the setup one more time. You did most of the install by yourself. Am I right?
Yeah. I set everything up and continue to do so because every day we're playing, so the only thing I did not do was set some of the YouTube streaming stuff which has to be done through our district office because ultimately the district has to have ultimate control over that. So, I have a support person at the district office. And he and I work very closely together. We're always on Google Hangouts and I'm always firing things at him. Is this working? Can you preview it? He has remote desktop access so that he can help me troubleshoot if I'm struggling with it. But yeah, pretty much all the hardware I set up myself. I keep the manuals handy at all times. And I'm always watching the online tutorials.
Would you say it was pretty easy or super challenging? Is it something that any teacher could do with the with the manuals?
To be honest, I have some experience setting things up but I'm not a tech wizard. I just assume that I'm going to screw it up the first time. But surprisingly, suddenly the camera was plugged in everything was plugged in, getting everything to communicate with each other. There might have been one or two things but usually you look down and you realize "Oh this button is pushed in and it shouldn't have been." So, I found overall that it was very simple and fast to get it up and running. And now we're at the point that we're not really troubleshooting now we are just saying how can we add this cool feature. And each day it's getting better and better. One of the things I love doing for example is in the Wirecast software we mirror from another laptop. So, a lot of the video production that the kids are doing and building we can mirror directly into the software and we can cut from the livestream to the prerecorded sections very fast and that makes it feel like a real news broadcast to me.
I don't think you're giving yourself enough credit. It sounds like you're doing a really great job!
It's coming. Day by day every time I walk by a teacher and they are like every day it's getting better and better and better and better and I think that it's just part of the learning curve. And we're going to make mistakes. And this is the place to do that. If you can’t do that at school where are you going to do it?
I'd be curious to hear about a typical show a little sneak peek. You know how long they last. What do they cover. Is it funny or formal?
Well I want the kids to own it. So, I really want their personality to come in but I also want a certain amount of etiquette and professional prowess to come out. And so we work a lot when we do a script and we practice reading the script and practice vocal inflection and practice speaking up and making sure that the mics are on and troubleshoot as we go. The broadcast itself starts with the Pledge of Allegiance - well it starts out using all the wonderful free music that's on YouTube because I initially was getting dinged for copyright infringement when we first started. I realized I can't just play whatever I want and blast it, because YouTube has an algorithm which will identify it and if they do that enough then you start actually having consequences. And I thought Oh this is not good. So, I learned that YouTube has tons and tons of royalty free bumper music that we just keep open and we just keep using that. And it's been awesome. The music is fantastic. The fact that they just give it away is mind-blowing.
So we always start with free music which transitions into the Pledge of Allegiance which transitions into a major news story of the day which transitions into many announcements which I have teachers submit to me using a Google form and spreadsheets and so I've got it all pretty automated that if someone wants to leave an announcement they fill in the form and I automatically receive an email and then each day I can check it. Now I have the kids getting those emails and putting them into the script and writing the script. Once they do the announcements we usually will do things like birthdays or if we have a special event happening at noon and then we have a standard wrap up and then after the wrap up everyone says goodbye and then we end with bumper music again and then it fades off and we stop streaming.
It works well. It's about anywhere between three and a half to six minutes depending on how much content we have.
It really sounds like a fun experience and one of the things you just brought up the vocal inflection little things like that for the student learning is really interesting. I was thinking Oh how great for the technological learning but just stage presence and things like that is a good point.
Yeah. And I unwittingly I have I have a lot of dramatic arts background being on stage and so we talk a lot about stage presence and the mood and the tone - for example we just did the story of the passing of George Bush our former president. Then before that we did it was Pearl Harbor’s anniversary and I was saying we want to treat these - regardless of what we think personally one way or another it doesn't matter - we're just trying to put forth a sense of tone and mood for everything so.
What do you hope for students to gain from this experience.
What I hope is that they feel empowered to be able to do it on their own for one and that they see the capabilities of how this streaming media can be used in other areas. You know a lot of these a lot of their jobs that they're getting into - I mean what they're doing right now is like resume material. They don't realize it and they're far away from getting their first job. But it's skill that can really snowball for them into opportunities. And so, I hope it does. I mean that's really what I'm looking for.
Kids are getting a lot of credit a lot of you'll hear a lot of adults say oh just let the kids do it they'll figure it out they know how to do all this stuff. The reality is they don't they don't speak the vocab. They're consumers of technology. They're not real producers. And what I want them to be when they get out of here is a producer of technology. Consuming it is the fun easy part. But I think actually producing it and creating it really taps into their own their own interests and is the stuff that we need.
If anybody wants to find this live stream where should they be looking?
I think there's a basic search on YouTube for Tiger talk TV and then they'll see it. I mean it's warts and all like we included all but every day they're getting better. So, write in YouTube Tiger talk TV and we're with Union Middle School in San Jose California.
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