Brad Williams, Digital Media Specialist for the Ascension Episcopal School, has been a dedicated technology educator for over 20 years. In his current position, Mr. Williams is expanding the role livestreaming plays in his students’ curriculum and how the school connects to community members. By recruiting both student and staff volunteers, Mr. Williams has streamed numerous important student events such as Ascension’s graduation ceremony, athletic events, morning announcements and much more. Mr. Williams utilizes innovative equipment such as the Padcaster Starter Kit to inspire a passion for technology in his students, grow community involvement and continue to push the boundaries of digital media education at Ascension School.
It sounds like you’re livestreaming quite a few campus events and activities. Can you tell me a little bit more about the events you’re livestreaming?
We are currently livestreaming events across our three campuses. We have a preschool, lower and middle schools, and a high school situated in separate locations in and around Lafayette, Louisiana. A typical week consists of 11 chapel services, daily announcements in a news program format, and various athletic events (volleyball, swimming, football, etc.).
What events did you start streaming first, and how did you expand the livestreaming program from there?
Ascension’s first livestreamed event was the closing Convocation ceremony in the spring. My first event with the school was the graduation for the class of 2020. The administration recognized that a plan should be devised in order to continue with events but in a different format. They met and determined which events should continue, and we have adjusted the vision for those occasions so that we can stay within COVID guidelines but still reach our community.
How have the students responded to livestreaming the events?
The students have responded well to the new format. Of course, there is no substitute for meeting in-person, but our students are resilient, and they have adapted well to the change. Our goal from the beginning has been to maintain as many events as possible for our students, especially our seniors. This is an important year for them, and we want to maintain as much of the “regular” as possible.
Who is responsible for live streaming? Are the students involved at all? How are people trained in using the gear?
I am fortunate to work alongside an amazing group of colleagues who assist with our livestreaming needs. I oversee livestreaming on the three campuses, but there are others that execute many of the events. One of which is Steven Sorrell, our high school Dean of Students. Steven produces our high school morning show, Good Morning Ascension, our high school chapel services, and many of our athletic events. I learned about Padcaster from my colleague, Heather Gros, Lower and Middle School Innovation and Technology instructor. She is an incredible teacher and is inspiring students through technology. We also have a stellar technology department that is trained to stream many of our events. I am most excited about our dedicated group of middle and high school volunteers who assist with a variety of our events. They are enjoying the additional responsibility and have shown impressive leadership.
To read our interview with Ms. Gros click here.
Who watches the live streams and how do they watch them?
We host several YouTube channels under our school’s main account, and they are organized by our various campuses. We also have one specific page (Blue Gator Broadcasting) dedicated for our athletic & arts events. So far, our audiences have been our families (immediate and extended), students, and faculty/staff. We have received positive feedback from our families, and they have enjoyed the opportunity to stay connected with the events, even if they are unable to attend in person.
Why did you decide to livestream with an iPad? What have you found to be the benefits of streaming on an iPad?
Ascension implemented the streaming application Switcher Studio for the spring convocation ceremony, and we have stayed consistent with that product. The decision was based mainly for its ease of use and features. The product is iOS-based and uses that platform for switching and cameras. We are an Apple school (four-time award winning Apple Distinguished School), so we have experienced iPad users. One of the biggest advantages of using iPads for our streaming is the learning curve for our students and teachers. Instead of devoting time to learning the hardware, we can focus more on the application.
Would you recommend other schools livestream their events? Why or why not?
I would encourage schools to explore the possibility of livestreaming their events.
It does not have to be every event or even a professional production, but it does provide a way for the community to stay engaged when in-person attendance may not be a possibility. It may not be necessary to stream every event but giving your families a way to stay connected is ideal for your school community.
What advice would you give other schools interested in livestreaming?
If a school is interested in livestreaming, I would recommend several things. On the technical side, a reliable network is important for a successful livestream. In my experience, a dependable network is more crucial than a fast one. Second, determine what equipment you will need for your event(s). We love our Padcaster! Never compromise on audio. I feel that so much focus is given to video, but inferior audio can ruin a livestream. Seek out ways to use better microphones or methods to connect a mixing board to your iPad. Finally, and most importantly, discuss the vision of your events. How should they look? Should they appear as they have in the past? Should they have a “live” feel, or would it be more meaningful for your audience to experience a TV show-type broadcast?
Do you have any future plans or goals relating to livestreaming or video more generally?
As we look toward the future, our desire is to continually develop our product. We debrief after our events to discuss ways to improve our livestreams. We also want to increase our student involvement, both in front of and behind the camera.
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