When U.S. Army Women’s Museum staff first dreamed of creating a live broadcast studio it was just that – a dream. But we soon found ourselves standing in front of state-of-the-art video teleconferencing equipment. A technician assembled the equipment, showed us how to turn it on and then left. After a few days of immersing ourselves in manuals and internet discussion boards we began to look like we knew what we were doing and delivered our second live program to a school in Australia! It has been just over a year since that equipment was first delivered and today is Digital Learning Day, so the U.S. Army Women’s Museum Education Team thought it would be fitting to share some tips from our first year of live broadcast programming.
1. Use your network
Before any equipment was even ordered, Museum staff traveled around Virginia and spoke to museums across the country about their already established live broadcast programs. This type of programming is hard to fully grasp without actually seeing it happen in person. So we signed up for a few live programs as participants and we also travelled to several museums to see the presenter’s end. This gave us an idea of everything from how studios were set up to what it is like for a student to experience a live broadcast program. We gained an understanding of what we wanted and what we did not want. We went into these visits with an eye for what would work for us – based on our resources and objectives. Not only do you leave with a better understanding of the entire concept but you also foster great opportunities for partnerships with fellow institutions.
They say the camera adds ten pounds…well it also adds gray hairs you’ve never noticed before, blemishes you thought weren’t noticeable and reveals colors you thought made you look great as weapons of pastiness or Oompa-loompa syndrome. Be prepared for an up-close look at yourself you’ve probably never experienced before (but don’t worry – you look great!).
3. New delivery platforms
Don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on live broadcast equipment? No worries. There are lots of new and old platforms that allow you to connect with audiences around the world. Skype, Zoom, BlueJeans, and Vidyo are just a few. And classrooms do not have to have the expensive equipment to connect with you. The platforms mentioned above allow ordinary computers to connect with your equipment, even allowing for the use of Chroma Key technology in some cases.
4. Talking Head syndrome
It is important to avoid the “talking head” method of presentation at all costs! The last thing your audience wants to see is your face plastered on the screen for 45 minutes. Show off artifacts and archives, use varied media and consider the use of software like Prezi to make presentations more interactive and engaging. Also take advantage of your camera - many equipment setups allow you to preset camera angles so you can zoom in and move around easily. Remember, live broadcast programming can be just as dynamic as your in house programming.
5. Know your colors
You’ve probably heard of Chromakey or Green Screen Technology – you know, what the weather man uses on the news. That’s why when we ordered all of our equipment we ordered a green screen (literally a large green sheet). The technology is designed to convert all of the green from the green screen into the content you connect which means everything in the room that is any shade of green will also “disappear.” We work for the Army, and virtually every artifact we wanted to show was some shade of green and just did not show up! But rest assured there are also blue screens. Make sure you think about the artifacts you may want to show using the technology or even what color your logos or team shirts are before you order your screen.
6. Watch your stare
I’m sure this is the first thing they teach you in broadcasting school but for us museum folk it took some getting used to. We found ourselves perpetually staring at the TV screen on which our participants appear, which meant we were not looking into the camera. Instead we were noticeably staring away from the camera. Practice looking into the camera to make a better connection with your audience and not be so awkward. Also, the only way we figured this out was by partnering with a local school for our first broadcast and sending a co-worker out to their classroom to see the receiving end. You can also record your broadcasts to evaluate your performance.
7. Assisted Living and Retirement Community Population
There is a booming population of retirement communities and nursing homes fully invested in the idea of distance learning. In fact, a large percentage of our programming is with this particular population. To help advertise our programs we signed up with the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (www.cilc.org), a sort of clearinghouse for teachers around the world to find folks like us delivering programs. The programs we offer are advertised as K-12 programs but right away we had adult communities signing up for them. We decided to try them out with the adults, leveling our instruction and making adjustments for a less interactive audience. It has been an incredibly rewarding audience we never expected! We do not charge for our programs but with this audience in addition to the K-12 audience, distance learning can certainly generate revenue for your education program.
8. Everyone is going to want to see
Lastly, working in our live broadcast studio is normal to us now but to others it is still exciting and new. There are a lot of people who have never seen things like a green screen (or blue screen) and find it incredibly interesting. Make sure you show it off (and turn it on early as most systems take a few minutes to boot up)!
If your institution is thinking about delving into this new education platform we wish you the best of luck! Remember to use your community – look to those who have already learned all of these tips the hard way to help you get started.