School districts trying to reach more parents and stakeholders have begun dabbling with streaming video to let community members watch school board meetings, graduations, sporting events, and other school functions in real-time over the internet.

One such district is Pennsylvania’s Penn Manor School District, which recently broadcast a town meeting live over the internet. In the meeting, the district’s business manager presented the budget for the next fiscal year. He also answered questions that viewers eMailed to him during the presentation.

“This is a first for us,” said Charlie Reisinger, technology director at Penn Manor School District, of the May 11 broadcast. Normally, he said, budget presentations are done at school board meetings, which are not usually highly attended by the public. “We were looking for a more efficient way to get out to community members.”

Through streaming video, this web event allowed residents to watch the entire budget presentation and ask questions about it without leaving the comfort of their homes. It meant that seniors didn’t have to go out, and parents didn’t have to get babysitters.

“Anyone [with an internet connection] is able to access it. The only thing you need is a QuickTime player, and that’s free to download for a Mac or PC,” Reisinger said.

Apple Computer supplied the district with the equipment and technical support to deliver the live web cast for the evening. Using Apple’s QuickTime software, which is available from Apple’s web site, about 300 viewers watched the district’s presentation in real time.

“We’re looking at using this one-way video long-term,” Reisinger said. “It’s very simple. It gives anybody their own TV station.”

Both teachers and administrators can use video streaming to get messages out to parents and the public quickly, he said. The district also plans to broadcast its graduation ceremony on the web this year, so relatives can watch it live or check out the archived footage later on the district’s web site.

“We foresee doing our board meetings on the web,” he said. “If a resident can’t come to a meeting, they can look at the archive.”

Since using QuickTime software and a digital camera is relatively inexpensive, the district easily could make videos and movies segments on demand, he said.

The Nacogdoches Independent School District (NISD) in Texas, which operates a 24-hour cable channel, also has begun airing its programming over the internet using video streaming.

“Anyone with cable or [the] internet can access what we broadcast,” said Martin Evans, director of technology services at NISD. “They can get on the internet after they get off work, and they can access archives of programs that they missed.”

NISD also plans to broadcast and archive orientation sessions for new students and their parents, as well as football games this fall.

“This is a very powerful tool to communicate with people who won’t [or can’t] come to open house or parent teacher interviews,” Evans said. “Principals won’t worry about people not coming to these things, because they’re being broadcast.”

Since the district’s server can handle only 1,000 visitors at a time, NISD limits who can access the web casts. The current NISD web site is only a shell and doesn’t have much content on it.

“We set up a range of IP addresses that could actually see our web site. It’s a way to ensure the integrity of the broadcast,” Evans said. “The ultimate benefit is to improve education to our students and to increase communications to our stakeholders.”

Similarly, President Clinton has been conducting web casts since last fall to communicate directly with citizens about important topics. During a visit to City Academy Charter School in St. Paul, Minn., on May 4, Clinton participated in a live web cast hosted by ChannelOne.com. It was watched by thousands of students from across the country.

“Fifty years ago and more, President Roosevelt used the radio to bring democracy into the homes of the American people, with his Fireside Chats. Thirty years later, President Kennedy regularly used televised press conferences to do the same thing. And I think it’s quite appropriate to use this newest medium of communication to answer more questions from more students,” Clinton said during the web cast.

Nacogdoches Independent School District

http://www.nacogdoches.k12.tx.us/

Penn Manor School District

http://www.pmsd.k12.pa.us/

Apple Computer Inc.

http://www.apple.com