The old “one-size-fits-all” adage certainly does not apply to teaching students with diverse learning styles. Some students learn best via written assignments, while other pupils require visuals to grasp the Big Bang theory or other abstract principles. A truly active learning environment requires the ability to present information instantaneously, and in multiple formats, to support sustained achievement for all students.

Against this backdrop, the 15-school Metropolitan School District of Warren Township in the Indianapolis area is using digital video to provide teachers with on-demand visual content to expand lesson plans, deliver additional context to breaking world news, and offer distance-education opportunities to students.

Over the last several years, we have deployed extensive video production and broadcast systems for our more than 12,000 students–enabled in part by a $6 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, a private philanthropic foundation. Every school has a media center and a closed-circuit television network to broadcast morning announcements and other programming to all classrooms. To make the systems even more useful, we also employ live video broadcasting throughout several buildings.

To eliminate the need for manually transporting videos from school to school, we’ve digitized our approximately 2,000-title video library. Our original library, which consisted mainly of VHS tapes, was cumbersome for both administrators and teachers, requiring us to devote significant resources to delivering, retrieving, and cataloging the different titles. The tape-based content also limited teachers’ selection to available videos at on-site AV libraries–a challenge that created scheduling issues for teachers, many of whom had trouble incorporating relevant video into tightly-scheduled lesson plans. With our digital library, every district school now has on-demand access to video content, providing students with timely, relevant programming.

Working with AT&T and reseller IDSolutions, our technology team developed a digital video solution that addressed our district’s technical requirements, while providing teachers with an easy-to-use, web-based interface for accessing video-on-demand and related content.

Using our existing coaxial and fiber-optic networks, we’ve deployed a digital video distribution system from VBrick Systems. The process involved installing a video appliance and set-top box in every building. Located in each building’s media center headroom, the video appliances and set-top boxes enable media specialists in any building to broadcast a live video signal to every school in the district via a one-gigabit fiber-optic network.

The video appliances receive and digitize analog video streams, such as morning announcements. The appliances then stream the digitized video to the set-top boxes in MPEG-4 digital format. The set-top boxes enable televisions, flat-panel displays, and projectors to display Internet Protocol (IP) video. Importantly, VBrick’s MPEG-4 closed-captioning capabilities support federal disabilities compliance requirements and expand our video applications. Our high school also has an additional dual-mode video appliance to support DVD-quality MPEG-2 and low-bandwidth MPEG-4 digital video formats. Once a school receives a video signal, it is distributed throughout the building via the existing closed-circuit coaxial network to classroom televisions. The television sets are configured with scan converters that feed the signal via VGA cable to each teacher’s classroom computer. Teachers use classroom PCs to select and access digital video using an intuitive, menu-driven interface.

Live video can be saved for later viewing using a video-on-demand server located in the administration building’s distribution center. This center also features a portal server that manages the entire digital video system, including the video-on-demand library interface. The system’s most immediate benefit is distributing live, district-wide video broadcasts. Our superintendent, for instance, stays abreast of school activities by viewing morning announcements and other important video broadcasts from her office. The schools also view each other’s broadcasts, including the numerous programs produced at the high school’s video production studio.

The VBrick system also gives us an efficient way to distribute and manage our video library resources. Multiple classrooms can access the same on-demand video titles at the same time, thereby sidestepping hurdles to reserving and viewing VHS segments. Combining education with IT requirements, our high school video production students are helping to digitize our VHS library.

We also plan to use the system as a professional development tool. By broadcasting new teacher training classes, we’ll make it easier for teachers to attend classes while also reducing travel time and expenses. A digital training library will enable teachers to view missed classes or review material on demand.

In the future, enhanced distance-education applications might include creating two-way “virtual presence” interactive links with other district classrooms for collaborative projects and in-service teacher training and meetings. Additionally, portable digital video appliances will give our television network added flexibility to record and post highlights of football games, musical events, and other student activities on the school district’s web site.

Digital video has the potential to make a profound classroom impact by providing students with a front-row seat for underwater explorations or enabling real-time collaboration with students across the globe. By aligning digital video with educational requirements and existing technology, schools gain an important teaching tool that engages students to succeed in the classroom and beyond.

Brian Woods is director of networking operations for the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township, Indiana.