Video helps Baltimore County overhaul its curriculum

Recognizing the need to engage a new generation of students who are visual learners, Maryland‘s Baltimore County Public Schools–the nation’s 25th-largest school system–has installed video servers and a video-on-demand system in all of its 169 schools.

The system, SAFARI Montage by the Library Video Company, will allow teachers to access and play more than a thousand video programs from leading publishers such as National Geographic and Scholastic. It also will enable Baltimore County to expand not only its curricular offerings, but also its professional development, according to school district officials.

“The vision is to make the curriculum more 21st-century and engaging,” said Della Curtis, coordinator for Baltimore County‘s Office of Library Information Services (LIS).

The use of video on demand is nothing new for schools. A growing number of districts–including such large school systems as the Chicago Public Schools and Nevada‘s Clark County School District–have begun integrating digital video clips into lessons. But what distinguishes Baltimore County‘s effort is that the district has convened teams of teachers in each school to brainstorm ways of using the new resources to their fullest potential across each academic discipline.

School district officials aim to implement the system district-wide to “support the entire curriculum, and make it multimedia,” said Andrew Schlessinger, CEO of Library Video Company. He added that Baltimore County‘s video project “represents our vision for how we’d like to see the product used. … This is really the first district I can honestly say is 100 percent behind everything that SAFARI Montage can do.”

The video content isn’t hosted on Library Video’s servers, Schlessinger said, but instead resides on the district’s network, much like a YouTube-style environment–but one that is controlled and targeted specifically for the school field.

Curtis said Baltimore County evaluated streaming video products for the past two years and chose SAFARI Montage as its solution because the system will allow the district to bring multimedia and moving images to classrooms without compromising bandwidth.

Content from producers such as PBS, National Geographic, and Scholastic also was a plus, she said.

Baltimore County‘s own television studio, The Education Channel, broadcasts to the district and community during the day and evenings. Before implementing SAFARI Montage, Curtis said, if educators wanted to have a copy of the educational programs that appeared on the channel, they could copy these programs either during the daytime broadcast or at home during the evening. Now, with SAFARI, educators can show these programs, too, in their classes at any time.

“It’s a delivery system for our own knowledge assets,” and not just Library Video’s content, Curtis said.

Each school’s principal is responsible for implementation, and he or she is in charge of selecting a SAFARI Montage leadership team that will provide school-based leadership to ensure an effective transition. These teams are getting professional development and guidance from the district’s LIS and instructional technology offices.

From the district’s LIS web site, staff members have access to several academic exercises and activities that already have incorporated SAFARI content to enhance the curriculum. Teachers can incorporate video clips into their lessons and can view videos showing best teaching practices, such as a science-experiment guide that shows how the experiment should be conducted.

“What was really phenomenal was that in 169 schools, it only took two and a half weeks to put a server in every school and set up logins for teachers,” Curtis said. “So for those who would say [implementing such a project is too much trouble], that’s the legacy for this project–it’s surprising how quickly it was deployed and how quickly teachers were using the system.”

Baltimore County‘s video project comes as an audit from Phi Delta Kappa International sharply criticized the district for a lack of oversight and teacher training that has undermined academic progress and perpetuated an achievement gap among minorities, auditors said. According to the audit, Baltimore County needs to improve its management and development of curriculum, among other recommendations.

Curtis said SAFARI Montage’s presence will help the district address these recommendations–one of which was that “our curriculum needs to actively engage kids.”

“Giving kids the tools they’re used to using and bringing them into the classroom is going to be a lot more motivating than a textbook,” she concluded.


Baltimore County Public Schools

SAFARI Montage

Laura Ascione

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