Video scoreboards have long been an important feature of professional and college stadiums and other sports facilities. Now high schools are eyeing these boards as a way to pique interest in athletic programs, make games more exciting, and provide learning opportunities to students.

When the idea of a digital scoreboard was raised at Nazareth Area High School, a campus of 1,500 students outside of Allentown, Pa., school board members and ad-ministrators were challenged to come up with a way to increase the game experience for student athletes and parents, while also using the new technology to provide au-thentic learning experiences for students.

After installing a 15’5” x 26’ digital scoreboard manufactured by Watchfire Signs less than a year ago, students interested in video production and reporting quickly started shooting video around town and packaging “warm-up videos” to run on the board. Student enthusiasm was off the charts and their ideas started to flow in.

Now that we’ve had some time to learn all the capabilities of our digital scoreboard and have a couple sports seasons behind us, I’d like to share some guidance to other schools considering doing the same.

1. Specify the learning objectives for your digital scoreboard.
Operating a video board has many different components, including graphic design, animations, programming, management, pre-produced video packages, live reporting, and advertising opportunities. Determine which areas make sense for student learning and begin with one or two areas.

During our first year of operation at Nazareth, we invited students in the visual media production class to create short “hype” videos to show during sporting events. Since we already had a course, it was a natural fit to work these videos into the curriculum. We decided to allow a district employee to handle the business side of selling ads, with the idea that we would begin incorporating the video board into business, marketing, and entrepreneurship courses later. Our goal is to make the video board as student-driven as possible.

2. Gather ideas and perspectives.
Create a team of administrators, teachers, and students to brainstorm perspectives on the best way to involve students. We even invited the video board director from our local minor league hockey team to meet with school representatives and students to give us an overview of how she plans, organizes, and programs content. This gave us insight into areas we had never even considered and was a great professional learning experience for students. Professional and collegiate teams often have pros on staff who are willing to share knowledge if asked.

3. Determine ways to fit the video board into the curriculum.
Once administrators and teachers understand the full breadth of resources needed for the successful operation of a video board, look for ways to incorporate these tasks into the existing curriculum. In addition to video production, we’ve identified other opportunities to include the video board in our various classes. Students interested in marketing and advertising can learn how to package and sell ad space to businesses in the community. Since most small businesses don’t have the resources to produce their own ads, our video production students can provide those services. Graphic design students can develop custom animations. Those interested in a career in broadcasting can get involved in sideline reporting from events. Finally, technically skilled students can learn how to run the video board.

4. Harness enthusiasm and build structure into the curriculum.
Perhaps the most difficult obstacle we had to face was managing student excitement. This enthusiasm is great and we want to continue to encourage it, but it needs structure to be successful. For example, we had students handing us flash drives containing videos just hours before a varsity game. Unfortunately, we often couldn’t use them because the board operator didn’t have time to review them, then format and program the videos on the board. Once we better understood the process, we were able to build a concrete plan to systematically approach video production that includes deadlines, compatibility, and quality standards.

5. Think beyond sports.
A video board provides a lot of opportunities beyond sporting events, so it’s important to seek input for other ways to use the board. One exciting thing we’re looking at is creating a film festival to showcase student-written and -produced films on the board, along with the awarding of prizes. This gives students an opportunity to demonstrate their creativity, and it provides a great event for the whole community.

Finally, look for ways to help students include their efforts in their portfolios and college applications. This real-world experience is a terrific stepping stone for students looking to further their education and begin a career in broadcasting, visual arts, and business.

About the Author:

Mark Madson, Ed.D., is assistant superintendent for secondary education and support services at Nazareth (PA) Area School District.