Tonight was an evening of several personal “firsts:” My first Edmond Public Schools board meeting to attend as a parent, and the first school board meeting I’ve both webcast (via Ustream) and live-blogged via CoverItLive. The live blog included 83 comments from me as well as remote attendees, who numbered around 16 at one point during the meeting and included folks from other parts of Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and even New Zealand! The live blog text is available as an RSS feed and the CoverItLive iframe embeddable code:

The Ustream webcast actually held up pretty well during the meeting, but we were disconnected toward the end of the meeting. I’m not sure why. My AT&T broadband connection via my laptop remained connected online, but my phone disconnected for some reason and would not reconnect to Ustream. This is a partial recording of the meeting on Ustream. Yes, unfortunately this does appear to be “Blair Witch Project” quality at some points. Definitely an example of guerilla webcasting. Still, this demonstrates a remarkable capability which would not have even been possible a year ago, before our 3G cellular network was completed here in Edmond.

Here are a few of the “lessons learned” which come to mind following this event, which relate both to the board meeting itself as well as the technology I employed to share and document this event.

  1. Now that technologies exist which permit live event coverage like this, we should equip and support student Storychaser teams to webcast a variety of school events for a virtual audience. In the case of tonight’s meeting, this was an open, public meeting, and copyright as well as permission issues didn’t come into play as they could for school music and theater performances. Those copyright issues can and should be addressed, however, and should not prevent student Storychaser teams from documenting a wide variety of school as well as community events.
  2. In many ways, digital technologies can be used as humanizing and socializing influences in a community. One of the virtual attendees (Ernie Cox) tonight commented, “as a father of 2 small children I could be even more involved in civic life if more meetings where covered like this…..” Ernie is exactly right. Webcasting and recording events like this can open up many more doors for civic engagement and involvement. School board meetings and educational technology conferences are really just the tip of the iceberg. If we want to help motivate and direct our students to become meaningfully engaged in the civic activities of their community, state, and nation (and I think this is an important goal) we should advance this purpose by encouraging them to become citizen journalists. Equipped with a Ustream-capable cell phone and a high speed 3G cellular connection or WiFi connection, students can now be live, on-site reporters for community events.
  3. I need to get to the school board meeting earlier next time I want to attend. The room was PACKED, and it was very small. The small size of the room actually makes the case for webcasting as well, I think. Everyone who wanted to get into the room tonight could not fit. How many more Edmond residents and school district constituents could “attend” the meeting if it was both webcast live and archived? Many, many more. Now, I realize some communities do carry their school board meetings live on their local TV cable affiliate channel. The benefit of using a tool like CoverItLive (which was free, incidentally) was the opportunity to engage in a backchannel discussion with others during the meeting. This would not have been possible if we were simply viewing the board meeting on the TV. I could even envison the school board making time for virtual attendee/participant comments and questions. Are there going to be hundreds of Edmond residents interested in attending each and every school board meeting if they are webcast in the future? Probably not. But as school district constituents, wouldn’t it be beneficial to be able to virtually attend either live or after the meeting, asynchronously, if we wanted to? Wouldn’t it be great to have our students involved in webcasting and documenting school board business? Absolutely. This can and should be a context where the transparency afforded by social media tools produces numerous ancillary benefits for those involved, besides the simple act of documenting and sharing an event.
  4. Our school board should go paperless. It was AMAZING to see how thick the binders of paper were which each school board member had in front of them during the meeting. In our digital world, it would be both prudent and useful to have all those documents digitized so they were full-text searchable. Would laptop computers in front of each board member likely be a challenge to their personal learning styles and technology skills? It most likely would be, in at least some cases I’d guess. Yet the school board SHOULD be modeling the appropriate and effective uses of digital technologies to communicate and work. In fifty years, paper-based meetings are likely going to be considered an anachronism. Progressive and forward-thinking school districts should embrace paperless workflows TODAY. My school district, Edmond Public Schools, should be on that list of progressive school districts nationally and internationally. Electronic Board Meeting is one commercial software product (shared by JSW_EdTech during the live blog backchannel discussion tonight) which is being used by some school boards to make this move into the digital future. With Netbooks now available for $200 – $400, this is a more affordable move than ever for school board members. It’s a relatively common refrain, here on my blog, that Netbooks should be put in the hands of all students in grades three and up, but it can make sense (in some contexts) to start this Netbook and 1:1 learning revolution with school board members. In those situations, districts shouldn’t wait too long to implement the student 1:1 initiative after the school board takes the lead!
  5. The school board approved six year CLEP plans for each school in the district at tonight’s meeting. I have several responses to this. First of all, did any of the school board members actually read ALL the text in these plans? None of the board members asked any questions about the plans. These are the plans which ostensibly will drive all the learning at our schools for the next six years. The district representative who presented these to the board indicated that the district’s professional development plan is closely tied to these site improvement plans. So WHAT IS / ARE the professional development programs for Edmond teachers, particularly as they apply to topics like digital literacy, media literacy, and the effective integration of technology across the curriculum? I’m not talking about PD for teachers specifically tasked to “teach technology” at our middle and high schools. I’m talking about PD for REGULAR classroom teachers. There was not any discussion about this at all. As a parent of children in the district, I’d like to know more about this. We have had several Edmond secondary teachers complete our statewide Celebrate Oklahoma Voices digital storytelling “phase 1” training, but the district blocks all videos and photos from the learning community so they are inaccessible by students as well as educators on the district network. I’d love to see EVERY teacher in the district become “digital video certified,” able to not only create basic digital stories (using still images and audio) but also facilitate student digital storytelling projects. Is this in the professional development plans for any of our schools? These are SIX YEAR PLANS. What mention of technology integration is made in any of the plans? If these are not revised again until the six year school improvement plan cycle plays out, that will be 2015. No one can predict with complete accuracy what the information and communications landscape is going to look like in 2015. How is this dynamic environment addressed in the site plans of our schools? I’m curious if these site plans will be made available electronically for parents to download and read. I think they should be. This is a question I may pose to our elected school board member, Charles Woodham.

I could likely write more, but I’ll close with this thought. I’m delighted to have, at last, been able to attend a local school board meeting. We are exceptionally blessed in this community to have an ENORMOUS amount of resources with which we can educate our children. I’m optimistic that social media technologies, like Ustream and CoverItLive which I used this evening, can be used in constructive ways to increase civic awareness and participation for community members of all ages. Bring on the Storychasers! 🙂

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  • This is a great idea! A wonderful and smart way to bring the meetings to others. I wish LiveBlogging had a call-in number 🙂

  • Wes, Great post! Let me know how I can help! I spent 5.5 years on my local School Board, and one of my goals and missions was to go paperless. I did the research, but did not meet my dream before I left.
    Most important thoughts I can leave here is watch the open meetings act and make sure you are following it to the letter of the law. The back channel specifically I would worry about.
    Meg

  • Liz: We certainly could see sites like Ustream and Mogulus offer call-in functionality in the years ahead! That would be particularly good for conference events.

    Meg: Thanks for the feedback and encouragement. I will seek more info on open meeting act implications for live blogging and webcasting from Dr. Scott McLeod and his other educational law experts on the EdJurist blogging team. 🙂

  • I love attending board meetings. I find out a lot about what is happening in the district and where it is going. Getting there early also lets you choose the best seat. Our school board got laptops when they got them for teachers (a good selling point). A year later, the board meetings went paperless. http://www2.cj.k12.mo.us/sbweb/ The documents are only viewable during the scheduled meeting time.
    To talk to or ask questions of the board, you have to request the sup. put you on the agenda. Good opportunity to chat with the super. about your questions and ideas. The board often takes their lead from the super.

  • Paul Fisher

    Wes, congratulations for a great job last evening. I normally follow your blog using Google Reader, although when I saw your post about the upcoming school board meeting I just had to see this awesome potential “live”…even though I was in Pennsylvania at the time.

    As a school board member myself, I believe you are helping to break the boundaries of conventional thinking by exploiting what is truly possible with technology and showing how easy it is to bridge this perceived gap in public involvement. The comment by the father of the two young children reaffirmed my thinking and belief that “we” must continue to lead by our example in this area.

    Keep up the great work!

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  • Wes,
    Thanks for sharing your reaction to the process.

    I have been talking with our Superintendent and others about this process for the Board meetings. Just like anything else, I think we just need to get buy-in from everybody to make it worth doing so you are not duplicating effort.

    Also just happened to talk with someone about doing same kind of things with sporting events the same day that I read your post.

    Thanks for sharing,
    chris

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