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Episode three transcript

The Virtual Staffroom Podcast

Episode 3: Special Edition - Excursion - Virtual Celebrations

 

Joachim:

Welcome to The Virtual Staff Room. A podcast made for teachers, by teachers, and all with a dash of educational technology thrown in. My name is Joachim Cohen, your host, a former VET retail teacher, but now innovator with the Technology 4 Learning team. I'm lucky enough today to be joined by just one other member of the Technology 4 Learning team, Linda. Linda is a former school leader and teacher, and now state-wide STEM change maker. And Linda, a little birdie tells me you just released another edition of your student focused STEM magazine T4L Kids.

Linda:

Hey Joe, you are right, we most certainly did.

Joachim:

But today we have not time for chit-chat, as this is not your average episode. This is a special edition, all about the how and why of celebrating virtually. We're calling it an excursion, an extra addition to our regular line-up. With Year Six coming to a close, Year 12 students graduating, we know you are very keen to find a way to celebrate these milestones and bring parents, community members and the whole school into the experience.

Joachim:

But luck is on your side, as we have a whole load of special guests to help us help you take your celebrations digital. We will get the local perspective from the principal of Sylvania Heights Public School, we'll talk all the tech you might need with our own papa tech Greig Tardiani. We go global by speaking to someone from the other side of the world, who has had to go through this experience already, from Newtown County Schools. Make sure you check out their virtual graduation, there's a link in the show notes. And finally, we'll take a trip out west to a regional New South Wales high school that has really brought their community together online, ensuring that their students remain connected. You're going to like this one Linda.

Joachim:

Well to begin, we are joined by our own T4L papa tech Greiig Tardiani, to take a closer look at what you will need to run a virtual assembly or graduation. So Greig, welcome. Let's start out, what are the basics, what do you need to get started?

Greig:

We'll keep it as simple as we can, so you can do it with just a laptop if you want. You might want to add though to that, a webcam, and that'll be a USB connection to your laptop. And you might want to add a second camera, again try to keep it all USB to make it simple on the laptop.

Joachim:

That is fantastic, so simple. And if you're doing pre-recorded content, what could you use in your school that you might already have to pre-record content?

Greig:

Again, record it straight to your laptop. But any of the files that you've got with assemblies that you've already done or any features, sporting events that are past that you want to add to that little assembly, you add those in. And you could totally use an iPhone or an iPad more likely, that schools have got.

Joachim:

That's when you're really, really keeping it simple. And that is a really good camera. They're 4K cameras nowadays, so you're getting some really good quality in those.

Linda:

Okay Greig, now we're set up, I've got my laptop ready, how do I transmit? Do I stream, do I record, what do I do?

Greig:

If you're really new to this, record it, because then you can make a few mistakes. But having said that, I actually like mistakes in there that make it authentic, that make it real. But if you're a little bit conscious and it's the first time you've done it, just record it straight to whatever you've got on your computer. You've got the Adobe products in there as well that you can actually use, that are part of the software, use those. Just any sort of recording that you can do on your device will allow you to record it.

Greig:

Then you can edit it, cut the bits out that you don't want, which I've added in here, so trying to make mistakes that we can cut out. And then you actually end up with a reasonably good quality presentation that you can then host somewhere, everyone to look at it later.

Joachim:

Oh, that's fab isn't it? So you can just upload it to Brightcove, great platform.

Greig:

Now if you're going to be looking at streaming live, you've really got to be looking at preparation. So really prepare everything up, have some sort of script put together so that everybody knows what they're doing. If you don't have some sort of script, agenda, whatever you want to call it, you're going to get yourself caught out, and then it's going to look really silly. Again, don't worry about it, people are going to expect that.

Greig:

But once you've got your streaming sorted out, Brightcove's what we recommend, there are a few others that are available to us, we do recommend the Brightcove product, because that allows us to actually stream to quite a large audience that can start to look at it simultaneously. Pick your times though that you're actually going to do your streaming, because now we've got the opportunity to do that at any time that is more convenient for people to be able to look at. If you're streaming it live, also record it so you can watch it later, afterwards.

Joachim:

Oh, some totally awesome tips there, aren't there Linda?

Linda:

Absolutely.

Joachim:

I'll tell you.

Linda:

Now I imagine a lot of schools are feeling nervous about this. What are some of the things they should be checking beforehand?

Greig:

The obvious one straight away, bandwidth. Can I actually do it? So do a little bit of testing, get all your staff to go home one day and then do a little mock-up at school, see if they're all connecting quite well, if there's any issues. Expect the worst, and hope for the best is what you're really looking at with any of these sorts of events. And if you are recording it as well as live streaming, if the live stream goes kaput, at least you've got the recording and you can send out a little letter or at the end when people are connecting, saying, "Well, we had a few problems there, the recording will be up, watch the recording later on."

Greig:

These things happen and we can't control everything. So there's the sorts of things that you need to be looking at. Do a dry run to start off with, if you're using multiple cameras, set them up so that you can actually see what you're wanting to present. And you may need to then have some sort of switching system that allows you to switch from one camera to another.

Joachim:

If people are out there, you're thinking, "Oh, I haven't heard of Brightcove, I don't know what bandwidth is," you can always go and approach your field operations team to support things like bandwidth and understanding your infrastructure. And there's loads of information on the Virtual Celebration Toolkit to get you started with things like Brightcove, so you can understand what it is. It's just like a special version of YouTube, is the way I look at it.

Greig:

Exactly, yes.

Joachim:

And we could, if you really want to, you can get down, you can use Teams and Zoom, you can use those products that you've been using to broadcast during the COVID crisis perfectly. That'll work as well.

Greig:

Yeah.

Joachim:

Teams works well inside your school, and Zoom is great if you're getting parents and people like that connecting in.

Greig:

Exactly, yes. If you want them to go Zoom, if it's just internal, Teams, everything Brightcove.

Joachim:

Yes, Brightcove is amazing. Now Greig, it's time to let loose. We want you to geek out. If you could pimp the assembly, the virtual assembly, what kind of things could people think about to add value?

Greig:

Some of our schools are quite well equipped because they've got filming studio projects, subjects that they're running. So they're in the position where they can start really set up at a brilliant system. Looking at two or three cameras... If you're doing this as a live assembly, I'll paint a picture for you here. You would need probably I'm sorta looking you might have your staff there for your main little official party, that will walk in.

Greig:

You want to be able to have a camera that could see the whole stage. You would then want another camera pointing at your lectern, where you're going to be your basic presentations. That gives you your cameras. Basically a decent or reasonably decent little semi-professional camcorder will do the job. Worst cast scenario, a couple of iPads, iPhones, you could get away with those sorts of things as well. And again, webcams could kick in.

Greig:

Connecting it and being able to switch is the next stage, so that you need to be able to have some sort of switching. There's some really clever little software switches that'll allow you to work with it, or you then start looking at something that's a physical switch that you can connect everything in to, that will give you a single USB out that you can then stream through your laptop. Okay, we'll have some information on that about those.

Greig:

Now, the biggest problem, or hang on. The biggest thing that you really need to look at is audio. Have a look at your microphones, I would suggest you look at lapel mics or lavaliere mics that you hook up that are wireless, that way your main presenters don't have to be walking around with a microphone, and it makes the whole presentation so much better if they can just have themselves miked up. They can be heard, if you can't hear something that is on a video, it is the worst thing. People will switch off straight away, so make sure your audio is really good.

Joachim:

There some great tips. And I think start out small, don't worry about those kind of things if you haven't heard of them before. And then draw on your community. See if you've got an expert that's out there already that might be willing to come and give you a hand. That would be absolutely fantastic, and I can tell you what, a lot of people give Greig a call to find out about these things. I think that might be what someone's doing now. Who are you going to call, you're going to call Greig.

Greig:

Call me up, we'll have a bit of a chat and we'll talk all things filming, giz, geek out, we can go as simple and as difficult as you want.

Joachim:

Don't worry, we're not going to give your number away, because then everyone will give you a call.

Linda:

We'll put together the toolkit for that reason.

Greig:

Too many people already know it.

Joachim:

Oh, dear. But don't worry everyone, we've put some information in the notes to get you started, and then don't forget, jump on to EdBuy to do a search for any extra equipment you might need, and there's some great external catalogs that Greig was talking about.

Greig:

Yeah, go into the external catalogs down below when you get into EdBuy, and you'll be able to see a number of there that will be able to handle your AV solutions.

Joachim:

Yeah, and even if it's just search mic or camera, you'll find some other things-

Greig:

Exactly.

Joachim:

... that'll pop up inside the internal catalogs too. Thanks Greig, you've been a superstar.

Greig:

Very good. Hope that was helpful for everyone. And have some virtual assemblies that really get your information out, and make it as normal as possible for your school.

Joachim:

Absolutely, celebrate the awesomeness.

Linda:

Thanks Greig.

Joachim:

Next we thought we would spice things up a little and give you an example of some out of the box thinking from across the globe. We are lucky enough to be joined by someone from the other side of the big pond, the Pacific pond, as we are joined by Dr. Adam Phyall, Director of Technology and Media Services from Newtown County Schools, in Georgia in the United States of America. Welcome Adam. So what is the weather like on the other side of the world today?

Dr. Adam Phyall:

It is very hot. Right now we're clocking in at about 95 degrees here, so it's smoking here. We're in the dog days of summer here in South Georgia.

Linda:

We need a really quick translation to Celsius, because I don't speak Fahrenheit very well.

Joachim:

It must be hot.

Linda:

Really hot, okay.

Dr. Adam Phyall:

Right after I said that, as I was thinking, I was like, "Okay, what's the translation, I used to be a science teacher, what is that?"

Linda:

Hot.

Joachim:

Exactly, we can define it like that, I like it.

Linda:

Okay. Adam, can you tell us about you and your role please?

Dr. Adam Phyall:

Well, as my role of Director of Technology and Media Services, I have the privilege to really do both sides of the house as it relates to technology. I handle what we call the wires and the pliers, the stuff behind the walls that people don't see that just makes everything work. But then the other part that I get really excited about also is the instructional technology part. Just really getting teachers using the best practices with technology, really broadening our students' horizons on how they're utilising technology in the classroom. And also I get the media services, so our library media centre, so the literature, our library learning commons, our maker spaces, all that falls under my department. So I think I have one of the best jobs in education, because I get to do all the technical stuff and then all the fun stuff, and really show students what's possible with the resources we have in our district.

Joachim:

So Adam, I suppose this time has really changed what your role encompasses. And we're talking about virtual celebrations here today, could you tell us about the virtual experience that you crafted and created?

Dr. Adam Phyall:

Oh yeah. One thing about this pandemic, it's really created opportunities to think outside the box and really try new solutions. Because this is a new problem, I don't know about you but this is my first pandemic. I was telling someone, if you were around in the 1918 influenza pandemic, then it's time for you to retire. But we were able to really think about how we could get our families involved in our end of the year graduation ceremonies, because we know this is one thing that students and families really look forward to. We have some of our students where unfortunately, and fortunately, they're the first ones in their immediate family to graduate from a high school based on various circumstances. Or, this is something that they've struggled through, or they're just really excited and really wanting to celebrate it.

Dr. Adam Phyall:

So that was something that we really wanted to make sure that our students had the opportunity to utilise, and really just show and have that moment. Our students hadn't seen their friends actually since March, so it was months and weeks since they've seen their peers, so we wanted to have that opportunity for them to really showcase themselves and get on stage.

Dr. Adam Phyall:

So what we were able to do was utilise a live stream, and we utilised a few components. We had OBS, which was an open software, and probably about three or four cameras, and really just live streamed it utilising YouTube. Our families were just so excited to do that, and see that in real time. Because unfortunately, due to social distancing, our students were only able to have a couple of family members in the stands. We knew our families were very large, so by doing that they were able to participate in that experience in real time, and not have to watch it on a tape delay. So that was really exciting for us, and just seeing the look on their faces as they were watching it just really touched my heart.

Linda:

So in terms of the logistics of that, can you talk to us about how you planned it, and whose skills you used to create such a great resource?

Dr. Adam Phyall:

One of the things that we had to do, of course we had to make sure that we had the infrastructure in place. So I have a really great network team, and they were able to make sure that we had enough bandwidth to do the live stream, because some of our principals were like, "Oh yeah, we could do it on live stream, just like Facebook." And I had to explain to them, it's a little bit different doing a live stream on your cell phone on Facebook versus trying to send this out to the world and everybody seeing this, and having multiple camera angles and things of that nature.

Dr. Adam Phyall:

Once we talked through the logistics and figured out what we would need infrastructure-wise to have the connectivity to do that, the next piece was getting the equipment. We were able to, what we did, we rented several of the robotic cameras. So we actually ran the whole thing with a three man show. We only had one actual camera that somebody was manning.

Linda:

Wow.

Dr. Adam Phyall:

The other cameras were the robotic cameras, and we had a control centre, and we were just switching right from camera one to camera two to camera three. We did a dry run of it the night before, and once we did that we knew it was going to work. We utilised, as I mentioned earlier, YouTube for the broadcasting of it, so by utilising YouTube we were able to have anyone view this.

Dr. Adam Phyall:

We had one other person to moderate the comments, because we had live commentary, we had live comments on our YouTube, because we wanted the people in real time to be able to congratulate someone as they were walking across that stage, and have that in the moment feeling, versus offline or somebody having a watch party. We wanted them to be able to say congratulations to their family member as they were going across the stage.

Joachim:

Look, Dr. Adam I can tell you I'm listening to you and hearing some really awesome tips for our users as well. It's number one make sure you've done some great pre-work, make sure that you've actually had a run-through to make sure everything works well, use existing services. You used YouTube, our customers probably use things like Zoom and Brightcove to get things operating. And really draw upon all those different talents within your school community. I think you've drawn out some really amazing tips there, and can I draw on that a bit further, what are some of the lessons that you actually learned as a result of doing your first virtual graduation?

Dr. Adam Phyall:

One of the things that I think we learned in this process, it doesn't have to be really expensive. Because once we started this path, we were like, "Oh my gosh, how can we afford to do something like this?" We even asked if; one of our board members wanted cameras on strings, or flying drones around. Like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, calm down. This is the first time, maybe we could get drones next year."

Joachim:

Sounds like fun, I'm for that.

Dr. Adam Phyall:

This is one of those things once again as I said, it's pretty hot right now. We did learn that having early morning... because we tried to do one in the morning, we did this a total of three different times. So we did one at 8:00 P.M. on a Friday, 8:00 A.M. and then we did another one at 8:00 P.M. that same day. We realised that 8:00 A.M. it was a little too warm, and the kids were a little groggy. So it took them a while to get warmed up, so one thing that we realised that we probably want to make sure if we do something like this again, that we do it over three days, and just give the kids some time to wake up and really enjoy it.

Dr. Adam Phyall:

But honestly, this was one of those experiences where the pessimist in me was just waiting for something to go wrong. I was like, "Okay, maybe the kids are going to do something crazy on stage, maybe we don't need to do it live." But they didn't. They were really just happy that we did this.

Dr. Adam Phyall:

One of the things that I wanted to, definitely have to mention, one of my network engineers came up to me afterwards and he said, "Adam, I get so caught up in," as I mentioned the wires and the pliers and the network, so they don't really get a chance to work with the kids or see the kids during the school day. But he said, "Seeing the looks on their faces, and the smiles and the tears," made him realise this is why he does his job. I was like, "You know what, that's worth it. Now you get it." Not that he didn't already have it, but seeing that expression on the kid's faces, and the time we put to put all of this together really made him realise that this is why we had to do it. Because it was important to our families, it was important to our students. So my thing is I would encourage anybody who's thinking about doing something like this, go for it because it's definitely about the students.

Linda:

We know drones are maybe a step too far, but where to next for your work?

Dr. Adam Phyall:

Our next step that we're actually looking at, we were having some conversations about that today, and getting to the point where the adults kind of move to the side and really have this produced by our students. So that we know that we can do this, we do have our video productions courses in our school system, so we do have students who have the interest in doing this, and it's about giving them those opportunities. So we're looking at broaden this out, outside of our graduation, and we also live stream our school board meetings, so maybe give students that experience. So as we talk about doing this for this upcoming school year, let the students run the whole production. Have them running the cameras, have them saying, "Okay, switch to camera two, zoom, let me get the transition now, play the music." So all those different things in running a production, we definitely want to start transitioning over to the students, and put us adults more in a supervisor role in this process.

Joachim:

Oh, look Dr. Adam, that's exactly what we do with our normal assemblies, isn't it. We have an assembly team, so it seems like a really natural transition once we've got control of the situation. I think that sounds like an awesome aim for the future. We really want to thank you today Adam. We encourage our listeners to always go beyond the normal, and to go global and find out what's happening all across the world. And we know you've got a podcast, and we're wondering if you wanted to give a little bit of a plug?

Dr. Adam Phyall:

Oh, thanks. Yeah, definitely had a great opportunity to do a podcast through Future Ready Schools. Our podcast is called Undisrupted. I get a chance to do this podcast with a great friend of mine, Carl Hooker, and we really look at ways that technology can really support everything that we're doing not only within education, but outside education. And we have fun with it. We get on there, we crack a few jokes. Nothing too risque, I've still been able to stay employed, but we definitely try to push the envelope as much as possible, and have fun and really show people that all us technology guys we aren't a bunch of just geeks who don't have social skills. We definitely want people to understand we're real people too. Definitely check it out, Undisrupted through Future Ready Schools, and thank you for letting me plug it on your podcast.

Joachim:

Hear, hear. We'll put a link to it in our show notes. And I think I speak for all of us Dr. Adam, thank you for your time. Your students are so, so lucky to have an innovator like yourself making these amazing experiences possible. I can tell you your students and your community are very much in our thoughts.

Dr. Adam Phyall:

Oh, thank you. And if I can just say this real quick, this is one time in the world where we're all unified with the same problem, and we're all working for the same solution and the same goal. That's one thing... we always look at the bad that the situation has caused, and I try to be an optimist. So definitely this pandemic that we're in has given us all a common goal and brought us closer together. Here it is, I'm this guy sitting in Georgia in the United States, and I'm talking to my people way, way across the other side of the pond from me. So thank you for having me here, and we are stronger together. Dream work makes the team work, so definitely I'm going to be checking in and seeing what you all are doing over there, and seeing what I can borrow and bring in to my district as well.

Joachim:

Hear, hear.

Linda:

Thank you for chatting with us today.

Joachim:

Now we're going to venture a little closer from home and hear from some New South Wales teachers and leaders who have already begun to take their assemblies and gatherings online. First, we are fortunate to welcome Clint White, Principal of Sylvania Heights Public School. Welcome Clint, and thanks for making the time to be with us today.

Clint Whte:

No problem Jo.

Joachim:

Thank you, absolutely. And first, we have all been taking a peek on your website, and seen the amazing on demand virtual assemblies you and your students have crafted. For those of us who haven't listened or looked at it yet, tell us about these? What did it look like, paint a picture for our listeners.

Clint Whte:

Sure. As you know, COVID-19 had a big impact on our school operations. Very suddenly, we had to look at the guidelines, safety guidelines, and then evolve what we were doing. We needed to adapt what we were doing to make sure that we were compliant with what was happening with the public health orders. But also make something that was meaningful for our students, and our fortnightly assemblies, they seemed the most obvious way to connect and celebrate the powerful learning that was happening in our community, because that's where our kids were seeing the rewards for their learning, and being recognised in that way.

Clint Whte:

All our content, whether they're live streams or recorded, they sit on our page on our school website, which we call our video streams. And then we use Brightcove, which is one of the department's endorsed software to hold all that content. Each of our assemblies included acknowledgement of country, we had singing of our school song, principal's address, a national anthem, and then awards, raffle draws for student learning prizes, and we also had some form of student or staff spotlight. That was either a student created item, or a compilation of student work and some of our teachers had done some funny things in their classrooms when they were doing their remote teaching, so we included that. And then profiling our staff leadership and our student leadership was really important for us, and something that we considered for our assemblies.

Clint Whte:

Depending on what phase that we were in for whether it was student access or not, either our executive staff, which is our four assistant principals, or one deputy, they recorded content from their homes and they dropped that into SharePoint. Or our student leadership team, our students came into school and we recorded the sequence of the introductions.

Clint Whte:

I was really conscious that our school captains, which is our vice captains who are now our school captains, who would normally have a very big profile in our school, were not able to have that role. So we actually did a few interviews with them, got them to get to know our leaders. We used the interviews as student spotlights in our assemblies. In fact our leadership team of 12, they did a leadership presentation on world being, and we showcased this the week before students came back to full time learning. The assemblies became really popular, where they were streaming into either our classrooms when our kids were at school, or into their devices while they're at their homes. So it was really popular.

Linda:

That's fantastic. Yeah, so I was really inspired after watching your stream of videos that you have created. It looks to me like you are really experienced at this. Was it as easy as you've made it look?

Clint Whte:

Yeah, it was actually, it was very easy. Like most learning, the more that you use the platforms, Brightcove and OBS, which is the online broadcasting software which is free, the easier it became. Our Sylvania Heights experience using Brightcove actually began when we had an anti-bullying guest speaker come to our school to do a presentation. We had to limit the number of students who could attend in the hall, but we wanted our students to all hear the anti-bullying messages, but they had to stay in their classrooms. So our solution was then to live stream the anti-bullying presenter from our school hall, through Brightcove, and then put that on our school website. And then all the students in their classrooms hooked up to the school website and then watched the stream.

Clint Whte:

We used Google Classroom as a tool before remote learning, and we were monitoring what was happening in our classrooms. Some of the work that our kids were doing in remote learning brought tears to my eyes to see the work and the family's contributions to learning during this time. So taking a couple of screen shots and putting that to a little bit of music, those sorts of things became part of our clips for our virtual assembly, and really brought the connection of our families together during the remote learning time.

Clint Whte:

So iMovie, Brightcove, using the school website servers, it was really simple to just get the software together to then upload and stream through our school website. We've never had as many hits as we've had through remote learning for the virtual assemblies.

Joachim:

Clint this is amazing. So people out there, OBS might be a little bit of a step too far for them just to begin with, but I've seen your video I can tell you, on the site that talks about live streaming and how easy you make it look, but if they're just thinking about doing a recording and uploading it to Brightcove, is it really as simple as taking some footage, putting it into iMovie and then uploading it? Is that the process that you went through?

Clint Whte:

It is so simple. To make the movies, we just used an iPhone 11. Importantly we had that in landscape mode. Let's see, we tried a few times in portrait, it doesn't work as well. So an iPhone, we used a microphone stand with a bit of blue tack and a clip to hold the iPhone in the right position, and then we used a Mac Book with iMovie. And then after we'd made the movie, we just then exported that as a file, we uploaded it to Brightcove, and then in Brightcove you've got all your content there. You can schedule the time that it's going to be made available. And then the school website service, it's three clips. You add the school's video component, you click on your school, you click on the video that you want to present, and you click on the Brightcove payer, hit publish and then it's up there ready to go. Really, really simple.

Linda:

Gosh I love that, three clicks and then it's done.

Clint Whte:

Yeah.

Linda:

Sounds like just what a busy principal needs.

Clint Whte:

Yes.

Linda:

Technology is one thing, but what are some of the other considerations you needed to take into account before live streaming or recording the assemblies.

Clint Whte:

Yeah, so permission to publish is really essential. We were able to make sure that any of the content that we were producing, that we'd made sure that students all had permission for that publishing. Using the department software Brightcove and the school website servers really gave us assurance that we were being compliant in this area, which was good peace of mind. And the other thing that we needed to do was make sure we communicated with our audience, and make it simple for them to be able to access to the material. It's pointless taking the time to create the content without making it easy to hook up. So we could use our school Facebook page to create an event every fortnight, and that then reminded our parents to hook up and watch our material. Use of the school e-news to just send out an alert, with then a link to the school website. It became a big part of the fortnightly calendar while we were in remote learning.

Joachim:

Awesome, is all I can say. And this is getting down to this question right now, and I think that is the responses of your parents and the students, and your whole community, it sounds like they were pretty enamored with what you were creating.

Clint Whte:

Yeah, they love the continuity of the assemblies. And Gold Awards, which are a big part of our student awards system, we wanted to continue that so that we could recognise what the students were doing. So if we were here at school, we'd be recognising great learning, but we were able to recognise great learning that was done remotely. We took some photos, well actually we used the school photography photos, the photography company's photos that we then have on a platform. We put those with a scan of the Gold Award, I played our school song on piano with some backing music, and that was then the celebration of the students who would normally have this big celebration of receiving a Gold Award, but we did that through our virtual assemblies, which was really nice.

Clint Whte:

And then Positive Behaviour for Learning tickets. We're a PBL school, and we recognise students who are following our fortnightly focus, and we have a barrel draw and four classes a week. So it was really nice even when we were back in Phase 1 when students were here back at school, for part of the week, that our assembly would be streaming, but you could hear the classes screaming out if theirs was the winning class. It was really nice. The kids really enjoyed it, and it took a bit of pressure of our teachers too actually. They were able to be part of the assembly, the preparation had been done, the videos of our virtual assemblies were scheduled 24 hours before, so the content was created on the Thursday, scheduled to be pushed out on the Friday, and then it was all ready to go.

Linda:

Fantastic. Now we all know that an assembly or a graduation is a bit like a stage show, so what are your top tips for when other schools are taking their shows online?

Clint Whte:

I'd suggest that using as much pre-recorded content as possible. So we've got a beautiful acknowledgement of country, and it's written by our Indigenous students, and that's over an animation. So we had that already created, we had our title slides, our intros and our outros, and that became the backbone of our assembly template. So it went through a few iterations, and by the end of Term Two, we had a really slick looking assembly where we were keeping the backbone of the template, and then just slotting in the new awards and the new prizes that were delivered. I'd also suggest being prepared, so have the equipment tested, set up and ready to go. Especially the lighting, we didn't use anything fancy, but we just played around with moving our lectern into a position to where the lighting was not glaring in the shot.

Clint Whte:

As I said we had it ready to go the day before, so it was all pre-ready, loaded in Brightcove with the time sequence ready to shoot that out, so that worked well. And I think the other thing that we learned was have the camera higher than your eye level, because it's much more flattering than seeing several chins if the camera's low. So all of our student leaders, and the teachers and our staff who've done recording content make sure they've got that camera up a little bit higher so that it's a bit more flattering.

Joachim:

Ah, these are golden tips. I think people are going to take these away and totally run with them. But I've heard something else in the grapevine...

Clint Whte:

Yeah, that's good to hear.

Joachim:

... Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. We have been hearing some things Clint about what your future plans are, did you want to tell us, what's next?

Clint Whte:

Yeah. Public speaking is a big part of our Term Three calendar. We can't have parents in the school at this time, so what we're going to do is stream our four stage public speaking finals from our hall, using Brightcove and OBS. So using OBS as the streaming service, into Brightcove, and then having that on the school website. So that's our next stage. We're preparing, the presentation day at the end of the year may not be a physical audience, so we're using the public speaking competition as our next step for streaming.

Clint Whte:

And I'm running some professional learning tomorrow for our staff, so we've got 13 keen, interested volunteers who want to delve further into using OBS and Brightcove, so we're running some professional learning tomorrow morning. It was amazing, I was actually helping a principal from another school, working with OBS and Brightcove last week, and in preparation for tomorrow's PL I went on to ITD site, and actually found the entire transcript instructions of how to do this. That was really pleasing, so I'm going to use that content that's already on the ITD site to be the basis for tomorrow's professional learning. So signed our staff up for extra accounts within Brightcove, and they're ready to go. [crosstalk]

Joachim:

Amazing, and that's actually, we'll make sure we link out to that in our show notes as well, so everyone else who wants to start to think about experimenting with OBS, they've got that chance as well. And I think you were super, super involved in making that a reality, so we want to extend a huge thank you for putting that together for everyone out there. And the message. Simple, reliable and effective is the message I'm hearing coming loud and clear. Thank you so much Clint.

Clint Whte:

Not a problem at all, nice to talk to you.

Joachim:

And all the best to both you and your students at Sylvania Heights Public School.

Joachim:

Now we have been focusing in on the more formal experiences that schools would be transitioning to online. But what about the more social events? The informal celebrations that really knit a community together? Well one school in regional New South Wales sure has pushed the boundaries, as they pioneered something a little out of the box. No, it's not a subject selection night, or a kindergarten orientation. It is the Lockdown Getdown, Billabong High School online disco. Now I'm starting to move and jig just thinking about it, but today we are lucky enough to be joined by one of the creative brains behind this initiative, Nim Weerakoon, Deputy Principal of Billabong High School. Nim welcome, and congratulations on an amazing initiative.

Nim:

Hi Joe, thank you. Welcome.

Linda:

Hey, so Nim, can we ask you to paint a bit of a picture? What did the Lockdown Getdown Online Disco look like?

Nim:

Well to tell the truth, we didn't really know what it was going to look like. Normally we have a disco for our Year Sevens at the start of the year, in the school hall. I'm sure you can picture what that would look like in your head with disco lights, and streamers, and what old school disco would look like. The secret behind this disco though is we had a really great DJ, Steve. He was willing to try something crazy, I think that was the secret behind this. He still did all his DJing from home, and we invited the community via Zoom. We sent out instructions on how you could connect using your computers and t.v., for half an hour later we had students in waiting rooms. And then at 7:00 o'clock, DJ Steve came on screen and did his magic.

Joachim:

Wow. Nim, I was inspired as soon as I even heard about this. Can you tell us what drove you and the team to consider something so innovative?

Nim:

It was a brain child of our principal. I believe we were in remote learning at that phase, he called us up on a Wednesday, the senior exec team, and said, "Let's do this." Then we said, "Well how can we make it happen?" It just seemed so crazy. But it really was great. And timing was crucial, because I think this was... Look, this was so long ago, but it was when we were about to come back into that phased model of learning. So all of us had been remote learning and teaching, and we thought this was a great opportunity to involve the whole community before we come back in those stages.

Nim:

Humans are social animals, and we were missing our students. We just couldn't do it in the traditional way, so we had to think outside of the box a little bit. It was also early times with our technology, so we'd all gone to Google Classrooms, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom was new really, we weren't using Zoom a lot, we were using those other platforms. So that's where it originated from I think and we just all went, "Right, we'll go out and get our clothes, and our costumes, and do a bit of shopping, and decorate our rooms, and see what this is going to look like."

Linda:

That's so fantastic Nim. Now for so many of us, this sounds really complicated, and potentially a little bit too far for us to do it ourselves. Can you tell us about the practicalities and the technology that you and the team used to make this event happen?

Nim:

Oh my gosh. It was like, I'm the least technical person in our school, so if I could get on to doing this then anyone can do it. We'd literally, again it was timing I think. So before we went into the remote learning phase, our principal again had this idea we were going to give out all the school laptops to our students, because we didn't know how long it was going to take and all that kind of stuff. So every student had a laptop, or if they didn't have one we made sure they did. We also were able to look at connectivity, and look into Telstra and all of that kind of information, because we were going to go remote, new times for all of us.

Nim:

And then it was simply a matter of sending out those... using Facebook, our school Facebook was the platform of communication at that time. Everyone uses Facebook, so we sent out a lot of messages through Facebook. We had a makeshift green screen in one of our classrooms, we didn't want to just put something silly out there, so we got that looking quite professional. And then it was Zoom, that was it. Your computer and your t.v., and we sent out information again through Facebook on how you can connect to Zoom, and how you can get on there. So there really wasn't anything technical, I think about that.

Joachim:

Oh, you took the technology out of it. You made it so easy and so simple for your community, I think that was a real key to your approach. But there's something else that's on the tip of my tongue Nim, and that is what was the reaction? What did the students think about the online disco?

Nim:

I think they loved it. You could just see from their faces. Because we were all isolated, and then all of the sudden here you could dance in your own room, you can do whatever you want. Initially it was, like any disco, you couldn't get them out of their seats. So when you do a Zoom meeting, you know, you don't see their faces, you just get their IDs and their initials. So the screen had a lot of that, it was all blanked out, but you knew they were there. But Steve, the DJ, he's amazing. He just got them talking, and the music that he played was obviously relevant to their age group. And then he'd, what was the word for it, where you highlight or you pin a person? So we were watching and seeing who had the good dance moves, so if there was one person of a family doing that, they'd be the main person on the screen.

Nim:

We then had, in the chatroom, there was a lot of activity going on in the chatroom, because that's where they probably felt more comfortable. And then they'd be asking for songs, and then you'd slowly, as the night went on, it just started evolving where everyone just started showing their faces and their crazy moves. So they did love it I think, I would like to think.

Linda:

And now putting my deputy hat on Nim, I'm wondering if there were any precautions you needed to take to ensure student safety and those privacy matters that often take a lot of time to organise an event like this?

Nim:

Absolutely. I was paranoid, I was saying, "Oh my gosh, what's going to happen? We're going in on a Friday night into their house." And that was my...like, what kind of things are we going to see, and what are we going to do, and this is live streamed, and all that kind of stuff. So the first thing we did is that the team sat down and we did a risk assessment, like we would do for any activity. It was about 10 pages long, but we covered everything from the... the biggest thing that we did was that we were able to work out is you've got to use your DoE email to log in. So that itself cut out a lot of people just coming in from all over the world I suppose. And they had to log in with their first name and last name. We had an amazing team of staff who knew all the students, and who they were, so if there was a name that we didn't recognise we didn't let them in.

Nim:

We also had staff who were in the same room with the DJ monitoring everything, and then we had staff also looking at the various groups of students. If there was any activity that wasn't appropriate, we referred to them as our bouncers, they would just delete them, they would just get them to leave the meeting. So I think that was probably the best thing, using the DoE email account.

Joachim:

Wow, virtual bouncers. You have pioneered so many things Nim with your team out there. What an amazing effort. Now a little birdie tells me this is not the only type of experience that you've taken online or are going to take online. What are some of the other initiatives you've got in the pipeline?

Nim:

I know, we've gone a bit crazy now and sort of opened a monster here with this whole thing. We've done the usual, we did our graduation, our year 12 graduation, sorry our captains, we inducted our captains. We did that and we did that online. We've had to do, like you mentioned before, subject selection, Year 10 subject selection, Year Eight subject selection. But our Year 10 one I think I was quite proud of it, because we had our PowerPoints going at the same time, but we also had the head teachers in the little box onto the side, talking. So you could actually see their face, and make that connection. Because that's one of the biggest things that we have difficulty I think dealing with is not being face to face. We've got to start thinking of different ways to do that.

Nim:

We are going to attempt to live stream our Year 12 assembly. We just discussed that today in our wellbeing meeting, and we thought we've got the technology, we bought a couple, we did spend a little bit of money, I think it was about $400, and we've got some big microphones that will cut out any background noise. So we thought we'll do that, and if we live stream then parents can actually see their child graduating. Because I've got a child in Year 12, and I'm not going to be able to see her graduate, and I do and that is the one thing I will regret from this whole COVID, is not being able to see that. So live streaming it, I think that will be real exciting for us, and for parents, hopefully.

Joachim:

Ah Nim, that's an amazing story of really using the resources that are supplied by the department, and then spending a little bit of money, just what you need, to make the experience just that little bit better, and really leveraging all those amazing team members that you've got. I can tell you, we are really inspired here to hear what you've done. But I have jumped online, I've checked out your highlights video, and you were rocking the outfit Nim, I can tell you. So I have to get everyone else to jump online and check it out as well. It'll be in our show notes, but before we go, what is your favorite Lockdown Getdown hit?

Nim:

I'd have to say it would be an ABBA, it would be Dancing Queen. You can't go wrong with that one.

Joachim:

Oh, I don't think you got any disagreement from the panel members here, that is for sure. And we want to give a huge shout out to all the teachers and students at Billabong High School. Thank you Nim for sharing this amazing story with us, and we certainly wish you and especially all your Year 12 students all the best.

Nim:

Thank you. Thank you, bye.

Joachim:

Now we're almost at the end of this special edition of the podcast, and we've asked our papa tech Greig Tardiani to come back in, so that we can discuss, well what have we learned throughout this podcast? Let's start with you Greig.

Greig:

Thanks Joe. One of the things that you may not know is the expertise within your community, be it the school, or whatever. Somebody in there is a camera buff, or an audio buff, they play with toys at home, it's a hobby. Source them out. Work out where they are, and say, "Can you help"? Because more than likely, they're going to want to play. Musical societies are another really good area to play with as well, because there's somebody in there that geeks out with this sort of gear. And you may actually be able to borrow some of the stuff as well, so that's one of the major things. Tap into the resources that you may not know exist.

Joachim:

Love it.

Linda:

That's a great tip Greig. I think it's really important, that we've learned from all of the speakers today, about the importance of a dry run, and running a practice session so that when you're doing it, not so much because things will go wrong, but because your nerves will be right up if you've got a parent community ready to watch and things fail. We know for school assemblies at the primary level, we would always get the students to do a walk through, and practice holding a fake certificate. So why not just take it to the next level? Grab some kids, maybe even get some parents that are really keen to support you to dial in and do a test run with a much smaller number, see how it goes. So then you can go into it super confident.

Joachim:

I love both of those tips.

Linda:

What's your tip Jo, what have you got?

Joachim:

Well, I was thinking about this podcast, and I was thinking, "I'm actually a bit scared if I was in a school and had to do it." But after listening to all these amazing speakers, I now know if I keep it simple, I can do it today. Not tomorrow, I can do it today. So that's my tip. Keep it simple, and know you can do it.

Greig:

Good policy with everything in a school, keep it simple.

Joachim:

Now normally this is time, as we wrap, to give you some homework. But I think if you're listening to this podcast, you probably already have enough of that. But rest assured, check out the podcast website for one essential quick link with all of the information and resources that we have discussed today. That is the Virtual Celebration Toolkit, a hub where all the information is stored. As the final bell rings on this podcast, Linda, Greig and myself want to wish you and your students all the best in this tumultuous period. Students, if you can hear us, you are in our thoughts. And whilst this graduation might be like no other before it, it is no less special, or less important, in fact it may be a sign of great things to come.

Joachim:

This podcast is produced by the awesome Jacob Druce, with the assistance of Heather Thomson. Awesome members of our T4L team, and with a special thanks to our esteemed guests. Stay compassionate everyone, thanks for joining us in the Virtual Staff Room.