Thursday, May 19, 2011

Regent College's Live Streaming

Yesterday on 18th May, 2011, Regent College made available one of its ever popular Summer school public lectures via Internet streaming. It was the first time a public event has been simultaneously conducted, enabling those who could not be there physically, to listen in, to view, and to interact with almost the entire lecture session. I say 'almost' because Internet audiences can only interact with the speaker if and only if the technical staff there pass the messages. There is no opportunity to interact directly before, during, and after the lecture, as the streaming only goes online the moment the lecture begins, and the moment it ends.

A) The Setup
Entitled, "Digital Discipleship: opportunities and challenges of social media for the church." I hear about 150 people physically at Regent College. I counted about 93 at one time for the online viewers. Some connected via Facebook, others on Twitter, while most used the USTREAM media here. You can download the slides here.

For your convenience, you can interact with Regent College's Social Media sites are as follows:

Thought - The login is pretty simple, and is a breeze for experienced social media users. The lecturer, Krish aids the entire process along by telling all upfront about following the Twitter through hash tags (#seekdepth) as well as the respective websites to refer to.  My concern lies with those who are newbies to Social Networking. They may find the setting up most technologically challenging. What if they do not even have a Facebook or Twitter account? What if their computers are not equipped with audio, or fast enough to stream? The technical hurdles are still there, despite the fact that technology in general are easier to use than 10 years ago. If social media platforms can be conveniently and simply consolidated into one simple and single platform, I feel it helps.

B) The Lecture
The main purpose of the lecture is to look at the opportunities and the challenges of social media, and how the church can engage, not retreat from this big wave of cultural change. While the lecture is complemented by Powerpoint slides and video clips, online viewers find it difficult to follow along, as the screen resolution appears flaky, and the sounds are inaudible at times. 

The slides look best when downloaded and separately opened. The twitter messages take a while to appear, and each users are restricted to one tweet every minute. That is quite hard for interaction.

Thought - I find it still very limiting as an online user, despite being able to interact during the lecture. The main disadvantage is that online users have to go through an intermediary, instead of connecting direct to the lecturer. That said, it is highly helpful for the lecturer to be a social media user himself. He essentially understands the language, the ecology, and the culture of the social media networker. By asking questions, and using the commonly understood vocabulary, he makes online users feel at home. If however, the lecturer is completely illiterate about social media, it will be a lot more difficult for him/her to guide online users. Imagine a professor who does not even know what is Twitter is, of live streaming. While some in the audience may try to engage the professor, the professor may feel intimidated when he try to engage the online audience. Streaming exercises will still require a group of technically savvy folks to ensure that any hiccups or communications can be transmitted either way. In other words, every lecturer on a live streaming event needs a skilled technology assistant. I was even thinking, that with so many windows opened, the computing power needs a minimum level. For me, I have a Twitter window, a streaming window, a Google search page, and a plain text processor to write notes. Imagine running all these on a slower computer!

C) The Publicity
This is one area that certainly needs more improvement. Maybe, there has been publicity on campus. Unfortunately, by the time more people get wind of it, the event is already over. I learned about the live lecture just a few days before the event on Facebook. Debating between an hour's drive to the UBC campus versus becoming an online participant, I let the hockey game decide. Hence, with the game on my TV, I had two computers on to help me multitask between the lecture, the interaction, the note-taking, as well as watching and cheering the Vancouver Canucks!

Thought - Publicity needs a complete rethink. With so many different media available right now, it can be confusing, and downright inefficient use of the limited resources to try to do all of them. If there can be a way in which information is automatically pushed out to the various channels, it will be beneficial from an information dissemination standpoint. 

D) Scattered Thoughts

All in all, I must commend Regent for embarking boldly into this new animal called Social Media (or SoMe for short.) I believe it takes a social networker to push a social network initiative. The reason for the higher than expected online turnout is because of three main factors. First, the topic appeals to them. 'Digital Discipleship' is a captivating title for those who are technologically fluent, and desires to grow in discipleship along with the cultural changes. Second, the lecturer is an avid social networker. Like I have said, it takes one to know one. It requires one to speak the language of the social network (not just the Internet) in order to connect effectively. Third, the technology support staff. This is crucial. Without them, there is no sharing or streaming. Without the support of the IT infrastructure, nothing will happen. I have supported Regent professors before even for the Powerpoint projections. Even today, professors still grapple with the different characteristics of modern projectors. Which button to push? Is the power switch turned on? Why is there no spinning of the fan? How do I wake my sleeping computer up? Modern use of technology still requires a capable assistant side by side. It will take a while before machines can take over the normal functions of operating the technology. Perhaps, the following suggestions can help:

  • Have an easier to remember streaming website. Perhaps, put a link on the Regent College website, and make it more prominent.
  • Consolidate all the social network sites into one easy to remember webpage. Perhaps, there can be one page called: or something like that.
  • Have a standard operating procedure, a cheat sheet, or a simple instructions for either the professor or the main emcee to read for the benefit of online users.
  • Publicize, educate, and inform. Do it consistently. Do it continually.
  • Engage a core group of early adopters to help push the social network medium usage.
  • Finally, do not forget the audience who have made an effort to be there. They remain the first priority for the organizers. Remember the maxim, "That a bird in hand is better than three in the bush?" I will say, "The person in front of you deserves your attention first, than the multiple users, and anonymous viewers in the Internet."
  • Finally, give thanks. Be grateful for what works. Be humble when it does not work. 

All in all, I thank Regent College staff for the good work put in, and I applaud them for embracing a brave new world of social networking, and live streaming.


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