Lessons Learned from the First Year of the Chromebook Newscast

I announced to my students yesterday that I would not be returning to my current school next year and one of the very first questions that came up was, “What is going to happen to TigerCast?”  TigerCast is our Chromebook Newscast that I started this school year. I was happy that they were invested so much in the broadcast that they wanted to see it continue.  It made me realize that it is a good time to reflect on what the students and I learned over the year to improve the final product.

Here is the final TigerCast edition.  It is 21 minutes long.  The kids got a little carried away with the “Good Bye” theme even though they didn’t know it might have been their last TigerCast ever (no teacher has stepped up to do it next year at this point).

Chromebooks Only?

The original concept was since we went 1:1 Chromebooks was to use on Chromebooks for the newscast.  While we could have continued doing that, the kids got more interested in doing what are known as packages which are independent pre-recorded stories that air during the newscast.  We could use WeVideo to edit which was awesome, because we were still using Chromebooks, but the video was difficult to record.  So, we began using a Kodak PlaySport video camera to record and then the kids would immediately pull the video off the memory card into their WeVideo account.  They would then edit the video when convenient and share the final video to me using Google Drive.  I would then import them all into my WeVideo account (I paid for the monthly premium account in order to have enough storage and output space for the weekly show).  After we recorded the show using Google Hangouts, I imported that into WeVideo, spliced in the packages and output the video to YouTube.  Some students chose to shoot video with their iPhone or iPad and edit in iMovie because that was easier for them.  They still shared their edited package through Google Drive.

Google Hangouts

The first week we started placing the video packages into the show, I tried to play them live from YouTube during the Hangout.  The was too much delay and timing issues for that to be effective and I had to go in and edit out a lot of dead time.  I tried using the YouTube editor, but found it limiting for precise editing and thus the jump to WeVideo.

We really didn’t need to continue to record using Hangouts, but the kids had the process down well so there was no reason to interfere.  I think they also enjoyed the “live news show” feel of Hangouts.  We talked about doing an actual live episode toward the end of the year, but never gained the technical proficiency.  The great thing about using Chromebooks and Hangouts is that if someone’s Chromebook wasn’t charged or was not usable for some reason, they could just borrow someone else’s and have the same device and “programs” available to them.

We also had a student do a series called “The Un-newsworthy News” where he used Google Slides to create a presentation that he would advance through as he recorded the audio live.  Although he could have done a screen share to show the slides, for whatever reason, he decided to point two chromebooks at each other using the camera on one to record the screen on the other.  He worked really hard on his presentation and scripts, which was unusual for him, so I let him continue to do it the way he wanted because it kept him motivated. I felt having him motivated to produce a good package was more important than forcing him to use a better technical process.

Know Your Audience

We really hit our stride in late January/early February.  We spent the first part of the year doing “news” stories that were boring to the audience and even to the reporter doing the story. The students were complaining that other classes didn’t want to watch the show and some teachers weren’t even showing it. The kids motivation and reliability was waning and a couple of students quit the show because they lacked the interest to continue.  With a smaller, more dedicated group, we had a long discussion about what makes a show interesting to watch.  Coincidentally, my Article of the Week for my classes was a video by Kevin Allocca called “Why Videos Go Viral”. The students made a lot of connections between that video and their show and realized they need to take the audience into consideration. The biggest take away was that they needed to give the audience something unexpected. So, the students went back to the drawing board so to speak and started to brain storm stories that were unexpected and fun.  That was the biggest thing the students learned all year.  Once they made that simple change, the show got more lively, more interesting, and more talked about in the community.

Here is the first episode after the change:

There was now buzz around the show and in their own way, their shows went viral in the school community.  Some of the students that had quit previously were now asking to come back, other kids were asking to join, and students were demanding their teachers show it every week.

Smaller is better

We originally had too many people sign up to be on the show, so we divided into two teams.  The teams alternated weeks. What seemed like a good way to keep students motivated by not overworking them turned into a hindrance.  Some students were forget week-to-week if it was their week to broadcast.  With two weeks in between episodes, students would forget the mistakes they made previously and end up repeating them.  Once our team got smaller, we decided to go to weekly.  We adjusted our meeting schedule and allowed students to work more autonomously on their own time.  For us, smaller became better.

It was an eventful year in learning how to make an effective Chromebook Newscast.  As mentioned before, I will not be returning to my current school to continue TigerCast, but the students are really hoping to keep it going. The strides me made in one year make me excited to see where they might take it next. In my new role, I will most likely bring an iteration of TigerCast with me and see where a new group of students will take it.

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