Friday, January 28, 2011

You Stream, I Stream, We all Scream for . . . Streaming Video

A couple of weeks ago I went to a funeral. It wasn't your normal funeral for a number of reasons. 

Being Debbie Friedman's funeral made it unusual because so many people loved Debbie for all the amazing work she did in the Jewish world over the past four decades. The funeral was different for another reason. I went to it online. Debbie Friedman's funeral was streamed live over the Internet via

You might ask: "Why would anyone want to go to a funeral on their computer?" In this case technology played a vital role in making Debbie's funeral available to a wide group of people from fans to friends who live all over the world but could not attend her funeral. At one point there were well over 7,000 people streaming the signal worldwide.

Rabbi Stuart Kelman speaks at Debbie Friedman's funeral via

It was personal too. The site allows people to join a comment stream alongside the window of the event. At one point there were a group of people singing one of Debbie's songs and the comments came streaming in from the Internet: "singing in Haifa," "singing in New Jersey," "crying in San Francisco." There were so many comments you couldn't take them all in because they went by too fast.

Each of the 7,000 + viewers were not only participating with themselves but many people joined in groups to watch the funeral. Sitting by myself I felt part of a larger community that was both mourning and celebrating the life of Debbie Friedman. The most strange part of the 45 minutes I spent watching the funeral occurred when I started crying at my desk. With co-workers nearby I was very self-conscious.

Having been to a funeral via the Internet now I don't think of it as so strange. I certainly wouldn't want my funeral to be broadcast on the Web. I would be afraid only two people would show up. What a waste! That's the trick with technology, isn't it? When do you know you have the right technology for what you want to do?

Many people are talking about streaming classroom video. The National Association of Independent Schools launched a Task Force to explore the prospect of online learning. I wonder, though, how useful streaming classroom video would be for people other than, perhaps, those who were sick and not able to attend class and those with learning differences that would benefit from viewing it again. How often would students go back to review the class discussion? How much would that be worth versus how much it might cost. How many classrooms would we broadcast? How would all of that data be recorded, stored, and used? What is lost in the translation between being in the class and watching via the Internet? How many students would decide not to attend class and just watch from home later?

Today I watched a little bit of the live streaming by Al Jazeera . They were broadcasting video of tanks and protesters in the streets of Cairo and discussing the possibility of the end of Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt. Viewing this event clearly shows the power of streaming video technology to change the world. The question is, how does that technology translate into learning and our educational practice?

Technology can be personal, it can change the world. It can also be the wrong tool for the task at hand. Ask questions, talk with colleagues, learn from experts, try things out. You don't know if something will work until you spend some time figuring it out and giving it a try.