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Colleges and universities worldwide have an ever increasing array of technological tools at their disposal, which can be perceived as both opportunity and risk. The liberation of information has undoubtedly lowered barriers of entry, ushering in the age of online degrees and MOOCs, but the fleet-footed among education leaders have long been integrating new technologies to better engage with students and expand their reach beyond the university. Last week, leaders of graduate institutions from 14 countries agreed on principles to promote productive use of technologies, such as identifying and enhancing strategies for social media and webcasting in all dimensions of education.

Webcasting has grown more popular this year for a wide variety of purposes in higher education, including:

  • Interactive course instruction for distance learning
  • Admissions and financial aid seminars for prospective students
  • Professional training sessions for faculty
  • Orientation for new students on campus life
  • Live broadcast of sporting or special events

A webcast is a media presentation streamed live or on demand over the Internet to many simultaneous viewers, accessible to anyone with a high-speed connection. The new generation of media-savvy prospective students responds to content that is mobile, social and personal, and so interacting innovatively with webcasts can be to a college’s competitive advantage. According to the latest Noel-Levitz research, 75 percent of college-bound students want to attend webcasts with prospective colleges, yet less than 16 percent of colleges offer students this opportunity.

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Reach a global audience

Providing information through virtual seminars is particularly convenient and cost-efficient for communicating with audiences across longer distances, such as international students and other prospects who live far from your campus. An on-demand recruitment video can answer the same questions as a face-to-face session. Marsha Orr at Cal State University Fullerton’s Department of Nursing found that “having a dynamic presentation there with somebody answering the commonly asked questions is a lot different than the static web page.” Recruitment was enriched by “moving away from the sage on the stage to becoming the guide on the side. We’re encouraged to use multiple learning styles, interactive assignments, collaboration tools.”

Webcasting is an easy way to reach a large audience at once, and as a lead generation tool it can drive potential students to your website. Commencement and convocation ceremonies can go worldwide by developing a specific landing page on your website and extending invitations to family, friends, alumni and the general community who aren’t able to attend in person. Participants can deepen connection to the school by watching the ceremony again on-demand. Event webcasting platforms can provide feeds for newspapers, radio stations and other media to embed the live broadcast into their websites. This can significantly raise the organization’s profile by connecting the campus with a global audience, especially with the addition of high-profile guest speakers.

Example: Dalhousie University created a live webcast for its fall 2013 convocation ceremony with viewing available in four time slots. Archives to past ceremonies and video help are easily accessed and webcast feedback is encouraged to minimize confusion regarding the technology.

dalWebcasts for student recruitment

Prospective students want to have live contact with a representative before and after applying but can’t always make it to the campus. Video webcasts regarding the application process and campus highlights can be a powerful tool for student recruitment. Accepted students may be convinced to enroll after viewing webcasts of current students discussing why they chose your school and why it was the right choice. After the University of North Florida hosted webcasts for accepted students, they found that the yield rate of attendees was 61%; 26 points higher than their typical rate.

Example: The University of Waterloo hosted an information night and live webcast for grade 10 students and their parents, noting it is important for students to consider their options early in order to choose the right pre-requisite high school courses. The Family Night featured various speakers covering topics such as admission requirements, application information, budgeting for university education, and “what I wish I knew about university while still in high school” by current UW students.

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Tips for creating a great live video webcast

Executing an excellent live webcast takes planning and the right team. A thorough pre-event assessment includes testing internet streaming support infrastructure at the location, sourcing appropriate A/V equipment based on the venue’s physical space, and having a good encoder and content delivery network. If there is a screen broadcasting slides and videos, ensure that your virtual audience can also see it. Slides can be embedded on screen next to the video or offered as downloadable resources. Also consider whether the date and time works for your target virtual audience in this and other time zones. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Speakers: A combination of current students and admission representatives usually works best to provide a mix of student life and academic details, although high profile alumni or representatives will increase attendance. Sessions targeted at a particular audience, such as biology students, will benefit from relevant faculty or content experts.

Location: A fancy studio isn’t necessary but an interesting location can enhance engagement, even a well-lit classroom or dorm. Whenever possible, choose a location relevant to the subject matter. For example, a culinary program can shoot from a kitchen with plenty of practical props at the ready. Make sure there isn’t a window behind the speakers that obscure their faces. Don’t depend on natural light – put a bright light on the speakers but not so much as to white them out!

Content & Tech: While the Q&A format is most popular, always begin with at least a brief introduction of each speaker and some concise, insightful advice. Engage your audience by integrating collaborative and interactive components to enable real-time Q&A, social media applications, online polling, touch-screen interfaces and more. Don’t wait too late in the session to acknowledge the camera or use the interactivity features. Even if you’re going the lo-fi route, make it easy for your audience by keeping the speakers close to the camera and well framed. Feature your school branding in the background or in the apparel of the speakers. Perhaps the school mascot can make a visit!

Integrating social media at events

Remember that the easier things are to share, the more people will help to get the word out. Use social media marketing before, during and after your event webcasts, integrating hashtags to form virtual communities, aggregate social network buzz and encourage participants to connect with one another. Increase signups by targeting relevant audiences with social tools and blogs, encouraging tweets and Facebook sharing before the event occurs. Sourcing questions and topics beforehand or posting presenter slides in advance with Slideshare will increase the relevancy of content and spur word of mouth.

Display tweets during the event, monitoring chat rooms and the social networks to react in real time. Tap into back channel conversations happening throughout the event to enhance the presentation and interact with the community. Event planners will want to launch a survey afterwards to gauge quality and experience, aggregating content using the hashtag to highlight top reactions. Interactions can continue indefinitely through your social media channels.

Webcasting takes time and patience to master but it has vast potential to improve interactivity with your audiences for a virtually unlimited variety of purposes, from small class lectures to prestigious events. In any case, the technology should enhance the experience, not replace it. Leveraged correctly, with an accurate knowledge of your audience, it can build a community and give you access to a world stage.

How has your school used webcasting?