Globalizing Community Outreach with Streaming
Go to critical reviews
When a new Portland, Oregon-based radio station sought
experts in the field of education to interview for a new series of programs
exploring strategies to help students be successful in school, the faculty of
the College of Education at the University of Oregon was considered an obvious
choice. The faculty of our
nationally-ranked college represent over 30 years of research expertise.
Their research has been the subject of National Education Association
documentaries and articles in Education Week.
From the college’s perspective, this community outreach
opportunity provided an excellent platform to inform education professionals,
alumni, potential students, parents and the general public about our research
and outreach activities ranging from dealing with destructive behavior to
improving early reading performance. But
Oregon is a very large, rural state with 248 school districts scattered over
almost 100,000 square miles. Furthermore, the discussions could be of interest
to educators in other states and countries.
Although Portland is the largest city in Oregon, the radio station’s
broadcast range was less than 75 miles from the metropolitan area. So, we
explored the use of streaming media to extend the programs to a global audience.
Streaming is a relatively new method of delivering
multimedia content over a network. Unlike linking to a standard audio or video
file which requires the browser to download the entire file before it can be
loaded into the appropriate player and played, streaming uses both client and
server software working together to transmit and receive data simultaneously to
produce uninterrupted sound or video. The client side buffers a few seconds of
multimedia data before it starts sending it to the speakers, which compensates
for momentary delays in packet delivery. This
makes it possible for the listener/viewer to begin listening/viewing the content
after only a few seconds (broadband) to a few minutes (modem speeds) after the
file begins to download.
There are a number of different streaming formats
available. The most familiar are
Real Player (http://www.realaudio.com/),
and Windows Media Player (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/EN/default.asp).
As we began to consider our options to provide streaming content, KPAM
), the station involved in the project, explained that they currently stream
their broadcasts through a service
offered by StreamAudio (http://www.streamaudio.com/).
A growing list of internet service providers (ISPs) offer radio broadcast
However, unlike many ISPs, StreamAudio provides the service at no charge
to the radio station because their software incorporates clickable advertising
to generate revenue from streaming activity.
StreamAudio provides a 450 Mhz Pentium class encoding computer to the
radio station that is connected to the radio station’s broadcast console. The
encoding software developed by StreamAudio incorporates Microsoft’s Windows
Media Player technology to create an active streaming format (.asf) file.
The file is then transmitted to Stream Audio’s high capacity streaming
servers and linked to the radio station’s web page. The file encoding and serving processes occur in real time so
listeners can actually call in with questions during the course of streamed
programs. This appeared to be ideal
for our purposes. StreamAudio even
graciously agreed to serve archive files of the interviews for us following the
broadcasts at no charge. The radio station also generously agreed to provide us
with tapes of the interviews and permission to copy and redistribute the tapes
for the cost of materials and handling and copies of the streaming files on CD.
Every base seemed to be covered.
To promote the upcoming event, I created a web page to
explain how to prepare to view the broadcasts by installing the appropriate
Media Player for a client’s particular computer system (http://interact.uoregon.edu/broadcastprep.html).
I created a web page with pictures of the faculty members and links to
articles related to their discussion topics that would be updated each week with
a link to an archive file of the interview (http://interact.uoregon.edu/coeonline.html).
Then I prepared successive home page modifications to feature a teaser
about the upcoming interviews to generate interest from students, faculty, staff
and other visitors to our website. Sample:
The university public relations office released a
Portland-area announcement about the upcoming broadcasts and a statewide news
item. Brochures were mailed to
alumni and school districts around the state.
I have learned over the years to be a little skeptical of technology vendors’ claims, so before the broadcast date, I installed Media Player on a number of different platforms to test streaming performance in different environments. Unfortunately, as I had feared, problems began to crop up. The first problem we encountered was a file naming convention problem that caused playback of the broadcast file to fail on MacIntosh clients. Stream Audio's technical support recognized the problem right away when I reported it and modified the file name and resolved this problem.
The next problem we encountered after the interview series,
“Kids and Schools – What Works!”, began to air
and the radio station began creating the archive files was the inability
for Macs, Win95, and Windows NT stations running Media Player 6.x (Media Player
7 was not yet available for these operating systems) to play the archive files.
I contacted StreamAudio who agreed to try to find a solution to the problem.
They admitted they were new to the technology themselves and had little
experience with MacIntosh clients. In
my efforts to assist them with troubleshooting this problem, I delved into the
extensive Microsoft Knowledgebase on Media Player development.
I found references to the need to create a text metafile for each media
file and refer to this metafile in the web page link instead of linking directly
to the media file. Microsoft’s Knowledgebase explained that
when linking directly to streaming files using a standard <a href>
tag, the browser simply downloads it like any other document, which defeats the
purpose of streaming. With a metafile however, Windows Media Player opens the metafile and interprets the scripting,
then uses the URL to locate the content and stream the content.
sample metafile looks like this (where path is the path to the media file):
also tested their file remotely on slow modem lines. We found we encountered severe choppiness of the file
streaming at slower modem speeds (<56k). Unfortunately, this
problem could also not be resolved by StreamAudio. The software they had
developed for producing the archive files apparently encoded the file at a
transmission rate that was too high for low bandwidth connections.
I had asked KPAM to produce conventional audio tapes of the interviews. My
colleague Terry Kneen, Instructional Systems Coordinator for the college,
digitized the audio and created small, compressed streaming files with Quicktime
4 and a digital media utility named Media Cleaner (http://www.mediacleaner.com/)
that could be streamed at speeds as slow as 26,400 baud. He installed a
version 3 beta Quicktime Streaming Server running the OS X operating system to
deliver the files.
are now in the process of replacing the links to the StreamAudio archive files
with these compressed Quicktime files. (See: http://interact.uoregon.edu/destructive.html).
These files are playable by both PCs and Macs and can be streamed without
a pause on slow modems.
I recommend publication with some minor modifications and
additions. This is an excellent article providing what I feel most
readers will find new information about a new technology with extraordinary
potential. The web pages created at Oregon to support the series are very good
The article really is two articles in one. The first
describes the technology itself, the series, and the decision-making that went
into preparing the series. The second describes the author's adventures in
troubleshooting the technologies to make the webcasts work. This doesn't
particularly bother me, but structurally it would be helpful for the article
to have headings that visually differentiate its parts.
The article has a little too much first person to suit
me. I suggest the article be edited to reflect what was done instead of what
the author did.
The page at Oregon that describes the series lists five
programs in October and November, yet the author reports results only in vague
terms in the next-to-last sentence. The article cries out for some kind
of closure that summarizes listener response and any impact the series might
have had. How many hits did the series get? Anything about the hit
pattern that indicates the hottest topics? Did UO get any feedback from
listeners? Was UO satisfied enough to schedule a spring series, e.g., was
it worth the effort? If the series didn’t get a lot of response (which
I suspect or the author would have reported it), what does the author feel
needs to happen to increase the impact in the future?
Is the "30 years of research" in the first paragraph a typo? Is it 300 years of research? An average of 30 years of research? If the entire faculty in the College of Education has only 30 years of research, which is the way this reads, it isn't very impressive for an R-1 university.